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Mohammed Zaidan

(1948 - 2004)

Mohammed Zaidan - also known as Mohammed Abbas - was a Palestinian terrorist and founder of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) terror group.

Zaidan (born December 10, 1948; died March 8, 2004) was born in a Syrian refugee camp and later attended Damascus University and graduated with a degree in Arab literature. He became a member of Ahmad Jibril's PFLP-GC in 1968, but split with Jibril over the pro-Syrian stance of the organization. In April 1977, Zaidan and some of his followers formed a new PLO faction, the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF).

Zaidan was wounded during the war in Lebanon in 1982. He became a member of PLO's Executive Committee in 1984 and, during the Palestinian National Council meeting of 1989, supported the organization's acceptance of UN Resolution 242.

Zaidan became famous after his organization hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship in October 1985. After the hijacking, Zaidan was captured and sent to Italy for trial. The United States and Italy fought over jurisdiction in the case, but the Italians refused to extradite any of the men. Inexplicably, Zaidan was allowed to go to Yugoslavia. An Italian court subsequently convicted Zaidan and sentenced him to life in prison in absentia.

Zaidan was never arrested. In 1990, he struck again from the sea, with an abortive speedboat attack on bathers on a beach near Tel Aviv.

Though he was sentenced to five life terms in Italy, and was wanted in the United States, Zaidan remained a free man. He spent most of the years after the hijacking in Tunisia before moving to the Gaza Strip in April 1996, after the Palestinian Authority took control of the area as part of the peace agreement with Israel.

While in Gaza, Zaidan said he was sorry for the hijacking, but the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer said that Zaidan had been convicted of murder and should serve his sentence (CNN, April 23, 1996). As a result of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian interim peace agreement, however, Zaidan and other PLO members were granted immunity for violent acts committed before the signing of the September 1993 Oslo agreement.

In 1998, he returned to Gaza to attend the Palestine National Council's vote on abrogating the articles in the PLO charter calling for Israel's destruction. At that time, Israeli attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein said Zaidan did not pose a threat to Israeli security, and that it would be unreasonable to prosecute him for acts committed before 1993. In the end, Zaidan did not participate in the vote.

Zaidan eventually made his way to Iraq where he was believed to be a conduit for Saddam Hussein's payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Zaidan was captured by U.S. forces in a raid in Iraq on April 15, 2003. He died on March 8, 2004, at the age of 56 in U.S. custody in Iraq.

Sources: Mitchell G. Bard. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Middle East Conflict. 3rd Edition. NY: Alpha Books, 2005; Associated Press, (March 10, 2004), ICT