(Here's an article I wrote in July 2004 for The Bulletin magazine in Brussels, about the assassination of 'Supergun' designer Gerald Bull; it was exceptionally creepy visiting the building. The identity of his killers remains unproven.)
Bull built a prototype, nicknamed Baby Babylon, at a secret site in Jabal Hamrayn in central Iraq. It blew up on its first test, but he kept trying. However, word started to get around intelligence agencies that SRC was developing a ‘doomsday weapon’ with the Iraqis. The Supergun could dump a nuclear bomb, or nerve gas, on any Middle Eastern city. Even if never used, it would be a powerful propaganda tool for Saddam.
Sections of the Supergun were being built in the UK, Spain and the Netherlands. In Brussels, Bull’s apartment was broken into several times. On one occasion, his drinking glasses were replaced by a new, very obviously different, set. He was convinced his phone was being tapped, and his post being opened. He told friends he felt he was being sent a warning. Then, on March 22, he was silenced forever. The studious boy obsessed with model aircraft had ended up dead in the corridor of a Brussels apartment block, three bullets in his back and two through his head.
So who killed him? There’s no shortage of candidates: over three decades, Gerald Bull had worked for and sold arms to several dozen countries. Was it MI6, because Bull might have revealed that the British government was involved in shady arms deals with Saddam? That revelation did come about, after his death, creating an enormous scandal in the UK. And just one week before Bull was gunned down in Brussels, Farzad Bazoft, a journalist with The Observer, was arrested in Baghdad, charged with being a spy and hanged in Abu Ghraib prison. Bazoft had been discovered by Iraqi secret police near one of SRC’s Supergun test sites.
Or perhaps it was the work of the CIA, who some thought Bull had worked for in the ’60s. Others still think the Iranians may have killed him, in the hope of stopping the Supergun project. It could have been the Iraqis themselves – had they fallen out with their star scientist?
Nobody has yet been brought to justice for the killing, but the Belgian authorities’ prime suspect has always been Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. Three months before Bull was murdered, two men rented an apartment opposite his and paid three months’ rent in advance, only to vanish 10 days later. However, to get the electricity connected in the apartment, one of the men had had to present identification at the utility company’s offices. Tracing this back to his entry into the country, the police discovered that the other man had entered with a false passport, and was an Israeli. That said, it seems unlike Mossad to have left such an obvious trail, and many assassins-for-hire during that time were Israeli.
Last year, the state prosecutor revealed that they had new information from ‘a reliable source’ who had identified a Mossad agent as one of Bull’s assassins. According to the source, the killer took a piece of jewellery from Bull’s body, which he still wears. In January, the same source apparently alleged that a Western intelligence agency helped with the killing, and the signs pointed to the British. The case is now at the Brussels’ public prosecutors’ office. The next step is ‘recquisition’ – the drawing up of a list of charges. ‘We don’t have the name of the killer,’ says spokeswoman Estelle Arpigny, which suggests that the charges will be against ‘persons unknown’ and will continue to languish unless new information is uncovered.
At the moment, it seems unlikely we will ever know for sure who killed Gerald Bull – the scientist who perhaps knew too much.