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Murder of Palestinian in Malaysia raises awkward questions

Jefferson Galt

Early on Saturday morning,in Setapek, one of Kuala Lumpur's most racially and religiously integrated suburbs, two men in dark, full face, helmets sat on a rare, high-powered, motorcycle for some twenty minutes. As Palestinian FADI Mohammad al Batsh, 35, passed by on his way from his home to lead dawn prayers in his role as imam, the man on the back of the bike shot him. Police reports say that he was shot four times with a high degree of accuracy: there were only two stray bullets found out of evidence that ten shots were fired. Two men nearby were not harmed. This was not a simple murder, the circumstances suggest.

Fadi had, reports say, lived and worked in Kuala Lumpur for a decade. He held a PhD in electrical engineering and before moving to Malaysia had worked at the Palestinian Electricity authority. He was also regarded as "a scholar," which in Malaysia is usually taken to mean that he studies the form of Islam that is acceptable to the religious authorities in the country. It does not imply that he is a radical in any sense of the word.

Almost immediately, the blame-game began. Fadi's family immediately accused Israel and the Times of Israel carries a photograph of a very professional poster and another large, equally professional banner, outside Fadi's family home in Gaza only hours after the murder. Importantly, neither the photograph in the poster nor any of those outside Fadi's family's home in the newspaper photo (distributed by AFP) are wearing any form of religious dress: this is not the image one has of radicals or those that associate with them.

One thing is agreed: in common with many Palestinians, he was a member of Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah Islamic Resistance Movement, for which the Westernised acronym is HAMAS. What HAMAS is not, despite the bias of the "Wikipedia" article which turns the acronym into a word is "a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organisation."

In Palestine, HAMAS immediately claimed that Fadi was a senior member of the organisation that is subject to sanctions by, inter alia, the US, the EU and the United Nations. The Times of Israel says "Hebrew media reports said Gaza-born scientist Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh was an expert on rocket and drone accuracy. He had reportedly published material recently on drone development, and on transmitters for controlling drones." So, not hiding, then.

HAMAS jumped on the opportunity to gain publicity and sympathy: the banner, it is reported, described Fadi as a member of the military wing of HAMAS and "a commander." Israeli TV claimed that HAMAS had sent many young men from Gaza to Malaysia for "technical training" and that Malaysia had proved "a paradise" for HAMAS in recent years. That is a comment that Malaysia has so far chosen to ignore. There are no diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Israel and Malaysia is often criticised by Israel's allies for its political stance over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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