PLO terrorist Mohammed Abbas dies in U.S. custody in Iraq

Thursday, March 11, 2004

RAMALLAH The notorious leader of a PLO faction aligned with Yasser Arafat has died in in Iraq.

Palestinian and U.S. officials said Mohammed Abbas, head of the Palestine Liberation Front, died several days ago in U.S. custody in Iraq.

Abbas was captured by U.S. troops in Iraq and had been interrogated regarding the 1985 seizure of an Italian cruise ship, in which a U.S. national was killed.

Abbas was captured in April 2003 in Baghdad as he tried to escape to neighboring Syria, Middle East Newsline reported. Palestinian insurgency groups had protested Abbas's capture and urged Egypt to seek his release.

The PLF chief, sentenced in absentia to life in prison by an Italian court, was said to have ordered a series of attacks in the early 1990s, including an attempted raid on the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. Abbas employed a range of methods for attacks later adopted by other insurgency groups.

They included the use of high-speed rubber boats and hang-gliders.

The officials said Abbas, 55, died of an apparent heart attack and would undergo an autopsy. He was said to have been in poor health over the last two years. The PLF accused the United States of refusing to provide Abbas medicine for his heart ailment.

"Initial reports indicate he died of natural causes," U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said on Tuesday. "Medical efforts to revive him were unsuccessful and an autopsy will be performed."

Palestinian officials said Israel approved the entry of Abbas into the Gaza Strip after he pledged to refrain from insurgency activities, something he renounced in 2000. They said the United States did not press for the extradition of Abbas despite the death of Leon Klinghoffer, an American national who was killed on the Achille Lauro cruise liner in 1985 and thrown into the Mediterranean Sea.

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