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UK police reopen unsolved 1987 murder of popular Palestinian cartoonist

Naji al-Ali was gunned down in Knightsbridge in London 30 years ago
An undated handout picture released by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in London on 29 August 2017 shows Naji Salim Hussain Al-Ali (AFP)

London's Metropolitan police have re-opened their investigation into the 1987 murder of Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, who was shot dead in London by unknown assailant.

Ali had been one of the most prominent political cartoonists in the Middle East, and was known to be a thorn in the side of both the Israeli government and authoritarian Arab states.

His most famous creation was Handala, a small spiky-haired dishevelled child, usually portrayed with his back to the reader, representing a witness to injustices and war.

A Jordanian youngster holds up a banner with cartoons by late Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali during a sit-in by Jordanians outside the United Nations office (AFP)

A spokesperson for the Met Police told Middle East Eye that unsolved murder cases were subject to periodic review "to assess whether there are any new investigative opportunities following the passage of time.

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"The Met has reviewed this case twice since the initial investigation and pursued a number of lines of enquiry which have not led to significant results," they said.

"However, allegiances change over time and people who were not willing to speak at the time of the murder may now be prepared to come forward with crucial information."

Ali was shot in Knightsbridge in west London, outside the office of Kuwaiti newspaper al-Qabas for which he had been penning cartoons.

The suspected gunman was described as being of Middle Eastern appearance and aged about 25.

He followed Al-Ali for about 40 seconds before shooting him, Haydon said.

The black automatic handgun, a 7.62 Tokarev pistol, was found on open ground in London in 1989. Test firings showed markings on the bullets that matched those on the cartridge case recovered from the murder scene.

A second man, described as being in his 50s and of Middle Eastern appearance, was seen running with his left hand inside the right side of his jacket, as if he was concealing something, and getting into a silver-grey Mercedes car shortly afterwards.

"We believe that this driver was seen hiding the weapon in his coat, intending to dispose of it," said Counter Terrorism Command commander Dean Haydon in a statement.

The new Metropolitan Police appeal is called Operation Amazon.

“My father was a very dedicated family man who wanted to spend as much time with his kids as possible. On top of that he was also very dedicated to his passion of his artwork and the political implications of that, and his people," Naji's son Osama said, according to the police statement.

“Lots of questions are unanswered and we would like to have that closure, so we are encouraged by the fact that the investigation is being reopened and we have some path towards resolution, so we know what happened.”

Both Israeili intelligence agency Mossad and the Palestine Liberation Organisation have been cited by analysts as possible suspects in the murder. 

A number of Palestinians have been assassinated in Europe since the 1970s, most recently Omar Nayef Zayed, who was found dead in Sofia, Bulgaria in February 2016.

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