(Update: Adds comment from spokesperson for the European Parliament)
(CNSNews.com) – The presence at the European Parliament this week of a Palestinian who hijacked planes in Europe last century– and whose organization is on the E.U.’s terrorist list – continues to make waves, with some lawmakers and others calling for an investigation.
Leila Khaled, a leading figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was a guest speaker at an event at the parliament complex in Brussels on Tuesday night.
In 1969 and 1970 Khaled hijacked two aircraft – one Israeli, one American – in European airspace. She was arrested during the second attempt, but was soon freed by the British authorities in exchange for the release of passengers and crew taken hostage on other hijacked planes.
The PFLP is one of 21 E.U.-designated terrorist groups, having been listed since June 2002. The decision to keep it on the list was reaffirmed last month.
At Tuesday’s meeting, an event organized by left-wing members of the European Parliament (MEPs) entitled “The Role of Women in the Palestinian Popular Resistance,” Khaled received a rapturous welcome, complete with standing ovations and clenched fist salutes.
In her address she compared the “Zionists” to the Nazis and Auschwitz to the Gaza Strip, accused Jews of monopolizing the Holocaust, and declared that “there cannot be peace while there is even one Zionist on the Palestinian territory.”
Speaking through a translator, she spoke positively of a terrorist attack that occurred on the outskirts of Jerusalem earlier in the day, in which two Israeli security guards and a policeman were shot dead before their assailant was shot and killed.
“Today we have had a martyr. Today the Zionist forces have shot at them and we have had a martyr,” she said. “And we want the Zionist forces to feel threatened.”
Khaled also commented on the E.U.’s listing of the PFLP as a terrorist group.
“We are all fighting for freedom and in no way are we terrorists irrespective of the fact that we might be included on certain lists. All we are are freedom fighters.”
She justified her involvement in the hijackings by saying she was responding to her “circumstances.”
“At one point in my life I said, well how are we going to oppose this? Well, let’s just hijack a plane,” she said. “Circumstances pushed me to take this step. I saw it as the only way out,” she added, to applause.
During the spate of PFLP hijackings in 1969 and 1970 four aircraft were blown up – three in Jordan and one in Egypt – and in one, a TWA plane hijacked by Khaled in 1969, the terrorists blew up the nose section in Damascus.
During her second hijacking, targeting an El-Al plane soon after takeoff from Amsterdam, she was armed with hand grenades, although none were detonated by the time she was subdued and disarmed.
Khaled’s participation in Tuesday’s event and her PFLP affiliation were openly advertised. She spoke in a packed meeting room, in front of a large banner reading “Existence is Resistance,” but with European Parliament logos clearly visible behind her. Simultaneous translations into English, Arabic and Spanish were provided.
On Friday, a spokeswoman for the European Parliament responded to queries sent earlier in the week.
“Leila Khaled was invited as a personal guest of a member, and not as a representative of her organization,” said Sanne De Ryck.
“Had the latter been the case, then the services could have made an assessment of the potential risk she would pose for parliament and decided whether or not to allow her to participate in the event.”
De Ryck explained that under the decision which established the E.U. terrorism list after 9/11, the inclusion of an organization or individual on the list entails the freezing of assets, as well as a requirement that member-states cooperate in the case of inquiries or proceedings against those listed.
“Access to the institutions’ buildings is not mentioned in the decision,” she said.
In an earlier letter to European Parliament president Antonio Tajani, Anders Vistisen, a Danish MEP and vice-chairman of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said Khaled’s address and others at the event amounted to incitement, and urged him to investigate the event and its funding.
“We strongly believe that the parliament carries a responsibility to all European citizens to take a united stand against terrorism and its incitement, especially at a time when Europe has experienced the agonizing truth of terrorist attacks across its continent,” Vistisen wrote.
In another letter to Tajani, NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog of civil society groups, called it “outrageous that the European Parliament is giving a platform to a terrorist and her organization, and that these affiliations are being openly advertised.”
It noted that some of the NGOs involved in the event also have links to terrorist groups, and urged the parliament’s leadership to “investigate whether the funds used to arrange the conference violate E.U. regulations,” including counter-terror measures.
In a statement Olga Deutsch, head of the group’s Europe desk, said that Khaled had “felt able to brag of being on a terror list in an event in parliament is beyond absurd.”
“We hope that this extreme event serves to change the discourse among European leadership, and leads European institutions and governments to examine policies and NGO funding.”
See earlier story: