The former long-time leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group, Ramadan Shalah, died on Saturday night aged 62 after a long illness.
Shalah, who led PIJ from 1995 until 2018, had been in a coma for more than three years after heart surgery, the terror group said. It didn’t say where he died, but he is believed to have been in Lebanon.
Shalah, who was born in the Gaza Strip, was appointed head of the terror group after the assassination of his predecessor, Fathi Shikaki in Malta, which was widely attributed to Israel. He was succeeded by Ziad al-Nakhala in 2018.
The United States in November 1995 named Shalah as a Specially Designated Terrorist and has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction.
In 2003, Shalah was among eight Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives indicted in the United States on 53 terrorism and racketeering counts for running a cell out of Tampa, Florida. Though four suspects were arrested, Shalah was overseas and charged in absentia.
The US Department of Justice, in a statement on the indictment at the time, underlined the terror group’s role in suicide bombings that killed scores of Israelis, and at least two Americans, 20-year-old Alisa Flatow and 16-year-old Shoshana Ben-Yishai.
In April 2018, Shalah was transferred from Damascus, where he lives, to a hospital in Beirut after suffering a series of heart attacks, a source close to the group told the Palestinian Quds Press news agency. Shalah has been unconscious since undergoing surgery at the Beirut hospital, the report said.
Although the source attributed the Islamic Jihad leader’s deteriorating health to “natural causes,” the Palestinian Authority embassy in Beirut believed there’s a possibility Shalah may have been poisoned.
The man in charge of security at the embassy sent a report to the PA General Intelligence Service in the West Bank in which he raised the possibility that Shalah had been poisoned, the news agency said at the time, quoting an unnamed source in the PA’s ruling Fatah faction.
That report, according to the news agency, said that two parties may have been behind the alleged poisoning: the Israeli Mossad or a security agency “belonging to a regional country.” The report did not name the country.
Closely allied with Iran and Syria, Islamic Jihad is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that was formed in Gaza in 1981. Active in both Gaza and the West Bank, it seeks the destruction of Israel and has carried out numerous bombings and suicide attacks on Israeli targets, and fired thousands of rockets into Israel from Gaza.