Middle East

Ahmed Jibril, Militant Palestinian Leader Behind Attacks, Dies at 84

Ahmed Jibril, one of the most extreme of the Palestinian militants who opposed Israel in the 1970s and ’80s and the leader of a group that was responsible for a series of airplane hijackings, kidnappings and attacks, died on July 7 in Damascus, Syria. He was 84.

Anwar Raja, a senior official in the militant group Mr. Jibril founded, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said the cause was heart failure.

Mr. Jibril was based in Syria, and in later years his forces supported Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, in the country’s civil war.

Mr. Jibril helped the Palestinian Marxist George Habash establish the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1967, but the next year he broke from Mr. Habash and created a splinter group. Mr. Jibril and his Popular Front-General Command also joined, but soon broke with, the dominant Palestinian political figure of the time, Yasir Arafat, and his Palestine Liberation Organization.

Israel in the 1970s and ’80s considered Mr. Jibril a “master terrorist”; its intelligence agency, the Mossad, put him on a wanted list along with Mr. Arafat, Mr. Habash and their fellow militant leader Abu Nidal. The United States designated the Popular Front-General Command a terrorist organization.

One of the group’s deadliest attacks came in 1970, when it planted a time bomb on a Swissair jet flying from Zurich to Tel Aviv, killing all 47 passengers and crew members. It was one of several attacks Mr. Jibril’s group carried out on civilian planes.

During Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Popular Front-General Command captured three Israeli soldiers. The group negotiated their release in exchange for more than 1,100 Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian prisoners in 1985.

In an episode two years later that became known as the Night of the Gliders, two of Mr. Jibril’s fighters, crossing from Lebanon into Israel on hang gliders, killed six Israeli soldiers and wounded seven others.

Many commentators later described that event as helping galvanize Palestinians at the outset of the First Intifada, or uprising, a period of rock-throwing protests against the Israeli occupation. Its immediate spark came about a month after Mr. Jibril’s attack, when an Israeli army vehicle killed four Palestinians at a refugee camp.

A 1990 profile in The New York Times Magazine called Mr. Jibril “a proponent of high-tech terrorism” and noted that his forces adopted the innovative use of walkie-talkies and suicide bombing equipment in case of capture. The profile also observed that Mr. Jibril never gained widespread popularity among Palestinians.

He remained an opponent of peace talks with Israel.

Ahmed Jibril was born in April 1937 to a Palestinian father and a Syrian mother, near the city of Jaffa in what was then British-ruled Palestine. The family left for Syria after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Mr. Jibril studied at a military school and became an expert in demolition. He acquired Syrian citizenship and served as a captain in the Syrian Army.

Mr. Jibril’s survivors include his wife; three sons, Khalid, Bader and Nasr; and three daughters, Ghazwa, Majd and Nour. Another son, Jihad, was serving as the head of the Popular Front’s military operations in 2002 when he was killed in an attack in Beirut. The group blamed Israel, which denied having a role in the killing.

Adam Rasgon in Jerusalem and The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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