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UK to reinvestigate murder of Palestinian cartoonist

August 29, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Image of Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali [News and Palestinian Sports Saint Etienne/Facebook]

British counterterrorism police have reopened an investigation into the murder of Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali 30 years after he was shot and killed in London, according to BBC News.

The Metropolitan Police have appealed for information about the gunman and a second man seen driving away from the scene on 22 July 1987. They have also released an updated sketch of the shooter to show what the man may look like today.

Al-Ali, one of the Arab world’s most popular satirical cartoonists, was known for his outspoken criticism of Israel, the US and Arab governments, including the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat. He had reportedly received some 100 death threats but continued to condemn Israel’s occupation and what he considered the inadequacies of the Palestinian leadership.

Al-Ali’s most famous creation was Handala; the refugee boy, always seen from behind as he observes various scenes of Israel’s occupation, is used in numerous pro-Palestinian resources to this day.

The cartoonist was often regarded as a voice for dispossessed Palestinians, described by the Guardian in 1984 as “the nearest thing there is to an Arab public opinion”. He was particularly dismayed by the traction gained by the two-state solution, which he viewed as acceptance that Palestinians would never regain the entirety of their homeland.

Read: Naji Al-Ali remembered in Istanbul

Al-Ali was on Ives Street, Knightsbridge, outside the office of Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas, for whom he drew political caricatures, when he was shot in the back of the neck. Witnesses reported seeing two men following him in the moments before the shooting, one of whom escaped by running down Draycott Avenue; the other drove off in a silver Mercedes.

Al-Ali was taken to hospital, where he remained in a coma until he died over a month later, on 29 August 1987.

An artwork by famous Palestinian cartoonist, Naji Al-Ali, who was shot dead in 1987

The police traced weapons of the assailants to a flat in Hull owned by Ismail Sowan, a 28-year-old Palestinian researcher. Sowan was accused of working for the PLO, which he initially denied, but later confessed to working as a double agent for the organisation on behalf of the Israeli secret service Mossad and admitted previous knowledge of the assassination. The admission soured relations between the UK and Israel and three Israeli diplomats were expelled from London and Mossad’s base in the capital was closed.

The gun – a 7.62 Tokarev pistol – was found in open space on the Hallfield Estate in Paddington almost two years after the murder, on 22 April 1989.

Read: Mossad accused of assassinating Palestinian in Sweden

Thirty years later, the case has been reopened in the hope of shedding light on the shooter who was never identified.

In a statement, Commander Dean Haydon, head of counter-terrorism command, said: “The brutal murder of Mr Al-Ali devastated his family and 30 years on they continue to feel the loss. We have previously reviewed this case and followed a number of lines of inquiry which have not resulted in us identifying these two men.”

“However, a lot can change in 30 years – allegiances shift and people who were not willing to speak at the time of the murder may now be prepared to come forward with crucial information.”