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Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Lefist Palestinian nationalist group that formed after the Six Day War of 1967 and pioneered terrorist strategies in the early 1970s. Once a key player in Palestinian politics,the PFLP lost influence in the 1990s and was sidelined as Yasir Arafat established the Palestinian Authority.

The PFLP, which pioneered such terror tactics as airline hijackings, formed in December 1967, after the Arab states' overwhelming defeat in the Six Day War. In 1968, the PFLP joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the main umbrella organization of the Palestinian national movement, which was then committed to a strategy of "armed struggle." The PFLP became the second-largest PLO faction, after Arafat's own al-Fatah. The PFLP sought to topple conservative Arab states, destroy Israel, and apply Marxist doctrine to the Palestinian struggle, which it saw as part of a broader proletarian revolution. The group received support from the Soviet Union and China.


In the PFLP's early years, hundreds of terrorist attacks were carried out. In its operations, the PFLP was the first to hijack international airplanes.

  • July 22, 1968. PFLP hijacked its first plane, an El Al flight from Rome to Tel Aviv.
  • September 1970. PFLP hijacked three passenger planes and took them to airfields in Jordan, where the PLO was then based; after the planes were emptied, the hijackers blew them up. In response, King Hussein of Jordan decided that Palestinian radicals had gone too far and drove the PLO out of his kingdom.
  • 1972. PFLP and Japanese Red Army gunmen murdered two dozen passengers at Israel's international airport in Lod.
  • 1976. breaking a PLO agreement to end terrorism outside Israeli-held territory, PFLP members joined with West German radical leftists from the Baader-Meinhof Gang to hijack an Air France flight bound for Tel Aviv and landed the plane in Entebbe, Uganda. In a now famous raid, Israeli commandos stormed the plane on the Entebbe tarmac and freed the hostages.
  • October 2001. PFLP gunmen shot dead Iraeli Tourism minister Rechavam Ze'evi, in a Jerusalem hotel-the first assassination of an Israeli minister
  • April 2002, Israeli officials foiled a PFLP attempt to blow up a Tel Aviv skyscraper with a car bomb-which could have caused massive casualties and would have marked a dramatic escalation in Palestinian terrorism.
  • February 16, 2002 - Suicide bombing at Karnei Shomron pizzeria, in which three people were killed and 30 wounded.
  • May 19, 2002 - Suicide bombing at Netanya outdoor market, in which three people were killed and about 60 wounded.
  • June 20, 2002 - Terrorist infiltration of Itamar, in which five were killed - including a mother and her three sons - and eight wounded.
  • December 25, 2003 - Suicide bombing at the Geha junction, in which four people were killed and over 20 wounded.

The PFLP stepped up its operational activity during the Second Intifada. This was highlighted by at least two suicide bombings since 2003, multiple joint operations with other Palestinian terrorist groups, and the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001, to avenge Israels killing of the PFLP Secretary General earlier that year. In 2008 and 2009, the PFLP was involved in several rocket attacks launched primarily from Gaza against Israel, and claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza, including a December 2009 ambush of Israeli soldiers in central Gaza. The PLFP claimed responsibility for numerous mortar and rocket attacks fired from Gaza into Israel in 2010, as well as an attack on a group of Israeli citizens. In October 2011, the PFLP claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that killed one civilian in Ashqelon.

In August 2012, the Israeli Shin Bet security agency arrested a cell of PFLP militants on suspicion of engaging in terrorist activities. The group of militants, three of whom were previously imprisoned, was accused of plotting to carry out shooting attacks on IDF checkpoints in the West Bank, and planning to kidnap an Israeli IDF soldier. In December 2012, Israeli authorities arrested 10 more members of the PFLP and charged them with attempted kidnapping. The suspects were allegedly planning to kidnap an Israeli soldier to use as leverage in a prisoner swap for PFLP head Ahmad Sadaat, who is incarcerated by the Israelis for his role in a number of terrorist attacks.

There were no known PFLP attacks in 2013, although a spokesman for the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the PFLP, commented that the group received training in Damascus from Hizballah.


The PFLP had around 800 members and has limited support among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. As of 2014 the US Government characterized the group's strength as "unknown".

Location/Area of Operation

The PFLP maintained headquarters in Damascus

External Aid

Syria has provided financial support, training, and safe haven. Libya has also helped the PFLP.

Key Personalities

Until 2000, the PFLP was led by George Habash, a Palestinian doctor from an Orthodox Christian family. In May 2000, George Habash left his leading position in the organization due to his physical condition. He was replaced by Abu Ali Mustafa. Abu Ali Mustafa led PFLP until he was killed by Israeli rockets at his Ramallah office in August 2001. The PFLP's current leader is Ahmed Sadat, who was also based on the West Bank. Ahmed Sadat dispatched the terrorist cell which assassinated Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evy on October 17, 2001. Sadat was arrested in January 2002, after pressure on PA over Sadat's connection to Ze'evi assassination.

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