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Jordan Premier Assassinated by Palestinian Extremist Group

Four Arrested in Attack at Cairo Hotel

By Jesse W. Lewis Jr.
November 28, 1971

CAIRO, Nov. 28 -- Jordan's Prime Minister Wasfi Tell was killed this afternoon by a fusillade of bullets fired by three men as he entered the lobby of Cairo's Sheraton Hotel.

Egyptian prosecutor Gen. Muhammad Maher Hassan said four men had been arrested. He said three belonged to an extremist Palestinian group called "the Black Hand of September." This is apparently a reference to the September, 1970, civil war in Jordan between Palestinian guerrillas and government troops.

[In Beirut, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the guerrilla group which seized and destroyed four international airliners more than a year ago, claimed responsibility for the assassination of the prime minister, news agencies reported.]

Three of the men were idenitifed as Monzer Sulieman Khalifa, 27; Gawad Khalil Boghdadi, 23; and Ezzat Ahmad Rabah, 23. Police said they entered Egypt several days ago using Syrian passports. The name of the fourth man, a Palestinian, was not released.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Abdullah Salah, who was with Tell, received a superficial wound in his left thigh.

[In San Clemente, Calif., White House Press secretary Ronald Zeigler said that the assassination of Tell was "very disturbing news."

[Zeigler declined further comment on the ground that the White House was waiting further details of the murder of the pro-American Jordanian leader before assessing its impact on the Middle East situation, Reuter reported.]

Tell, 51, who was in Cairo at the head of his country's delegation to the joint Arab Defense Council meeting, was an adviser to King Hussein during that conflict and became prime minister in the aftermath of the war. He also held the post of defense minister.

He was generally considered to have been the architect of Jordan's crackdown on the guerrillas. After the civil war, the commandos' power was severely curbed.

The shooting, which occurred at 3:45 p.m. Cairo time (8:45 a.m. EST), triggered screams that echoed along with the gunshots through the hotel lobby. Clerks ducked for cover behind various counters as broken glass and blood scattered on the floor.

Tell was cut down by a hail of bullets fired at point-blank range by the three men, one of whom leaped from behind a marble column just outside the glass door, while the other two rushed at him from inside the hotel lobby.

Bystanders counted at least 10 shots.

An Egyptian security man, who had time to draw his gun was shot in the left foot.

For a few tense minutes, no one knew who it was lying face down in the doorway. A doctor appeared with a stethoscope and a Jordanian officer, wearing the traditional red and white bedouin headdress, pulled the body inside the hotel and turned it over.

Tell's face was pale and his eyes partially open with a blank stare. The doctor bent over Tell, listening with the aid of a stethoscope, and felt his wrist. Then quickly he snatched the stethoscope from his neck and leaned heavily on Tell's chest, apparently trying heart massage.

The Bedouin guard asked, "Is there anything?"

"No, there is nothing," the doctor replied.

The Beduoin officer began to cry and bent down to kiss Tell.

In the meantime, Mrs. Tell who was having lunch in the second floor restaurant, entered the lobby. Several friends rushed forward to prevent her from seeing her husband's body, now covered with a white sheet brought by one of the bellboys.

Mrs. Tell cried out hysterically, "Are you happy, Arabs? Do you know what you have lost? Palestine is finished. The Arabs are sons of dogs... sons of dogs." She then collapsed sobbing.

Outside the hotel, Egyptian riot police, carrying shields and armed with five-foot batons, had circled the hotel, standing shoulder to shoulder. Interior Minister Mamdouh Salem arrived at the hotel and escorted Mrs. Tell to the mezzanine floor. Shortly afterward, War Minister Gen. Muhammad Sadek entered the hotel.

By this time there were several score of security men inside the hotel, and a bit of order was restored.

While it is difficult to speculate what political impact Tell's asssassination will have in the Middle East, the immediate reaction was one of shock and embarrassment that a political murder took place in Egypt, an Arab country that has an elaborate security apparatus and one whose hospitality and implicit guarantee of safety is traditional.

Both elements were reflected in Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's message to King Hussein. The message said:
"Please accept my sorrow and the sorrow of the Egyptian people for the crime committed on Egyptian soil against your country's prime minister, the late Wasfi Tell.

"The Egyptian people, with all their moral values, strongly condemn such acts and feel great pain that anyone utlilizes the generosity of Egypt and the atmosphere of security being provided for visitors here to commit such acts."

Sadat also sent his condolences to Tell's family.

Ironically, the authoratative daily Al Ahram reported this morning the Jordanian delegation had asked that all Jordanians staying in the Sheraton be moved out of the hotel to provide maximum security for the official party.

In a front page article, Al Ahram said that Tell had booked 17 rooms at the Sheraton for himself, Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdullah Salah, and Army chief of staff and 15 intelligence officers. Jordan paid for the hotel expenses of the Jordanians who moved, the paper said.

"The Jordanian officials said their request to have the hotel cleared of all Jordanians was for maximum security for the chief of the Jordanian government in view of Tell's attitude toward the Palestinian resistance," the paper said.

Another note of irony is that relations between Jordan and Egypt have been strained because of Tell being prime minister and his hard line on the guerrillas.

Earlier this year, King Hussein cancelled a visit to Egypt because President Sadat let it be known that Tell was not welcome. Egypt generally supported the existence of the guerrilla movement, while Tell considered it a great danger to Jordan.

Jordan Mourns death of Prime Minister

King Hussein announced the death of Prime Minister Wasfi Tell in a two-minute radio broadcast last night, describing the shooting as a "hand of treachery and crime which was extended to assassinate our national unity."

He proclaimed seven days of national mourning and a 40-day mourning period for the palace court.

"There can be only one answer to all those crimes," he said. "It is more faith and stronger adherence to national unity."

Meanwhile there was jubiliation reported among Palestinians on the Israeli-occupied West Bank of Jordan as news of Tell's assassination spread.

Israeli officials declined to comment, but one source said Tell's death was "a loss to both King Hussein and to Jordan itself."

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