Updated: Dec 15, 2019
Targeted assassination of researcher in Kuala Lumpur likely part of Israeli campaign to kill overseas Palestinian scientists and engineers.
Thousands of mourners gathered in Gaza on Friday for the funeral of Fadi al-Batsh, a respected Palestinian researcher and engineering lecturer who was assassinated by gun-wielding assailants in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on April 21 while heading to a mosque for dawn prayers.
Al-Batsh studied electrical engineering in Gaza and earned a PhD on the subject from the University of Malaya. The slain academic was a member of Hamas, the militant Islamic group that has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007. Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, led the funeral prayers and alleged that Israel was involved in the killing.
Malaysian police have issued facial composite sketches of two men suspected of firing at least 14 shots at al-Batsh from a high-powered motorcycle.
Authorities have said that the suspects, who remain at large and are still believed to be in Malaysia, were light-skinned and of European or Middle Eastern descent.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister, claimed the perpetrators were Europeans with links to a foreign intelligence agency. He added that al-Batsh was a “liability for a country that is an enemy of Palestine”, a thinly veiled reference to Israel.
Israel has distanced itself from allegations that it was responsible for al-Batsh’s death. Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has deflected blame and suggested the killing resulted from infighting between rival militant groups within the Palestinian leadership.
Mossad, Israel’s notorious spy agency, is believed to have assassinated Palestinian, Arab and Iranian scientists in the past, though it rarely confirms such operations.
Malaysia’s government has long been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and does not have formal diplomatic ties with Israel. Prime Minister Najib Razak was the first non-Arab head of state to visit Gaza in 2013, as a guest of Hamas. He also led rallies at home last year opposing US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman, regarded as an expert on Israeli espionage and intelligence affairs, was recently quoted in an Al Jazeera report describing how the killing of al-Batsh appears to be consistent with tactics used by the Israeli spy agency.
“The fact that the killers used a motorcycle to kill their target, which has been used in many other Mossad operations before and being done as a clean, professional killing operation far away from Israel, points to Mossad’s involvement,” said Bergman.
Bergman recently co-authored a report in the New York Times which cited unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence officials who link al-Batsh’s assassination with an ongoing operation ordered by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen targeting Palestinian and Arab scientists and engineers allegedly sent overseas to gather weapon systems and intelligence for Hamas.
Public figures in Israel, however, say al-Batsh played a role in honing military technologies.
“[Al-Batsh] was specializing in drones, and also helping the Palestinian military wing of Hamas to make its rockets more accurate,” says Yoni Ben Menachem, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an independent foreign policy research institute.
“Hamas wants to surprise Israel with new weapons and tactics in the next war, and Israel is trying to prevent it,” he was quoted as saying.