A dramatic kidnap case in Malaysia may point to changes in Mossad’s tactics

Kuala Lumpur MalaysiaREPORTS FROM KUALA LUMPUR SUGGEST that Malaysian agents operating in the service of Israeli intelligence carried out the kidnapping of a Palestinian engineer, Omar al-Balbaisi, on September 28. According to the Malaysian newspaper The Straits Times, the kidnap operation was orchestrated by the Israeli external intelligence agency, the Mossad.

Omar al-Balbaisi completed a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the Islamic University in Gaza, where he allegedly joined the Izz-ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, specializing in hacking mobile phones. In or around 2020, al-Balbaisi left the Gaza Strip for Istanbul, where, according to reports, a Hamas secret intelligence and cyber unit was established in 2020. The unit allegedly operated on instructions from the Hamas leadership in Gaza, without the knowledge of the Turkish authorities.

When al-Balbaisi was kidnapped, he was reportedly returning from lunch with another Palestinian expatriate. According to the report, a white van drove toward the two men. Four people emerged from the van, grabbed al-Balbaisi and dragged him into the vehicle, while yelling at him: “our boss wants to talk to you”. The other Palestinian tried to help al-Balbaisi, but was warned to stay away from the scene. He subsequently filed a report at a police station, reportedly about 40 minutes after his friend was kidnapped.

According to the reports, the kidnapped Palestinian was taken bound and blindfolded to a safe house, where his Malaysian captors tied him to a chair. They then called two men, allegedly Israelis, who told the abductee: “you know why you are here”. According to another report, al-Balbaisi was interrogated, allegedly by two Israelis, believed to be Mossad agents, via a video call. However, the video call was disconnected when Malaysian police officers broke into the safe house.

Upon receiving the information about the kidnapping, Malaysian police immediately sought to locate al-Balbaisi. They subsequently managed to raid the house where the Palestinian was being held, while his interrogation was underway. A source told the Malaysian newspaper that “the Israelis wanted to know about [al-Balbaisi’s] experience in the field of software, about the strengths of Hamas in this field, and the members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades that he knew”.

According to Malaysian media, indictments were filed against 11 people, who now stand accused of third-degree kidnapping. In Malaysia this crime can be punishable by up to life imprisonment, or even the death penalty. It was also claimed that a local woman in her 30s headed the Mossad network in the country. It was said that “she has trained abroad, including in Europe”, and received 2,000 euros a month from her handlers. Several men worked under her, according to the report.

It is also claimed that the same woman was employed by Mossad agents in 2018, when Israeli intelligence allegedly killed Palestinian engineer Fadi al-Batsh in Malaysia. Al-Batsh, an electrical engineering lecturer at a Malaysian university, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle, as he was on his way to a mosque on Saturday. In April 2018, Avigdor Lieberman, who was then serving as Israel’s minister of defense, was asked in an interview about who killed al-Batch, he replied: “Ask James Bond […] maybe James Bond killed him, like in the movies”. Hamas, the militant Islamic group that rules Gaza, accuses Israel of assassinating al-Batsh.

It appears that the modus operandi of the Mossad has changed since the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a high ranking member of Hamas, who was killed on 19 January 2010, in Dubai hotel room. That assassination attracted international attention, in part due to allegations that it had been carried out by Mossad personnel. The undercover assassins were exposed, and were found holding fake or fraudulently obtained passports from several European countries and Australia. Using local people appears to be less risky. This development has led to assessments by intelligence experts that the Mossad may currently be using a similar modus operandi inside Iran.

Author: Avner Barnea | Date: 24 October 2022 | Permalink

Dr. Avner Barnea is research fellow at the National Security Studies Center of the University of Haifa in Israel. He served as a senior officer in the Israel Security Agency (ISA). He is the author of We Never Expected That: A Comparative Study of Failures in National and Business Intelligence (Lexington Books, 2021)

About intelNews
Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

2 Responses to A dramatic kidnap case in Malaysia may point to changes in Mossad’s tactics

  1. William Banks says:

    Mossad operation interrupted during initial interview?!? Somebody is really good and, um, somebody not.

  2. Anonymous says:

    A cynic might suspect Muslim countries, Turkey and Malaysia, had been turning a blind eye to Palestinian hacker engineer, Omar al-Balbaisi in their midst.

    Israel-Turkey relations had been tense for decades, but as they improved in the 2020s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel%E2%80%93Turkey_relations#Rapprochement Turkish security may have decided to eject Omar al-Balbaisi (and his hacker cell).

    After “Israeli intelligence allegedly killed Palestinian engineer Fadi al-Batsh in Malaysia” in 2018 a cynic would have suspecected Malaysian authorities would have beeen highly sensitive to yet another Palestinian engineer, Omar al-Balbaisi, entering Malaysia in 2021 or 2022.

    Coincidences? Lapses? or Proactive Multinational Surveillance? Who knows.

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