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Suleiman Mohammed Abdul-Hamid Khater
|Died||January 7, 1986 (aged 24–25)|
Suleiman Mohammed Abdul-Hamid Khater (Arabic سليمان خاطر, also transcribed Soleiman, Sulaiman, Sulayman, Suliman etc.; 1961-1986) was an Egyptian soldier who committed the Ras Burqa massacre of October 5, 1985, when he opened fire on Israeli tourists in the Sinai Peninsula, killing seven of them, as well as an Egyptian police officer. While Israel demanded that he be harshly punished, he enjoyed widespread support in Egypt and throughout the Arab world for his actions. Khater was found dead in January 1986, hanged in his jail cell, and many suspected that the Egyptian authorities staged a "suicide" as a convenient escape from their political dilemma.
Suleiman Khater was born in 1961 in the village of Ekyad (sometimes transcribed Akyad) in Al-Sharkeyya governorate, Egypt. He was the youngest of three boys and two girls. During his childhood, Khater witnessed the Israeli strike on Bahr el-Bakar Primary School on April 8, 1970.
Ras Burqa massacre
According to the Associated Press report published by the Pittsburgh Press, on October 5, 1985, Khater, a policeman, shot and killed 7 Israeli tourists, including four children and two women, approximately 25 miles from the Egyptian-Israeli Border. Khater wounded two other minors, one aged 5. The shooting occurred in the late afternoon near a resort.
Khater's lawyer requested that the trial be held in civil court, but his request was refused. He court-martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison with hard labor on December 28, 1985. He was sent to the Military Prison in Cairo to begin serving his sentence. Khater committed suicide on January 7, 1986, less than two weeks into his life term. He was found hanged in his cell.
Khater's sentence was opposed by public pressure created by the Al-Wafd party, the main opposition party in Egypt at that time. Its newspaper "Al-Wafd" published a fake story, mentioning that the dead tourists were Israeli soldiers who had crossed the Egyptian border and attacked Khater's post. While pro-government newspapers were silent over the incident, opposition newspapers ran articles praising Khater, hailing him as the hero of Sinai. The opposition press ran various articles attempting to justify his actions, including that the Israeli tourists were spies caught photographing secret military installations, that they spat on and tore up an Egyptian flag, that half-naked Israeli women offended the religiously observant Khater, or that the tourists attacked him. When Khater's trial opened, a wave of protest rallies took place throughout Egypt, and some 140 people were arrested, most of them at Zagazig University, where Khater had been a law student. Several thousand people reportedly attended a Cairo rally protesting his trial. Egypt's most prominent lawyers stood in line to passionately defend Khater. Afterwards, the pro-government press published the real story behind the massacre for the first time, revealing that most of the victims were in fact women and children.
The glorification of Khater in the Egyptian media was echoed in other Arab countries, where many hailed him as a hero and role model. Mass demonstrations were held in his support, and he was honored by the Parliament of Kuwait. In addition, the Iranian government of Ayatollah Khomeini issued a postage stamp reading "In honour of the martyrdom of Sulayman Khater, Hero of Sinai" and named a street in Tehran for him.
In the investigation record, Khater tells his story that on October 5, 1985:
I was on a cliff high from the ground, serving during my shift, and I saw a group of foreigners; women, children and apparently a man wearing swimsuits. I said: 'Stop no passing' in English, they didn’t obey. And they passed by the booth. My mission there was to guard the borders, to guard the equipment that no one, Egyptian or foreigner, should see. This is a no entry area and no one should be there, and these are my orders. It isn’t the case that I let pass any girl who strips in front of me.— Suleiman Khater, The investigation record
After several wars between Egypt and Israel, and a high death toll, Khater was considered a national hero by the public in Egypt, who believed the Al-Wafd paper story about the 12 Israeli soldiers who attacked Khater and were killed. With a limited access to international media at the pre-Internet era, and under the Mubarak dictatorship, Egyptians continue to believe the conspiracy theory about the suicide of Khater. Many Egyptians cast doubt on the government's version of his death.
The forensic report said that he committed suicide, his family disagreed and refused to believe it. Suicide in Egyptian culture is not a common behavior, and the family of a person who committed suicide can get shunned by the community. His brother said: “I raised my brother very well, and I know how faithful and religious he is. He cannot have committed suicide. They killed him in his prison”.
National (governmental) journals said that Khater hanged himself from a window 3 meters from the ground
Khater's family issued a request to have the autopsy redone by an independent committee, however their request was declined. As soon as Khater's death was announced, angry university and school students protested. His mother later said: “My son was killed, by the government, for the sake of America and Israel, so that they will be satisfied”.
- Egypt Cop`s Death Sparks Unrest
- * Policeman Shoots, Kills 8 In Egypt's Sinai Peninsula – published in the Pittsburgh Press on 6 October 1985
- No byline. "Egyptian Who Shot 7 is Dead". The New York Times. 8 January 1986. URL accessed on 31 December 2006.
- Quandt WB: The Middle East: ten years after Camp David, p. 35
- "The National Assembly of Kuwait on Saturday called on Egypt to free a policeman sentenced to life imprisonment for killing seven Israeli tourists and honor him as a hero of the Arab people. The National Assembly asked Egypt to release Sgt. Suleiman Khater immediately and honor him because he has 'restored to the Arab people some of its dignity'." Story headlined "Kuwaitis Urge Egypt to Free Slayer of Israelis" in the December 29, 1985 Los Angeles Times
- 'Ras Burqa killer was murdered, didn't commit suicide'
- "Egyptian who shot 7 is dead" (New York Times, January 8, 1986)
- 1986 Iranian stamp; stamp image (missing from preceding site)
- "سليمان خاطر"
- NewsFilm Online: Egypt: Death of Policeman Conscript who Killed Israelis leads to Anti-government Demonstrations
- The Milwaukee Journal: Egyptian killer of seven Israelis commits suicide in his cell
- "Egypt detains 6 over play about cop who gunned down Israeli tourists", The Times of Israel, 6 March 2018