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Behind a Roadside Hit in Malaysia, Israeli-Palestinian Intrigue

The Malaysian Connection

The killing of Mr. Batsh, 34, in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Gombak, known locally as Little Arabia, is bringing to light not only the increasing presence of Hamas and other groups here, but also Malaysia’s emergence as an epicenter of international intrigue.

This was the second high-profile assassination in the Malaysian capital in little more than a year. In February 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, was killed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport by two women who prosecutors said smeared a deadly nerve agent on his face. The women, from Indonesia and Vietnam, are on trial for his death, but at least seven North Koreans suspected of being linked to the killing escaped or were allowed to leave the country, officials said.

Malaysia is also known as a port for contraband, ranging from North Korean weapons to endangered animal products and illegally felled trees.

“It has been a permissive environment for many rogue actors, as long as their focus was not directed within Malaysia,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington who studies Southeast Asian security issues.

Malaysia’s government has for decades been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause: It has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and Prime Minister Najib Razak visited Gaza in 2013 at the invitation of Hamas, which governs the territory. The intelligence officials said that Hamas, in recent years, had begun seeing the country as an ideal place to incubate its research ambitions.

In another case, in 2010, Palestinians who had been sent to Malaysia trained in paragliding as a potential tool for attacks, according to a statement from the Israeli secret service. Malaysian officials denied any involvement in such a plot.

The United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, the dominant party in the coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence, has maintained relations with an unusual array of political organizations around the world. Until Mr. Kim’s assassination last year at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, for instance, UMNO sustained a formal relationship with North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party. Malaysia was one of the few nations in the world that North Koreans could enter without a visa.

Source: NYT > World

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