The Palestine Liberation Organization's deputy director in Paris was killed this morning when three unidentified men threw a bomb in the official's car as he was getting ready to drive to work, according to witnesses.
Two hours after the assassination of Fadel Dani, 37, the Jewish Armed Resistance, a splinter group of the Jewish Defense League, called a Paris radio station and claimed that its members were responsible for the bombing. Later, Abu Nidal, an extremist Palestinian organization named after its leader, also called the station to say it had executed the attack.
The latest attack follows a series of recent Middle East related incidents that have created a terrorist scare in the French capital. In the past week, two Israeli shops were destroyed by bombs, which police at the time blamed on Palestinian supporters. On Wednesday, a bomb exploded near a cafe in Paris' Latin Quarter and injured 16 people. The blast was later claimed by a Beirut-based Armenian terrorist group, seeking to avenge the imprisonment of some of its members in France.
Dani, the PLO's number two man in Paris since the office opened in 1975, was the eighth victim in a long line of terrorist acts against Palestinian officials here during the past 10 years.
Dani's violent death triggered a chain of confused and disconcerted reactions here. Ibrahim Souss, head of the PLO office in Paris, said that the attack was the work of "the criminal hands of Israelis in Europe" and singled out Israel's secret services, the Mossad.
"The French government should take this as a warning," Souss said in an interview. "It just goes to show that the Israelis will stop at nothing to pursue their determined bid to exterminate the Palestinian people."
Israeli Ambassador Meir Rosenne, however, vehemently denied the accusations. "It was the work of inter-Arab rivalry," he said, "and it certainly wasn't the first time." As an example of similar actions, he cited the murder in an explosion last month of Kamal Hussein, deputy director of the PLO office in Rome. The PLO also blamed Israeli agents for that bombing.
Souss denied reporters' suggestions that the killing could stem from a bitter feud among Palestinian factions, which police believe has been behind the murders of several PLO figures, Reuter reported. Souss' predecessor in Paris, Ezzedine Kalak, was shot to death, along with his deputy, in 1978 by two Arab gunmen who told police they were working for an Iraqi-backed hard-line faction. The two were jailed.
Witnesses said Dani was starting his car outside his home in southeastern Paris when a car approached containing three men, who threw the bomb through an open window. Police said Dani died instantly in the attack but no one else was hurt.
In a telegram to the head of the PLO's political department, Farouk Kaddoumi, French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson said "the French government will stop at nothing to seek out the authors of this attack." A similar statement was issued in April when an Israeli diplomat was slain in front of his house in Paris' 16th Arrondissement.
Although French officials declined to speculate on the reasons for the attack on Dani, Israeli officials note that the timing coincides with recent Israeli-PLO initiatives for a solution to the Middle East crisis and the bombing comes at a time when Arab leaders have made general proposals to the United States for a solution to the crisis in Lebanon.
Israeli speculation in Paris is that Abu Nidal--a Palestinian extremist reportedly living in Syria--fears a possible Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement and is bent on thwarting all efforts toward a peaceful settlement in the Middle East.
Within recent years, American, Israeli, Palestinian and Turkish officials have been killed in terrorist assassination plots in the city. American diplomats are known to have become increasingly annoyed with what they perceive as a liberal approach toward terrorism in France, which prides itself on its reputation as a land of refuge. "It creates a haven for terrorism," one American diplomat said. "A lot of terrorism would have been avoided with stricter measures."
The French, in turn, believe that Socialist President Francois Mitterrand's switch toward a more even-handed Middle East policy that includes better relations with Israel is responsible for the sudden surge in terrorist activities.
Up for repeal this week in parliament, is the "security and freedom bill," which sought to increase the powers of the police, reinforce security and stiffen court sentences. The bill was engineered by the previous conservative government and has already raised heated debate from a public demanding tighter security.