The year 2007 ended in the Middle East on a dramatic note, with the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto’s killing by a gunman last Thursday was no isolated assassination.
This year was marked by a number of political killings, which could shape the political future of the region and affect the rest of the world.
Bhutto’s murder has already thrown Pakistan into political turmoil. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) estimates that the parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for January 8 2008, will be postponed for at least three months.
Sher Jan Marri, 32, a prominent Pakistani politician of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, was shot to death on October 10. Unidentified attackers on a motorbike ambushed his car and fled after shooting him. Marri was the former deputy mayor of Kohlu district, where tribal rebels have been active.
A car carrying tribal elders associated with the Pakistani government was the target of a motorcycle bomb in Sui on March 7. One of the elders was killed and 12 others injured. The perpetrators have not been identified. Experts have pointed their finger at local Taliban operatives.
On February 9, six members of the PPPwere killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in Attock. The attack may relate to the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2008.
Two days earlier, a Pakistani Intelligence Bureau official, Naza Muhammad, was killed when suspected Taliban gunmen on motorcycles shot him in his car.
In Lebanon, a spate of politically motivated assassinations has continued since the murder of former prime minister, Rafiq Al-Hariri, in February 2005.
Lebanon lost two lawmakers in political assassinations this year:
MP Walid Eido, 65, killed in a car bomb in Beirut along with his son Khalid and eight others on June 13. Eido represented the anti-Syrian Al-Mustaqbal (The Future) Party, headed by Sa’ad Al-Hariri, Rafiq Al-Hariri’s son. Eido was a prominent critic of the Syrian-backed Hizbullah.
MP Antoine Ghanem was assassinated in a bombing in Beirut’s Christian neighborhood Sin Al-Fil on September 19. Ghanem represented the Kataib party, which lost another of its members, Pierre Gemayel, in an assassination in November 2006.
Ghanem was considered an anti-Syrian legislator. In September 2004 he voted against extending the term of Syrian-backed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.
Ghanem actively participated in the Cedar Revolution after Al-Hariri’s assassination in 2005.
Not only politicians were targeted in Lebanon.
Brigadier General Francois Hajj, a senior Lebanon Army commander, was killed in a bombing in a Beirut suburb on December 12. Hajj had been named a possible replacement for army commander Michel Suleiman, who is expected to be elected the next Lebanese president.
Hajj was active in fighting Hizbullah control in southern Lebanon and had fought against the Islamist Fatah Al-Islam organization.
Syria is largely believed to be behind these assassinations in Lebanon as it seeks to eliminate opposition in the neighboring country. Damascus denies all involvement in the killings.
Also in Lebanon, on April 26, Ziad Ghandour, 12, and Ziad Qabalan, 25, were kidnapped and murdered in Sidon. The crime was described as revenge for the killing of ‘Adnan Shamas, a 29-year-old Shi’ite, during the anti-government demonstration in January 2007. The Shamas family denied involvement in the murder. Qabalan and Ghandour’s fathers were both members of Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party.
Brigadier-General. Qeis Al-Mamouri, Chief of Police of Babil Province, was killed on December 9, when five successive roadside bombs exploded hitting his armored vehicle. The attack occurred 45 minutes after Major-General Rick Lynch, commander of Task Force Marne, a combined U.S.Iraqi force responsible for Babil, completed a press conference in Baghdad praising Al-Mamouri.
"I see amazing momentum on the local level. Let’s focus in on General Qeis of the Babil police. He is Iraqi, and if you are anti-Iraqi, he is anti-you," General Lynch told a group of reporters the same day.
Six days earlier, Major General Fawzi Muhammad Hussein, was killed by gunmen in Baghdad’s Al-Jami’a district. Hussein was a senior adviser to Interior Minister Jawad Al-Bolani, a Shi’ite who was unaffiliated with any of the Shi’ite parties.
