Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Muhammad Zaidan (also known as Abu Abbas and Muhammad Abbas) (December 10, 1948 - March 8, 2004) was the founder and a guerrilla leader of the paramilitary terrorist group the Palestine Liberation Front. He is best-known in the West for the 1985 hijacking of the Italian civilian passenger ship the Achille Lauro and the murder of wheelchair-bound elderly Jewish-American Leon Klinghoffer, who was shot dead and thrown overboard.
Zaidan joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command under Ahmed Jibril in 1968. In 1977, major disagreements arose between the PFLP-GC, the PLO, and other Palestinian factions based in Lebanon. Zaidan, who opposed Syrian involvement in the Lebanese war, left the PFLP and created the PLF, which eventually split into three separate factions (and then later re-merged). Zaidan's faction of the PLF moved its headquarters to Tunisia.
Since its inception in 1977, the PLF has always aligned itself with the Palestine Liberation Organization and has received support from both the PLO and Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Unlike the PFLP-GC, the PLF has supported peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel. Zaidan was elected to the executive council of the PLO in 1984 and represented the Palestinian National Council in 1989 during peace negotiations with Israel. Although Zaidan was wanted by Israel for his involvement in guerrilla attacks against Israel (including terrorist attacks on civilians) throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Israel allowed him to travel freely in the Gaza Strip throughout the 1990s because he supported the peace negotiations.
Throughout the 1980s, the PLF launched attacks on both civilian and military targets in the north of Israel. After the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, under immense political pressure from the United States and Italy, Tunisia expelled Zaidan from the country. He fled to Baghdad and actively operated the PLF from that city until 2003.
Italy (whose government had previously let Abu Abbas leave the country without being arrested) sentenced Zaidan in absentia to five terms of life imprisonment for his role in the Achille Lauro hijacking, and he was also wanted in the United States for his involvement in the hijacking. The United States characterized him as a terrorist. The killing of an unarmed, eldery man and hijacking of a civilian ship could also be considered a war crime.
On April 15, 2003, it was reported that Zaidan had been captured by American forces in Iraq after he attempted to flee from Baghdad to Syria. Italy subsequently requested his extradition. The Pentagon reported on March 9, 2004 that Zaidan had died the previous day, of natural causes, while in US custody. The PLF accused the Americans of assassinating their leader. The US authorities agreed to give Abbas' body to the Red Cross for burial in the Ramallah on the Palestinian West Bank. However, his burial there was blocked by the Israeli occupation authorities. Instead he will be buried in Syria.
- 2003-Apr-15 CNN article about the arrest of Abbas
- PRISONERS: '85 Hijacker Is Captured in Baghdad, The New York Times, April 16, 2003
- H2G2 article about the hi-jacking of the Achille Lauro
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