Jihad leader took just one risk too many

Fathi Shkaki's casual attitude to his own safety aided his assassins' task, writes Patrick Cockburn

Jerusalem - The assassins of Fathi Shkaki, leader of Islamic Jihad, had long been preparing to kill him during his repeated visits to Malta. Their task was made easier by his lack of concern for his own safety.

The number-plate on the motor cycle used for the killer's escape and later found under a bridge was stolen several months ago in Malta, according to Israeli press reports.

They say a motor cycle was probably used because of the heavy traffic in Valletta at lunch time, when the assassination took place.

The most surprising detail to emerge is that Shkaki, who must have known he was the man most wanted by Mossad, the Israeli foreign security agency, stayed in the same hotel nine times in recent years. Although he had a Libyan passport under the name of Ibrahim Shawish, had shaved off his beard and was wearing a wig, Shkaki does not appear to have varied his itinerary.

He checked into room 616 at the Diplomat Hotel in a suburb of Valletta last Thursday morning. He had a ticket to return home to Damascus the following day.

Before lunch he walked to some nearby shops to buy shirts for his children. As he returned to his hotel he was shot six times in the head with a silenced pistol, according to the Israeli reports. The assassin was driven away on the motor cycle by a second man.

The motorcycle was abandoned 10 minutes later at the jetty of a yacht harbour. Investigators believe the killers were taken off by boat. No fingerprints were found on the bike.

Israeli press reports focus on the professional skill of the assassins, who are assumed to belong to Mossad, but Shkaki evidently had a relaxed attitude to his own security.

Islamic Jihad has promised an attack to avenge the death of its leader but the Israeli government is playing down the assassination. Asked about it yesterday during the Middle East and North Africa economic conference in Amman, Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, told reporters: "Oh, leave it aside. We deal with the major problems of peace in the Middle East." He said earlier he was "certainly not sorry" Shkaki was dead.

In order not to disrupt the conference, Israel has not sealed off Gaza and the occupied West Bank totally, which has been its reaction in other security alerts. Instead, the army raised the age of Gaza workers allowed into Israel from 30 to 35, barred all students and vehicles from leaving the enclave and said no permits would be issued for Palestinians from the West Bank and Jerusalem to go to Israel.

It is unlikely that the measures will stop retaliation by Islamic Jihad, whose prestige has always depended on its efficiency in mounting damaging attacks on Israelis. It is impossible to seal the West Bank. At the same time, Palestinians there do not want the withdrawal of Israeli troops from urban centres over the next two months to be delayed by another suicide bomb or assassination.

Israeli reports say Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, the new leader of the organisation, is likely to be as militant as his predecessor. They say from the late 1980s until last year Mr Shalah was based in Britain, co-ordinating contacts between Islamic Jihad in Syria and Gaza. His brother is serving 25 years in a Palestinian prison for recruiting the suicide bombers who killed 21 Israeli soldiers in January.

Obituary, page 14

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own