The governor of Al-Muthana Province, Muhammad ‘Ali Al-Hassani was killedby a roadside bomb on August 20, in an attack that Iraqi officials called the result of an internal power struggle with a rival Shi’ite armed group, the Mahdi Army. Al-Hassani was a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of Iraq’s main Shi’ite parties. He was the second governor of this powerful party to be killed within 10 days.
On August 11, the governor of Qadisiyya Province,Khalil Jalil Hamza, and his police chief, Major General Khalid Hassan, were killed by a roadside bomb. The two were returning to the provincial capital, Diwaniya. Qadisiyya has been the site of battles between the police and the Shi’ite Mahdi Army.
The Councilor of Faouja City, Sami Naib Al-Jumeili, was killed on April 21 in a drive-by shooting outside his home. Suspicion fell on Al-Qa’ida, which was orchestrating terror attacks against politicians cooperating with American and Iraqi officials.
On February 6, the mayor of Benchoud, Algeria, was assassinated outside his home. No one claimed responsibility for the attack but the Al-Qa’ida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (QOIM) has been active in the area.
Afghanistan has seen a spate of attacks against high profile figures:
Mawlawi Fazel Ahmad Muslim, a top security council official for the Kamdesh and Barikot districts, was killed by unidentified attackers on April 30 when traveling between the two.
Abdol Manan, a Daman Province council member, was killed in his home on February 27. It is unclear who was responsible for the attack.
Fatanah, the daughter of former Afghan president Borhanoddin Rabbani, and her husband were attacked by unidentified gunmen in Kabul on January 27. Fatanah was injured, but her husband was killed in the attack.
Mawlawi Muhammad Islam Muhammadi, an MP from Samangan, was killed by unidentified attackers on his way to a mosque in Kabul on January 26. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Ahmad Shah Wakilzada, the deputy chief of the Nurestan Provincial Council, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen while traveling in Nangraj on January 15. No one has claimed responsibility for the killing.
A Bangladeshi public prosecutor, Hyder Hussein, was shotdead by suspected members of the Jama’at Al-Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) Islamicist group in Jhalakathi on April 11. Hussein, presided in a case against JMB members suspected of killing judges in Jhalakathi.
On January 6,two politicians were killed in Kushtia. Afaz Uddin, a Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) activist and Abu Daud of the Jama’at-e-Islami Party. Members of the Purbo Banglar Communist Party (PBCP) were suspected of carrying out the attack.
Neither has the media emerged unscathed from the chaos. In Somalia, where the government has been fighting Islamists for over a year, seven journalists were slain in 2007. At least three of them were deliberately targeted, supposedly because of their coverage, which angered some parties to the conflict.
Mahad Ahmed Elmi from Capital Voice and Ali Sharmarke from HornAfrik were killed in Mogadishu in two separate attacks on the same day, August 11.
Elmi was shot in the head four times at close range. Sharmarke was killed after attending Elmi’s funeral that day. His car was hit by a remotely detonated landmine.
Bashiir Noor Gedi, the acting manager of Radio Shabelle, was assassinated outside his home in Mogadishu on October 19. The station had been attacked and threatened in the past by both government forces and Islamists.
In Turkey, managing editor of the Turkish-Armenian Agos newspaper, Hrant Dink, was shot dead outside his Istanbul office on January 19. He had previously received death threats for his articles on the mass slaughter of Armenians in the early twentieth century. Armenians say these killings constitute genocide, whereas Ankara rejects this definition.
Beyond the killings
Beside the politically motivated bloodbath witnessed in many Middle Eastern countries, their regimes also impose restrictive laws and political arrests are part of daily life. In Egypt, Iran, Bahrain, and other states, political activists are picked up from the streets and incarcerated, usually without trial.
In Pakistan, according to many analysts, the month-long state of emergency imposed in November 2007 clearly sought to hamper proper democratic processes.
And there are those who would argue that the execution of former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein and other officials from his regime could also constitute an assassination.