I concluded my survey in The Rushdie Affair of the effects of the Khomeini edict against Salman Rushdie in the winter of 1989 with an account of a double homicide:
Just when the incident appeared to have abated, two Muslims living in Brussels were murdered on March 29, possibly in connection with the controversy. These were 'Abdullah Muhammad al-Ahdal, the Saudi imam of a mosque, and Salem el-Beher, the mosque's Tunisian librarian (who appears to have been killed only because he was in Ahdal's vicinity). The execution of Ahdal was apparently in retribution for his remarks on a Belgian television program, where he pursued the Saudi line: while The Satanic Verses was "gratuitously blasphemous," he made "a distinction between Islamic society and this country. Khomeini is responsible for his own country, but we are in a democratic country where everybody has the right to express his own thoughts and express themselves as they want." Further, Ahdal held that Khomeini's death sentence breached Islamic law; "you can't condemn a man to death like that." Ahdal reported several verbal threats against his life and was given police protection; the police also issued him a weapon. Despite these precautions, one hour after meeting with a group of local Muslims angered by his moderate stance, he was shot dead. Soldiers of God (Jund Allah), a pro-Iran Beirut organization, claimed responsibility for the assassination.
But the connection of these murders to Rushdie was not fully established, for a leading Saudi religious figure, 'Abdullah 'Umar Nasif, director of the Muslim World League, disclosed that Ahdal had received threats even before the Rushdie book emerged as an issue.
With these deaths, the international incident about The Satanic Verses came to a close, at least temporarily.
This episode never quite sat right with me, so I noted with interest two reports in the Belgian publication Het Laatste News (here and here) and summarized by the Islam in Europe blog, that the murders were not related to the Rushdie book and edict. This information results from the trial of Abdelkader Belliraj, accused of the murders:
At least three of the six murders ascribed to the Belgian terror suspect Abdelkader Belliraj had been committed with the same weapon, according to the criminal investigation done already in 1989. In the late 80s Belgian detectives suspected there was a connection between the murder of the Saudi imam Abdullah Al-Ahdal of the Brussels Mosque, his Tunisian librarian Salem El-Behir and the Saudi embassy driver Jah al-Rasul. They were killed in 1989 with a 7.65mm pistol, a handgun often used by hired killers. The police also found a motive for the attack. The victims apparently witnessed extensive fraud committed by personnel of the Saudi embassy in Brussels.
(March 2, 2008)