Ramadan Abdallah Muhammad Shalah was born in 1958 in the Saja’iyyah neighborhood of the Gaza Strip, one of many siblings. As a high school student he joined the Moslem Brotherhood, which also funded his tuition at Zagazig University in Egypt, considered a stronghold of rising religious Islamic fundamentalism during the nineteen seventies. When he was a student (between 1977 and 1981), he met a group of other Palestinian students from the Gaza Strip, including Fathi Shiqaqi, who wanted to imitate the militant jihad movements that were flourishing in Egypt at that time, but believed the principal organization, the Muslim Brotherhood was too moderate. Shalah subsequently became one of the founders of Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and edited its internal political journal.
When he returned to the Gaza Strip on 1981, he was hired as a lecturer in the Economics Department of Gaza’s Islamic University and became a sought-after speaker. In 1985, he continued his studies in England and was awarded a PhD in economics from Durham University. He then moved to the United States and lectured in international relations at Tampa University in Florida. He was chosen as the PIJ’s secretary general in late 1995 after Shiqaqi died in Malta.
Shalah was put on the list of Specially Designated Terrorists in 1995. Along with fellow PIJ member, Abd Al Aziz Awda, Shalah was indicted on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges. Shalah was wanted for conspiracy to conduct the affairs of the PIJ through a pattern of racketeering activities such as bombings, murders, extortion, and money laundering. In 2006, he was put on the U.S. “most wanted list” of terrorist suspects with a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction.
PIJ’s position among Palestinian terrorist organizations declined because Shalah lacked Shaqaqi’s charisma and intellectual and organizational skills. That did not stop PIJ’s terror campaign, which included suicide bombings, shootings and rocket attacks.
In 2018, PIJ named Shallah’s deputy, Ziad al-Nakhalah, as its new leader.
Shalah died on June 6, 2020, after a long illness and was buried in Damascus where he had been living.
Sources: Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S);
“Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader buried in Syria,” AP, (June 7, 2020).