A Palestinian leader accused of many acts of terrorism in the last decade, including planning the attack that led to the death of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics, was shot and seriously wounded in a Warsaw hotel on Saturday, Palestine Liberation Organization officials said today.
The attack on Abu Daoud, a leader of the PLO's guerrilla wing Al Fatah, took place in the second-floor coffee shop of the Victoria Intercontinental Hotel. But PLO officials said they had been unaware of Abu Daoud's presence in Warsaw and were only informed about the attack yesterday.
Staff members at the hotel said Polish authorities appeared to have been unaware of Abu Daoud's identity, as no special security measures had been taken to protect him.
Abu Daoud is one of the best known of all Palestinian terrorists. In addition to being a leader in Al Fatah, he is said to be influential in the Black September terrorist organization. He was once sentenced to death in Jordan for alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow King Hussein, and he was associated with the leadership of Palestinian guerrillas fighting Israelis from southern Lebanon.
Abu Daoud's arrest in Paris in January 1977 led to harsh exchanges between the French government and the governments of West Germany and Israel. Despite requests from Bonn and Tel Aviv that Abu Daoud be held for extradition, the French government headed by then-president Valery Giscard d'Estaing released him, saying that it had no grounds either to arrest him or to extradite him. The United States government also protested his release.
Polish officials gave few details of the Warsaw shooting but confirmed that Abu Daoud is now in Warsaw's Interior Ministry hospital, which is reputed to have the best medical facilities in the city. A police spokesman; said he had arrived in Poland on an Iraqi passport under the assumed name of Mahdi Tarik.
The head of the PLO's permanent office in Warsaw, Fuad Mahmoud Yassen, said Abu Daoud had been hit five times from close range by an unidentified gunman, who escaped. Bullets were removed from his jaw, right chest and stomach, he said.
A sixth bullet hit a woman at a nearby table, slightly injuring her hand.
Yassen said that Abu Daoud was conscious but unable to talk because of feeding tubes inserted in his throat. He said that Abu Daoud wrote yesterday that Zionist agents were responsible for the attack.
There were discrepancies between Yassen's account of the incident and the version of members of the hotel staff.
According to Yassen, Abu Daoud was "in transit" through Warsaw and had been at the Victoria Hotel only a couple of hours when the attack took place. He had not been in touch with the PLO office.
The general manager of the Victoria, Stanislaw Wcislo, said, however, that Abu Daoud had arrived in Warsaw the day before the shooting. He described Abu Daoud, whose real identity he did not know, as "a frequent visitor" to Poland who had even managed to learn some Polish.
Wcislo said that on the day of the shooting, Abu Daoud had been seen in the coffee shop several times.
The assassination attempt took place in the early evening when the coffee shop was full of customers. The head waitress, Wanda Pilozub, recalls that Abu Daoud asked for a cup of coffee and mineral water, but before he was served a young man in his early twenties came forward and shot at him from a yard or so away.
"There was confusion," she said. "I saw a man covered with blood coming toward me. He passed me and went downstairs after the gunman."
Abu Daoud chased his assailant down the stairs to the ground floor where he collapsed.
The gunman, meanwhile, ran out of the hotel. According to some accounts, he was driven off in a waiting car.
Another eyewitness said that the would-be assassin was tall, dark-skinned, slim, appeared to be in his late twenties, and was dressed in an expensive suit.
"At first we thought it was some kind of comic stunt as he gave a little jump with every shot," the witness said.
It is believed to be the first time such an assassination attempt has occurred in the Soviet Bloc, and it could embarrass the Polish authorities. Like other communist countries, Poland is careful to cultivate its relations with the Arab states and with the PLO.
As head of the PLO office in Warsaw, Yassen has a status similar to an ambassador's. In common with all other Soviet Bloc countries except Romania, Poland broke off diplomatic relations with Israel after the 1967 Arab-Sraeli war.
Asked why Warsaw should have been chosen as the site of the attempt on Abu Daoud's life, Yassen said: "This has nothing to do with Poland. The people who wanted to kill Daoud just picked a convenient place to do it."