Palestinian fugitive ‘assassinated’ in Bulgaria

Escaped Palestinian prisoner Omar al-Nayif was found dead inside the headquarters of the Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria on Feb. 26, in what senior Palestinian officials and his family say was an "assassination" carried out by Israel. Nayif, a 52-year-old man from Jenin, had been living in Bulgaria for years, but late last year sought refuge in the Palestinian embassy after Israel demanded his extradition so he could see out a life sentence over the killing of an Israeli settler. Palestinian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Taysir Jaradat told Ma'an News Agency that embassy staff found Nayif lying in the embassy's garden covered in blood. He was rushed to hospital but died en route.

Jaradat did not initially point any fingers, saying the ministry was investigating Nayif's death, and President Mahmoud Abbas also quickly ordered an investigation into what he said was a crime. However, Issa Qaraqe, the head of the Palestinian Committee for Prisoners' Affairs, quickly accused Israel's overseas intelligence agency Mossad of being behind the death. He said it was an act of "international piracy" and demanded an international investigation into the death. Qaraqe noted that Nayif's death came just one day after another former prisoner, Ayman Jaradat, was "assassinated" by unknown assailants in Jenin.

Nayif's family also branded his death an "assassination."

Nayif took refuge in the Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria shortly after Israel demanded that the Bulgarian justice ministry turn him over on Dec. 15. Nayif refused to turn himself into the Bulgarian authorities, considering the procedure illegal, according to the Palestinian Committee for Prisoners' Affairs. He was originally arrested by Israeli police in 1986 and sentenced to life imprisonment for killing an Israeli settler. Four years into his sentence, he went on hunger strike, and after 40 days was transferred to a hospital in Bethlehem, Shortly afterward, on May 21, 1990, he escaped the hospital and slipped out of the occupied Palestinian territory, living in several different Arab nations until 1994 when he was able to travel to Bulgaria. He had lived there since, marrying a Bulgarian woman with whom he had three children, and he had Bulgarian residency.

From Ma'an News Agency, Feb. 26