msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/25/2010 3:10:17 PM ET 2010-08-25T19:10:17

Detectives have launched a murder probe after the body of a man reported to be an intelligence officer was discovered stuffed in a bag in a central London apartment.

London's Scotland Yard said Wednesday that officers found the man, believed to be in his 30s, at a home near the headquarters of Britain's MI6 spy agency.

According to media reports, the man worked for eavesdropping agency Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, and was on a assignment to MI6.

Britain's Telegraph newspaper reported that the victim had been stabbed, and his body stuffed in a large sports bag and left in the bathroom of the top-floor dwelling.

Police responded to an apartment in the affluent Pimlico area of London at about 4:40 p.m. (11:40 a.m. EDT) Monday following reports that its occupant had not been seen recently.

Investigators pronounced the victim dead at the scene, police said in a statement sent to msnbc.com. 

The victim's cell phone and SIM cards had been laid out in a ritualistic manner in another room in the apartment, according to The Telegraph.

Police said they have not made an arrest in the case.

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.

Scotland Yard refused to say whether there were signs of a struggle or how the man may have been killed. An autopsy and formal identification was expected later Wednesday.

British media, citing neighbors, named the victim as Gareth Williams.

'Polite and mild-mannered'
Police and Britain's Foreign Office — the ministry that oversees MI6 — declined to confirm the victim's details, citing sensitivity over intelligence issues.

The police spokesman told msnbc.com that homicide detectives, as opposed to terrorism investigators, were handling the probe.

Sky News reported that police have ruled out terrorism and are proceeding under the premise that the death is somehow connected to the victim's personal life.

A landlady who rented the victim an apartment in Cheltenham, where the GCHQ's main office is located, told The Daily Mail that her tenant "was polite and mild-mannered and wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was forever off on bike rides but never really had friends around.

"Sometimes you could hear tapes whirring from his flat," she added.  "It must have been audio cassettes he used for work. He never told me what they were."

The victim is thought to have a doctorate in mathematics from Cambridge University, according to reports.

If investigators link the murder to the victim's reported line of work, it would be the highest-profile espionage-related murder since that of Alexander Litvinenko.

Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, died in November 2006 from the effects of radioactive polonium 210. Russian operatives are suspected in the death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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