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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory