Murder inquiry begins after police discover body of man believed to be British spy

LONDON (AP) — Detectives searching for a missing British spy said Wednesday they had launched a murder investigation after a body matching the man's description was discovered stuffed in a bag in his apartment near the headquarters of the MI6 spy agency.

An autopsy could not provide a cause of death for the man, identified as 30-year-old Gareth Williams, the Metropolitan Police said.

Police said they found Williams dead at a central London apartment Monday following reports that he had gone missing for some time. They said detectives are treating the case as a suspicious and unexplained death, but refused to say whether there were signs of a struggle or how the man may have been killed. Suicide had been ruled out.

Williams had been working for MI6 on temporary assignment from GCHQ, Britain's eavesdropping agency, said several British officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the case.

They all declined to say exactly what work the man was doing or how long he had been employed with the government, but officials said initial indications did not suggest his death was related to his job, or national security issues.

Neighbor Rob Mills, a 35-year-old who lives two doors away from where the body was found, said people in the expensive London neighborhood of Pimlico knew little about the victim or his work.

"It's not like you'd tell your neighbors if you were a spy," he said.

Police cordoned off the area Wednesday and were restricting access to residents, some of whom said they were told by investigators that the man could have been killed two weeks ago. Scotland Yard refused to confirm.

"His windows were always shut and curtains were often closed," said neighbor Laura Houghton, 30. "I could never tell if anyone was in. It was strange that we never saw him come and go."

Houghton said the man was friendly and spoke with a Welsh accent.

Britain has been known as a den of spy activity since the Cold War. About 2,500 British intelligence specialists work for MI6, around 5,200 for GCHQ and 3,500 for the country's domestic security agency, MI5.

The Russians are thought to have hundreds of agents in London.

In 2006, the world was gripped by the story of the poisoning death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who wasted away in a London hospital after ingesting a radioactive substance. On his deathbed, Litvinenko blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the poisoning.

His death harkened back to the notorious 1978 killing of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov who died of blood poisoning after he was stabbed with an umbrella at a London bus stop. The tip of the umbrella was said to contain poison.

The largest spy swap since the Cold War made headlines last month when four people convicted of betraying Moscow for the West were pardoned in exchange for 10 Russian agents who had infiltrated suburban America. Two of them were flown to Britain.

Last month, a 21-year-old was arrested in connection with a parcel bomb being sent to MI6's fortress-like headquarters near the River Thames but authorities said Wednesday it appeared that incident was unrelated to the discovery of the body.


Associated Press writer David Stringer contributed to this report.