Chinese undercover agents are in the United States trying to curb Falun Gong's influence and kill its leader, Li Hongzhi, according to his supporters. 'We think a large group has been sent over here to assassinate him,' said a spokesman, Xu Kangang. 'There are a lot of rumours. I know the Chinese Government is trying to find out where he is.' Master Li, as his followers refer to him, has not given an interview for 18 months and is rumoured to be in hiding. 'I heard he is living in Queens,' said Mr Xu, referring to a borough of New York. 'I don't think he is frightened, he is trying to stay out of trouble. It is safer if he is not exposed to the public.' Mr Li's silence has prompted speculation about his actions and intentions. His spokesmen, often mainland Chinese living in the United States, now speak with venom about President Jiang Zemin and Luo Gan, the top official in charge of the campaign against the sect, but mildly about other leaders such as Premier Zhu Rongji. Despite the mystery surrounding Mr Li's whereabouts, his followers say he travels regularly around the United States and abroad, teaching large groups about his beliefs. He is said not to comment directly on what is happening in China and avoids political subjects. Falun Gong Web sites list a series of his conventions held in America in the past six months. Mr Li has also visited Australia and Taiwan. 'We saw him give a talk to followers in a New Jersey hotel and most recently at Christmas,' said one Beijing woman staying with relatives in New York, who wished to be known only as Mrs Wang. She and a friend have attended two study sessions with Falun Gong. People who have recently met Mr Li said he looked relaxed and was dressed in a business suit and open-neck shirt. They said he did not have bodyguards with him. Falun Gong supporters say they have often noticed Chinese attending study groups whom they suspect are plain-clothes agents. Nadine Leichter, an American who helps organise groups of Falun Gong practitioners in Queens says the intelligence-gathering effort is often intense. 'I get strange calls from people, often Chinese, who say things like they need data for a sociology paper. 'They want things like names and numbers,' she said. Robbie Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University, said: 'I even had a phone call from someone who said he worked for the State Department asking if I knew where Li Hongzhi was.' Followers also allege Chinese Government agents are trying to intimidate them. Mr Li's chief spokesman, Zhang Er'ping, targeted in People's Daily propaganda reports, has said he has received death threats. Mr Xu said: 'People call him up saying things like, 'You will be killed'. We asked the FBI to investigate.' Other enemies of the Chinese state in the United States, such as freed dissident Wei Jingsheng, also complain of receiving death threats and abusive phone calls. 'They try and scare me by sending fingernails in envelopes. Who else could this be but government agents?' Mr Wei said. Falun Gong supporters are also battling to win over public opinion in America, especially among the ethnic Chinese community. Mr Li's followers have staged sit-ins in front of the Chinese Consulate in New York and handed out leaflets. The consulate has appealed to the police to intervene. Beijing is also using Chinese-language television, newspapers and radio stations to disseminate propaganda in the US.