Yehuda Lustig: international espionage & murder

Bored one evening back in 2010, I googled my own address, and found this entry in the Jewish Telegraph, dated 17/09/2010

GLASGOW ARRIVALS
Alistair MacDonald is trying to trace a Jewish family which arrived in Glasgow after the Second World War.
Martin Lustig married Betty Frohlich in June 1935 in what was then-Palestine and moved to Glasgow. Martin, a veterinary student, and Betty lived at 52 Marywood Square, Glasgow. Their son, Yehuda Lustig, was born February 1948.
Email alistair.macdonald@wsj.com

Mildly curious, I began a rapid descent into war, espionage, murder and intrigue, and within hours was fully expecting alarm bells to be going off in security HQs around the world, and a SWAT team to come through my window. Here’s the story.

Intrigue in Dubai

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was a co-founder of the military wing of Hamas, and was wanted by the Israeli government for the kidnapping and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 as well as purchasing arms from Iran for use in Gaza. On 19th January 2010 he flew from Damascus to Dubai and booked into the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel.

He had been tracked from the airport, and agents either broke into his room, or tricked their way in when he returned from a walk. They injected him with a muscle relaxant between his toes, and then suffocated him. The assailants left the country within hours, but a bottle of blood pressure tablets left by his bed meant his murder was initially attributed to natural causes. The Chief of Police in Dubai, Dahi Khalfan Tamim, assumed it was the work of the Israeli secret service, and traced the entire episode on CCTV, identifying all the participants, including, memorably, agents tailing him in the lift dressed as tennis players .

Gulf News CCTV reconstruction. Agents carrying tennis racquets follow their victim

This caused a major international incident when it was discovered that 30 or so of them were travelling on fake US, Irish, British, French and German passports. Except one. Christopher Lockwood was carrying a genuine British passportmade as he made many of the arrangements for the hit, and drove the assassins around Dubai in a hired white van.

Christopher Lockwood

The Investigation

The man appealing in the Jewish Telegraph, Alistair McDonald, turned out not to be a relative, but a Wall Street Journalist who was on his trail, and who published further details . He discovered that Christoper Lockwood had changed his name by deed poll in 1994 from Yehuda Lustig, and he was traced to the place of his birth in February 1948; 52 Marywood Square, Strathbungo. British police staked out his London residence, but Mr. Lockwood never showed up, according to investigators. They didn’t find him in France, either, where he had been traced using a mobile phone. The trail appeared to go cold.

Another twist

Then the story took another turn. Yehuda Lustig had left his Glasgow home and returned to Palestine, now the state of Israel, where he grew up in Beersheba and Gadera. He was drafted into the IDF Armor Corps in May 1966 and was serving in the reserves in Sinai during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when his armoured personnel carrier was hit by Egyptian rocket fire. He was killed in action, leaving behind his wife, parents, brother and sister.

Reports on the use of his identity surprised his widow Kokhava, according to Ynet News . “It was very unpleasant to wake up to these reports, I don’t know how to take it all, what it means from my point of view, why they did it.”

The reports reached her with awful timing. “Today is exactly October 10, the anniversary of Yehuda’s death, and it’s not pleasant at all,” she said, adding that she heard it first from a friend who called.

Yehuda Lustig’s grave (Photo: Tova Dadon)

“He was a computer student in his third year when he died,” Lustig’s widow says. “We were married just seven weeks when he signed up – until he was killed.”

The Day of the Jackal

Lustig was not heard of again until 1994, 21 years after his death, when he changed his name on his British passport to Lockwood. Presumably someone else stole his identity to obtain a genuine British passport, and had been working as a fixer for the Israeli secret service ever since. Shades of “The Day of the Jackal”, in which Frederick Forsyth described this technique of assuming another identity. But there the trail stops; Christopher Lockwood was never traced. One writer, on the Arabist blog, even suggests Lustig and Lockwood are the same person, and his death was faked .

Meanwhile, this technique has recently resurfaced in the news when it was revealed Metropolitan Police Officers were using the same technique to infiltrate left-wing political organisations .

A sad end to the tale of a life that must have begun with so much hope in Strathbungo in 1948.

References

1.
International Hit Man’s True Identity A Mystery [Internet]. NPR.org. [cited 2021 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130615603
1.
The Arabist [Internet]. The Arabist. [cited 2021 Jan 3]. Available from: https://arabist.net/blog/tag/mabhouh
1.
Evans R. Met faces legal action over spies’ use of dead children’s identities. The Guardian [Internet]. 2020 Dec 7 [cited 2021 Jan 3]; Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/07/met-police-legal-action-spies-use-dead-childrens-identities
1.
Report: Mabhouh killer used fallen IDF soldier’s identity [Internet]. Ynetnews. 2010 [cited 2021 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3966904,00.html
1.
MacDonald CCAA. In Global Hunt for Hit Men, Tantalizing Trail Goes Cold. Wall Street Journal [Internet]. 2010 Oct 8 [cited 2021 Jan 3]; Available from: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704652104575493883093318088
1.
Gulf News. The murder of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2021 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=bJujIwtdk8w&ab_channel=GulfNews
1.
Glasgow Arrivals [Internet]. Jewish Telegraph. [cited 2021 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.jewishtelegraph.com/roots_163.html

1 Comment

  1. Even by your standards Andrew, this is a stunner of a post. What a fascinating story. I wonder if any of the current citizens of Strathbungo are as interesting as those who went before us and who’s stories you continue to unearth.

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