Palestinian Fugitive Wanted by Israel Found Dead in Bulgarian Capital

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Omar Nayef Zayed.
Omar Nayef Zayed.Credit: Screenshot

A Palestinian who escaped from Israeli custody after being convicted of a 1986 murder has died at the Palestinian embassy in Sofia, Bulgarian prosecutors said on Friday. 

Police sealed off the mission building in the capital as an investigation began into the death of Omar Nayef Zayed, who was jailed along with two other men for killing an Israeli settler.

Prosecutors said in an initial statement they had been alerted by a representative of the Palestinian mission in Bulgaria "about a man who died as a result of violence" but a spokeswoman for the prosecutors later said no signs of violence were found on his body.

She said Nayef was found in the mission's back yard and that prosecutors were investigating whether he was pushed or fell from a high floor.

The mission confirmed the dead man was Omar Nayef Zayed but declined further comment.

Palestinian sources said he had been shot.

Official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had ordered an investigation into the circumstances of Nayef's death.

"The president has condemned the crime in the strongest terms possible and has ordered the members of the (investigation) committee to travel immediately to Bulgaria to discover what happened," WAFA said.

Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said the presidency would pursue the issue with Bulgarian authorities.

Nayef was sentenced to life in prison for the 1986 murder but escaped in 1990 while being moved to hospital after he began a hunger strike. He first went to the Palestinian Territories before fleeing to an Arab country and then to Bulgaria, where he had lived since 1994.

Bulgarian authorities had sought to detain him following an extradition request by Israel in late December, prompting him to seek refuge at the Palestinian mission and leading to a country-wide search after Nayef could not be found at his Sofia address.

On Friday, Bulgaria's chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov told reporters there was evidence Nayef had been living at the embassy. He also said Nayef had been alive when medics arrived at the embassy but died later.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said on Friday that although Israel had asked for his extradition, it learned of his death in the media and is currently studying the information.

Issa Qaraqea, chairman of a prisoners' association run by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which is widely recognised as representing the Palestinian people, accused Israel in a statement of "assassinating" Nayef.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, who returned from a visit to the Palestinian Territories and Israel late on Thursday, said Nayef's extradition had been brought up in meetings by both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities.

"I told both sides that Bulgaria respects the rule of law and will follow the legal procedures in the case," he told reporters in parliament on Friday.

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