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UK police reopens case of iconic Palestinian political cartoonist killed 30 years ago

Aug. 30, 2017 6:29 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 31, 2017 4:35 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- UK police have launched a new probe into a murder case from 30 years ago, when controversial Palestinian political cartoonist Naji Salim Hussain al-Ali was shot and killed in West London -- the motive of which has remained unknown for decades.

The Metropolitan police reported on Tuesday that the Counter Terrorism Command (CTC) had issued an appeal for more information on anyone who has details on al-Ali’s murder, saying that the police were opening the case again decades later in hopes that people who did not come forward in 1987, when al-Ali was killed, would be willing to now.

Al-Ali was a famous Palestinian political cartoonist who used satire to criticize Arab and Israeli politics. Al-Ali is most famous for his cartoon Handala, a raggedy and bare-footed 10-year-old refugee boy who was always depicted with his back to the viewer and his hands clasped behind his back.

Handala became a symbol for the Palestinian right to return to their lands in what is now Israel. The character was meant to symbolize Al-Ali’s age when he became a refugee from historic Palestine, and was meant to remain the same age until Palestinians were allowed to return to their homes.

Al-Ali had said about the Handala character's age in the past that “I am still that age today and I feel that I can recall and sense every bush, every stone, every house and every tree I passed when I was a child in Palestine.”

Al-Ali grew up in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon before moving to Kuwait. He also worked with the iconic Palestinian poet and activist Ghassan Kanafani, who was the first to publish al-Ali's drawings in 1961.

Thirty years ago, al-Ali was shot in the back of the neck in broad daylight in West London. He died of his injuries in the hospital a month later.

Witnesses had said at the time that he was pursued by a man for about 40 seconds before being shot. Another person was also seen driving away from the scene. Investigators are looking for any individuals who might have information on the identity of the two men, the police said.

Many had suspected that al-Ali's murder was politically motivated, as he often criticized the Palestinain regime and Israel and had received numerous death threats before he was killed.

Police at the time had arrested several suspects from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, but to no avail, according to Al Jazeera.

"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," Commander Dean Haydon, head of CTC, said in the police statement.

Haydon added that he remained "open-minded" concerning the motives behind al-Ali's murder and that there are "people somewhere who have information that could help us bring those responsible for his murder to justice."

Al-Ali's son Osama also said that the family was "encouraged" that the case was reopened and that "we have some path towards resolution, so we know what happened.”

“Lots of questions are unanswered and we would like to have that closure," Osama said.

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