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Did he jump or was he pushed?

20/07/2010

In On Spies and Introductions I’ve already referred to the unfortunate Marwan Affair.

I knew Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of Egypt’s former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, quite well. In Israel’s Wars I hinted that he was an Egyptian spy who misled the Israeli Mossad, and I went on to provide more details in A History of Israel.

However, my concealed references to him in these and other publications, led to a serious spat between us: Marwan responded with an outright denial in an Egyptian newspaper, dubbing my version of events a “silly detective story”, and I – then – unmasked him, challenging him to prove that he wasn’t the agent in question. News of the spat was widely reported in the Middle Eastern press.

Then came the plot twist that even the most audacious writer of fiction might balk at: Marwan made contact with me and we met in person for the first time, on 23 October 2003, at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane; we would keep in touch for five years. In our meeting I suggested to Marwan that I write a book about his life, but he had a better idea. He said, “I’ll write the book myself and you’ll be my consultant … I‘ll consult you from time to time”, which he did.

On 26 June 2007, we spoke on the phone – as we would often do – and agreed to meet the next day. Several times I popped up from my basement office at Strand Bridge House to get mobile reception to see if Marwan had called, but eventually I gave up and left. That day Marwan was found dead after falling from the balcony of his fourth-floor flat in central London.
The post-mortem determined that Marwan had died as a result of a rupture to the aorta, caused by the fall, but beyond that little is certain. The police investigation took three years to complete and last week a coroner in London held an inquest into Marwan’s death.

I was invited to give evidence and was asked about our 26th June telephone conversation, the meeting that never happened, and about the manuscript of his book that has not been seen since his death; as far as the family is concerned, the missing book is one of the strongest indications that he was murdered.

After three days of deliberations the coroner, William Dolman, rejected suggestions of suicide or murder and he returned an open verdict on the death. He said, “there are many unanswered questions [that involve the] murky and secretive world of espionage. We simply don’t know the facts, despite careful investigation. Did he jump or did he fall? Here the evidence does not provide a clear answer”.

His wife Mona – the dignified daughter of Gamal Abdel Nasser – welcomed the verdict but she insists that, “he was murdered … I’m sure that there was somebody else involved”.

The family have vowed to continue their search for the truth, but for now it seems that Marwan’s enigmatic life and death will continue to remain a mystery.