The acting head of security for the Palestine Liberation Organization was assassinated by two gunmen early Monday as he got out of a car in front of a Paris hotel. PLO officials blamed Israel for the professional-style assassination, but Israeli authorities said the killing appeared to be work of a rival Palestinian faction.
The French news service Agence France-Presse quoted sources as saying that the slain PLO official, Atef Bseiso, 44, was in Paris to meet with French intelligence officials to coordinate security for Palestinians living in France.
French authorities refused any comment on the killing. It was the seventh assassination of a PLO official in France but the first since 1982, when the deputy director of the PLO office here, Fadly Dani, was killed by a car bomb.
The attack occurred outside the Meridien-Montparnasse Hotel on the south side of Paris as Bseiso was saying goodby to two friends, identified by one Agence France-Presse source as an Egyptian and a Lebanese, with whom he had dined. The two unmasked assassins approached Bseiso from the rear, one man pumping at least three shots into the PLO official's head, the other providing cover for the shooter. Both men escaped.
A statement from PLO headquarters in the Tunisian capital of Tunis said the shooter's gun was equipped with a silencer.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat immediately blamed the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.
"I myself warned Atef against the Mossad before he went to Europe, but the Mossad ambushed him," Arafat told reporters in Amman, Jordan. "We have lost a hero, but the Mossad should be aware that it will not always have a free hand."
Israeli government sources denied any connection to the assassination. An Israeli Embassy official told the British news agency Reuters in Paris that the killing was more likely the work of a rival PLO faction.
An afternoon caller to the Associated Press office in Paris took responsibility for the killing, saying it was the work of the militant Zionist organization Kach, founded by the slain Rabbi Meir Kahane. Another caller to the same office said the killers worked for a faction of Kach.
According to one anonymous source cited by Agence France-Presse, Bseiso had recently been in Havana before flying to Germany to buy a new four-wheel-drive vehicle for the PLO. He reportedly drove the vehicle to Paris on Sunday and had planned to drive it to the Mediterranean port city of Marseilles for shipment to Tunis later in the week.
Meanwhile, the source said, he had planned meetings with officials from the two main French intelligence services.
Bseiso, a native of the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, had been director of PLO security since the January, 1991, assassination of former security chief Abu Iyad at his home in Tunis. Abu Iyad's killer was one of his bodyguards, who later admitted an affiliation with a rival Palestinian organization, the Revolutionary Council of Fatah, headed by terrorist ringleader Abu Nidal.
The Associated Press reported from Jerusalem that Gen. Uri Saguy, head of Israel's military intelligence, said Bseiso had been involved in the Black September terrorist attack at the Olympics in Munich, Germany, in 1972 and in an attempted assault on an El Al airliner in Rome the next year.
In the Gaza village of Chatti, home of Bseiso's brother and other family members, Israeli police fired on stone-throwing demonstrators protesting what they believed was Israel's role in the assassination. Four demonstrators were wounded, and one was reported in grave condition.