Norway reopens Mossad case of mistaken identity

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Almost a quarter of a century ago, Israel's intelligence agency killed a Moroccan waiter in Norway in the belief that he was a Palestinian leader. Now Norway wants Israel to interrogate the chief suspect. Patrick Cockburn in Jerusalem examines why the case has been reopened.

The chief suspect, Mike Harari, was a Mossad veteran who went on to an inglorious career as arms dealer in Latin America and confidant of General Noriega, the dictator of Panama.

It was in July 1973 that a team of Mossad agents arrived in the town of Lillehammer in Norway, believing they had finally tracked down Ali Hassan Salameh, the "Red Prince", whom Israel held responsible for planning the killing of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich a year earlier.

The gunmen followed the supposed Palestinian leader around Lillehammer for several hours on 21 July and then shot him dead in front of a pregnant woman as he returned home from a film. Only later did they learn that the dead man was, in fact, a Moroccan waiter called Ahmad Bouchiki, and the woman was his Norwegian wife.

The leader of the assassination squad was Mike Harari, according to Israeli books on the attack, now aged 70 and living in Tel Aviv. Norway reopened the investigation into the Bouchiki's death last month. They made little effort at the time to locate Mr Harari, who went on to enjoy a lucrative career as an arms dealer.

Why it has taken Norway so long to act is unclear. The Mossad operation was the most disastrous in the organisation's history until September this year, when two of its men were arrested in Jordan as they tried to assassinate Khalid Meshal, a leader of the Hamas Islamic militants.

Two of those involved in killing Bouchiki in Lillehammer had rented cars under their own names, Dan Ert and Marianne Gladnikoff. They were arrested when they returned them at Oslo airport. Once they had provided the address of an flat used by Mossad, six other agents were arrested. Mr Ert turned out to suffer from claustrophobia and confessed everything to the Norwegian police in return for a larger cell.

The Israeli government paid compensation to the Bouchiki family two years ago, but without admitting responsibility for the killing. Five of the Mossad agents served short terms in prison and were pardoned. Mr Harari and his fellow agent and girlfriend were almost alone in escaping. Another of the Mossad agents married her Norwegian lawyer. Mr Harari later sold Israeli arms worth about $500m to Latin America in the 1980s.

Now, seeing the statute of limitations running out, the Norwegian police have decided they would like Israel to ask him about what happened in Lillehammer in 1973.