Ugly end for man who laughed at death

Assassination in Valletta: Israeli agents suspected of a killing that is unlikely to halt the cycle of violence

ROBERT FISK

Cairo

The threats of revenge against Israel were as swift as they were inevitable. From both Damascus and Gaza came promises that the assassination in Malta of the small, bespectacled man who looked more like a schoolmaster than the leader of a radical Islamist group would cost the blood of Israelis. The killing of Fathi Shkaki, the Islamic Jihad movement announced in Syria, was "an appalling crime [which] will make every Zionist, wherever he is, a target of our strikes and of our bodies that will explode in anger".

Shkaki, a Cairo-trained medical doctor who spent three years in Israeli prisons before founding Islamic Jihad in 1981, was shot five times in the back outside a Valletta hotel on Thursday by gunmen whom his movement identified yesterday as members of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. He had sailed to Malta from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after trying to persuade the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, to end his expulsion of Palestinian refugees, and was awaiting a flight back to Damascus when he was murdered.

Yesterday's threats were not to be taken lightly - nor was that sinister phrase "wherever he is", which means that vengeance would not be confined to Israel or the occupied West Bank. Only eight months ago, Shkaki sat in his office in Damascus, giggling as he talked about the work of two suicide bombers - one of whom he knew personally - who had slaughtered 20 Israelis at a bus stop north of Tel Aviv.

"We will continue our struggle [against Israel]," he said. "A few years ago we used knives. Three months ago, we used a bicycle bomb after Hani Abed [an Islamic Jihad journalist] was killed by Mossad. Now we have changed our style. As we progress, so we use more sophisticated ways. We know the Israelis are very sophisticated too ..." On Thursday, he discovered too late how determined they are - if, as few in the Middle East doubt, the Israelis were responsible.

Sophisticated or otherwise, the assassination of Palestinian leaders of any hue almost invariably leads to a bloodbath; Yasser Arafat himself, as head of a Palestinian Authority that now co-operates with Israeli intelligence services, knows well that his own officials could join an Islamic Jihad list of targets.

Last January, Shkaki laughed as he described his deportation from Israel in 1988, his meeting with Ayatollah Khomeini - he had visited Iran six times and acknowledged that Iran gave money to Islamic Jihad's "martyrs' foundation" - and his role as leader of an organisation which, he claimed, did not wish to set up an Islamic state but merely to "liberate all of Palestine". He lived in the Yarmouk Palestinian camp on the outskirts of Damascus, where his widow Fathia and his two sons and daughter were preparing a wake yesterday in advance of his body's return.

His assassination in Malta does not mean that the head has been cut from the body of Islamic Jihad. Not only has a new leader - Ramadan Abdullah, a former Gaza schoolmaster - been appointed heir apparent, but Shkaki himself had insisted to me that he did not direct "military operations" from Damascus. "Ordering and planning is the affair of our mujahedin in Palestine," he said. "It is not logical to give orders or plan from outside. The way of Islamic Jihad is that this is done by the military leadership ..."

Shkaki was by no means an unintelligent man. He claimed to have read Shakespeare, Dante, TS Eliot and Ezra Pound and at one point quoted Hamlet at length. But a knowledge of European literature does not wipe the blood from a man's hands. A suicide bomber, he said, "is doomed to death, so he chooses the most beautiful death - he is doomed because of the position he was put in". His struggle was "a war" because "our mothers wept much, much more than Israeli mothers - this is the fruit of imperialism and colonialism by the West and by the Israelis ... We are not even attacking Jews or Israelis outside Palestine [sic]. We are only defending our right to live in our homeland ..."

Islamic Jihad's threat of retaliation yesterday suggested that vengeance could indeed now come "outside Palestine". But few around Shkaki would regard his assassination in the romantic light of which he once spoke. Being shot in the back in a Maltese street is very definitely not "a beautiful death".

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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test