The Malta Independent 13 December 2019, Friday

Israeli assassination of Islamic Jihad commander recalls killing of founder Fathi Shikaki in Sliema

Sunday, 17 November 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 25 days ago

Last Tuesday, Israel assassinated a senior commander of the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad in an airstrike, resuming its contentious policy of targetted killings of militant leaders. While once frequent, Israel has resorted to the strategy only occasionally in recent years.

Tuesday’s strike on the Gaza home of Bahaa Abu el-Atta was the second such attack in five years to be claimed by Israel. The hit was the 10th targeted killing of an Islamic Jihad leader since 1995. 

The first in a string of such assassinations took place on the Sliema promenade in October 1995, just over 24 years ago. The target was Fathi Shikaki, who in 1979 founded Islamic Jihad — an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Shikaki was gunned down by a man on a motorcycle outside the Diplomat Hotel in an attack widely assumed to have been carried out by Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. The case, however, remains unsolved officially.

Shikaki was in Malta after reportedly meeting a senior Iranian envoy in Libya to discuss the assassination of Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. Following the killing, Iran accused the PLO of passing details of Shikaki’s travel plans and forged passport to Israel, which then arranged for him to be killed outside his hotel.

Shikaki — whose group was responsible for a series of suicide bombings targeting Israelis — was based in Damascus, Syria. In October 1995 he travelled to Libya, where he met Hussein Shaikholeslam, the Iranian deputy minister for foreign affairs with responsibility for the Arab world, who was also believed to have been deputy head of Iranian intelligence.

They allegedly discussed the murder of Arafat, hated by Iran and Islamic Jihad for his co-operation with Israel and the US in signing the Oslo Accords.

On the morning of 26 October, Shikaki returned by ship to Malta from Libya. He may have travelled with Shaikholeslam, who later stated on Iranian radio that Shikaki had decided to break his journey in Malta at the last moment. He was wearing a wig, had apparently shaved off his beard and had a forged Libyan passport under the alias Ibrahim Dawish. He took a room at the Diplomat Hotel, where he had stayed before.

According to Maltese police investigations, Shikaki visited some local shops to buy shirts for his children soon after he had checked in. On his return, two men were waiting for him on a motorcycle, one of whom walked up to him and shot him six times in the head.

As Shikaki fell to the ground, his assassin jumped on to the motorcycle, which was driven off and found abandoned under a bridge by a jetty. Investigators believe the killers were taken away by boat straight off the Sliema front.

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