Politics, World, Europe

UK honors Muslim WWII heroine spy

Noor Inayat Khan's home in London to receive blue plaque celebrating 'Britain's first Muslim war heroine in Europe'

Karim El-Bar  | 28.08.2020 - Update : 28.08.2020
UK honors Muslim WWII heroine spy


A female Muslim war hero who spied for Britain during World War II became the first woman of South Asian descent to receive a blue plaque in London, local media reported Friday.

Noor Inayat Khan, whose codename was Madeleine, was sent by the British army to occupied France in 1943 as a secret radio operator, before being executed by the Nazis.

Khan was awarded a blue plaque, which is a permanent sign in the UK installed in a public place to celebrate a link between that location and a famous person or event.

English Heritage, a UK-based charity, called her "Britain's first Muslim war heroine in Europe," and unveiled the blue plaque at her family home in Bloomsbury, London, at 7.00 p.m. (1900GMT) in a live-streamed online event.

Khan's life was molded by war -- somewhat ironic considering she was a pacifist by virtue of her Sufi faith. Born in Moscow in 1941 to an Indian father and American mother, her family moved to London at the start of World War I.

They then moved to France, but in 1940 escaped the Nazi occupation to Cornwall in the south of England.

She joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, trained as a radio operator, and recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) -- a secret military organization set up by then-premier Winston Churchill to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe.

The SOE sent her as the first female radio operator to occupied France.

Her biographer, Shrabani Basu, was quoted by the Guardian as saying: "She was fluent in French, she knew the area, and she was a brilliant radio operator. So she went in undercover behind enemy lines and she worked there for three months setting up crucial links and sending information back to London."

Khan was arrested by the Gestapo, the Nazis' secret police, later that year having been betrayed by a French double-agent.

She briefly escaped custody but was recaptured. Though subjected to interrogation in a German prison, she gave her captors no information -- not even her name.

Ten months later, she was taken to the Dachau concentration camp, where she was executed in 1944.

Khan later received the George Cross for her service, the second-highest award in Britain that recognizes "acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger."

Basu told Sky News that Khan shouted "Liberte" before being killed.

"They could not kill her spirit and that is what I take away from her story," she said.

Basu made the application for the plaque at the London home Khan left for France.

"When Noor Inayat Khan left this house on her last mission, she would never have dreamed that one day she would become a symbol of bravery. She was an unlikely spy," she told Sky News.

"As a Sufi, she believed in non-violence and religious harmony. Yet when her adopted country needed her, she unhesitatingly gave her life in the fight against fascism,

“It is fitting that Noor Inayat Khan is the first woman of Indian origin to be remembered with a blue plaque. As people walk by, Noor's story will continue to inspire future generations," she added.

"In today's world, her vision of unity and freedom is more important than ever."

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