UK anti-terror police have reopened an investigation into the murder of a famous Palestinian cartoonist 30 years after he was shot dead in central London.
Naji al-Ali, 51, was shot in the back of the neck as he walked to the offices of the Kuwaiti newspaper where he worked in Knightsbridge on July 22, 1987. He died from his wounds a month later.
“Mr Al-Ali’s cartoons were sometimes perceived as critical of the regime in Palestine and he had received a number of death threats in the years leading up to his murder,” the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command said in a statement.
The Palestine Liberation Organization, led at the time by the late Yasser Arafat, has always denied being behind the murder of al-Ali, who was critical both of Israeli and Arab regimes.
Al-Ali’s most popular cartoon character was Handala, a refugee boy who always had his back turned to symbolize the plight of refugees unable to return.
Anti-terror police now believe that with the passing time, new witnesses may come forward and help solve the mystery of who killed the cartoonist.
“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,” said Commander Dean Haydon, head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, in a statement.
“We remain open-minded about the motive for Mr Al-Ali’s murder and we believe there are people somewhere who have information that could help us bring those responsible for his murder to justice.”
Investigators are appealing for information about the gunman and a second man later seen driving away from the scene. Police released a drawing of the first suspect, who they described at the time as being of Middle Eastern appearance and aged about 25, with collar-length thick black hair that was wavy at the back. The photo has been updated to show what he might look like now.
Witnesses at the time of the murder describe seeing the suspect holding a black automatic handgun close to al-Ali, and then running away.
There was also a witness report of a second man seen running with his left hand inside the right side of his jacket, as if he was concealing something, before climbing into the driver’s seat of a silver-gray left-hand drive Mercedes shortly after the incident.
This man was described as being of Middle Eastern appearance, aged in his 50s, about 5-feet 9-inches and of medium build but with heavy shoulders. He was said to have dark bushy hair with a lot of grey in it, a fattish face and a bigger than average nose. He was clean-shaven and of smart appearance, wearing a gray suit.
The gun – a 7.62 Tokarev pistol – was found in an open space in Paddington, about two miles away, almost two years after the murder.
Specialists carried out forensic analysis of the gun, including test-firing the pistol, and identified that the marks from the firing pin left on the ejected cartridge case recovered from the scene matched those left on bullets during test firing.