LONDON: British police have launched a fresh appeal for information on the murder of a famous Palestinian political cartoonist in London 30 years ago, hoping someone might feel more able to speak up three decades later.
Naji Salim Hussain al-Ali, who received a number of death threats for his cartoons which satirised Arab and Israeli politics, was shot in west London on July 22, 1987.
He died in hospital just over one month later, aged 51.
Speaking to London’s Metropolitan Police 30 years on, the cartoonist’s son Osama al-Ali described his father’s sudden death as “traumatic”.
“Clearly a horrific crime was committed and to have justice is critical for the family, and just I think politically it’s also critical that people know what happened and there’s resolution,” he said.
Speaking to media, Osama al-Ali said that people with influence may have withheld information crucial to finding out who was behind his father’s assassination.
“There were people active on the political scene at the time – who still are to a lesser extent – they have information which they did not share,” he said.
London’s Metropolitan Police (Met) are now calling for anyone with information on the murder, in particular on two suspects they have been unable to identify, to come forward.
Al-Ali’s cartoons were often depicted from the perspective of Handala, a small refugee boy that always had his back turned as a symbol to the unrealised right of return for Palestinian refugees.
The cartoons were perceived as critical of the Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership, as well as Israeli and Arab governments, which won him international acclaim but also resulted in a number of death threats made against him.
Motive for murder
The police said they were keeping an open mind about the motive for his killing.
“My brush is my only weapon, I use it to stand against the vicious forces of evil in our world,” al-Ali once said.
He was shot in the back of the neck in broad daylight while walking from his car to the Knightsbridge office of Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas, where he worked at the time.
Witnesses watched the suspected assailant follow al-Ali and later flee the scene on foot.
He was described as about 25 and of Middle Eastern appearance, with thick, collar-length black hair that was wavy at the back.
Witnesses also reported seeing another man, in his 50s and also of Middle Eastern origin, running nearby shortly after the incident, with his left hand inside his jacket as if concealing something.
He then got into a silver-grey left-hand drive Mercedes and drove away.
“Speculation has raged for many years over who might have ordered the killing,” said.
“At the time police arrested several suspects with links to the PLO and Israeli Mossad but with little in the way of hard evidence. No one has ever been charged with the murder.”
Commander Dean Haydon, head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, which is reviewing the case, said the police have “followed a number of lines of enquiry which have not resulted in us identifying these two men”.
“However, a lot can change in 30 years,” he said.
“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.”