(Adds comment from Israeli mission to the E.U. and the European Commission.)
(CNSNews.com) – A woman who hijacked two aircraft in Europe of behalf of a Palestinian terrorist group almost half a century ago was feted as an invited guest at a European Parliament event on Tuesday evening, despite the fact her group is on the European Union’s terrorist list.
Leila Khaled, a member of the political bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), took part in an event in Brussels entitled “The Role of Women in the Palestinian Popular Resistance,” organized by a left-wing parliamentary group.
The poster advertising the event and naming the three speakers identifies her affiliation: “Leila Khaled – Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.”
Just early last month, E.U. ministers decided to keep the PFLP on the union’s list of designated terrorist organization. The PFLP has been on the list – now comprising 21 groups – since June 2002.
Tuesday’s event was organized by members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from a far-left Spanish party, Izquierda Unida, which is part of the “European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group at the European Parliament.
Martina Anderson, an MEP from Ireland’s Sinn Fein – also a member of the GUE/NGL group – tweeted a photo of herself with “legendary Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled” at the event
“Fantastic Turnout in Brussels 4 Women in Palestinian Struggle Leila Khaled addressing a packed room – long live international solidarity,” Anderson tweeted.
A spokeswoman for Israel’s mission to the E.U., Michal Weiler-Tal, said meetings of this nature should not be allowed in an institution “which promotes democracy and Western values.”
“It is difficult to understand that a political group in the European Parliament, legitimizes and provides a platform for a convicted terrorist who hijacked American and Israeli airliners, to spread incitement and promote hatred and violence,” she said.
“Moreover, hosting such an infamous figure belonging to the PFLP – which E.U. law designates as a terrorist organization – is not only against our moral standards but also sabotages the efforts to fight terrorism,” Weiler-Tal added. “IThis is a terrible message to the Israeli public and goes against the values that Israel and Europe share.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the American Jewish Committee’s Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute called on the parliament’s president to prevent Khaled’s entry.
“It would be a sad irony if parliament, only days after crucially setting up a special committee on terrorism, were to welcome and lionize as a ‘resistance fighter’ a convicted terrorist who was captured in 1970 while hijacking a commercial airplane,” said the institute’s director, Daniel Schwammenthal.
(MEPs recently approved the creation of a special committee “to examine and evaluate the extent of the terrorist threat on European soil and look into any potential faults and malfunctions which might have allowed recent terrorist attacks in member states to occur.”)
Queries about Khaled’s invitation brought no response from the European Parliament by press time. A spokeswoman for the E.U.’s executive Commission said the meeting had been organized by an MEP “and was not an E.U. event.”
Khaled, viewed by some as an “iconic” figure of Palestinian resistance, lives in Jordan. She is a member of the PFLP’s political bureau and head of the group’s “refugees and right of return department.”
The Marxist-leaning PFLP has been a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization since 1997, and is also considered a terrorist group by Canada and Australia.
It has claimed responsibility for dozens of terror attacks since the late 1960s, including hijackings, bombings, suicide bombings, shootings and stabbings. More recent PFLP attacks include an axe, knife and gun attack in which four worshipers and a policeman were killed in a Jerusalem synagogue in 2014.
In August 1969, Khaled and another PFLP terrorist hijacked a TWA flight en route from Rome to Athens and Tel Aviv, diverting it to Damascus where they blew up the Boeing 707’s nose section.
The Syrian government arrested the hijackers but released them without charge two months later. Syria also held two Israeli passengers for several months before freeing them in return for Syrian and Egyptian prisoners of war held by Israel.
The following year, Khaled was part of an ambitious PFLP multiple hijacking. On September 6, a TWA flight from Frankfurt to New York and a Swissair flight from Zurich to New York were diverted to a remote airstrip in Jordan called Dawson’s Field.
On the same day a third flight, an El-Al service from Tel Aviv to New York via Amsterdam, was hijacked after leaving Amsterdam. Khaled was one of two hijackers but the attempt failed after her accomplice, a Nicaraguan, was shot by an Israeli sky marshal and she was subdued. The plane made an emergency landing in London, where Khaled was arrested.
Two other flights would be hijacked in the drama. Two PFLP terrorists who had been prevented by security from boarding Khaled’s El-Al flight took a Pan Am Boeing 747 service from Amsterdam to New York instead, and diverted it to Cairo since it was too big to land at Dawson’s Field in Jordan. In Cairo they released passengers and crew and blew up the plane.
On September 9, a BOAC flight from Bahrain to London was seized and also diverted to Dawson’s Field.
In 2001, documents declassified by Britain’s Public Records Office under a 30-year rule, revealed that just three days after Khaled’s arrest, Britain was offering to free her as part of a deal being negotiated with the hijackers still holding hundreds of hostages, including 65 Britons, on the three planes in Jordan.
On September 12 the terrorists, who had moved their hostages by that time, blew up the three aircraft at Dawson’s Field. The next day, Britain announced it would free Khaled.
She was eventually released on September 30, along with other Palestinian terrorists being held in Swiss and German prisons. In exchange, the hijackers freed their remaining hostages.
The declassified documents showed that Prime Minister Edward Heath’s government overruled U.S. objections by agreeing to release Khaled, who was already wanted for the TWA hijacking the previous year.