Why Was This Scientist Killed in a Drive By Shooting in Kuala Lumpur?

The murder of Palestinian scientist Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh yielded more questions than answers.
Monday 30 July 2018
Men preparing a poster of 35-year-old Palestinian professor and Hamas member Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP

How many of us who hear of the achievements of the Khazanah academic scholars, feel admiration for their abilities? For anyone who has ever tried, getting this scholarship is no simple feat.

There are detailed applications, essays, at least 3 rounds of online tests and an interview. Not to mention the highest grades and a fulsome curriculum vitae.

Undoubtedly, these lucky scholars would be the finest of their generation.

Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh was one such scholar.

In 2013 he won the Yayasan Khazanah-VPM scholarship for his PhD studies in Electrical Engineering and in August 2016, he received both the Special Mention Award and High Achiever Award, at the 10th Anniversary celebrations of Yayasan Khazanah Scholarship, presented by the then Prime Minister of Malaysia.

To be a recipient of the scholarship is admirable, even for those who study in the comfort of their home during peace time. To have won his scholarship to IIU Malaysia, so soon after completing his undergraduate studies in war-torn Gaza under siege, without the certainty of electricity and under constant attack, demonstrates his tenacity.

Indeed, it is more than any of us can fathom.

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Hundreds of Palestinian mourners turned out for the funeral of Hamas member, Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh in Gaza. Photo: Malay Mail

After his PhD, Fadi became a lecturer at UniKL. On 21 April 2018, on his way to morning prayers at a mosque just 300m from his home, he was gunned down by two gunmen on a high-powered motorcycle (BMW or Kawasaki), who had waited 20 minutes in the dark for him. A total of 14 bullets hit him. He was just 35, leaving behind his wife and three children.

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” so the saying goes. And how you reach your conclusion, depends on your point of view.

To understand the seemingly unbridgeable chasm that exists between Palestine and Israel, you only need go as far as The Times of Israel and The Palestine Chronicle. ‘Hamas Buries Rocket And Drone Expert Slain In Malaysia’ proclaims one headline, while another says ‘Malaysians Mourn Palestinian Scientist Fadi Al-Batsh’.

There is evidence that he was a scientist and there have been statements claiming that he was a rocket expert. One does not necessarily follow the other.

His research interest lay in the field of renewable energy and he had focused on a device that would have reduced 18% of electrical resistance, useful to solve the electricity outages in the Gaza Strip. His research was widely published in top tier engineering journals. Local sources confirm that he was working on a much-needed power plant in Gaza.

According to those who knew Fadi, he was gentle and kind, and they always remember him smiling. He was a devout Muslim and they never saw signs of militancy. He took part in causes that strengthened the resistance against Israel for occupying Gaza, the BDS movement, a global movement that calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

The Palestine Chronicle reports Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman as saying “The man was not a saint.” Malaysia’s then Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was reported in The Star as saying Fadi was an electrical engineer and “an expert at making rockets”, had had links with an intelligence organisation of a country and had been active in Islamic NGOs that championed the Palestinian cause.

The Minister did not elaborate on how or where he obtained this intelligence.

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Members of the Palestinian Hamas security forces carry a coffin containing the body of Palestinian scientist Fadi al-Batsh. Photo: Malay Mail

Hamas described Fadi as a “loyal” member and a “scientist of Palestine’s youth scholars” and did not elaborate further.

Western media believe that as the funeral service was conducted by the Islamic movement’s militant wing, this suggests that Fadi was one of its military commanders.

Fadi’s family accuse Mossad of carrying out the assassination.

Defence Minister Lieberman said it was likely that Fadi was killed as part of an internal Palestinian dispute, implying that blame for the killing lay with the Hamas-Fatah conflict.

“We heard about it in the news. The terrorist organisations blame every assassination on Israel – we’re used to that,” he told Israel Radio. The former Home Minister Zahid stated that Fadi “is believed to have become a liability for a country hostile to Palestine,” seemingly confirming that this was not the result of an internal conflict between Hamas and Fatah.

The Palestinian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur issued a statement denying the same.

In Malaysia, the people who knew him dismiss the idea that he was killed by his own community as “unacceptable”.

Ronen Bergman is a journalist based in Israel and author of the book, Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations. In the prologue, he states “Since World War II, Israel has assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world… its leaders have weighed what would be the best way to defend its national security and… have time and time again decided on clandestine operations, with assassinations the method of choice.” He claims that up until the start of the Second Intifada in 2000 till early 2018, the assassinations total 800.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Bergman says that the murder of Fadi bears all the hallmarks of a Mossad operation. “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,” Bergman said.

Police have released photo-fits of the two gunmen, originally believed to be of Middle Eastern or European descent, at all exit points in Malaysia. They describe the Palestinian lecturer’s killing as an “international issue” that is being investigated from all angles.

Later, the then Home Minister claimed that killers were from “the Caucasus region and could have some links to foreign intelligence”. The arrogance of labelling Fadi a “rocket and drone expert” implies a moral justification for his killing. Anyone perceived to be a threat to security deserves no due process, no trial to defend himself; he was just summarily executed as one would a cockroach with a can of Ridsect.

He was indeed a scholar as evidenced by his receiving the Yayasan Khazanah-VPM scholarship and his research as an academician. He was a Palestinian who naturally resisted the occupation of Gaza.

By all accounts, he was living peacefully in Malaysia, and well-known amongst the Malaysian community. The modus operandi of his killing bears the hallmarks of a political assassination. It is chilling that foreign governments believe they have the right to fight a proxy war on international territory, right here on our doorstep.

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