Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
Lefist Palestinian nationalist group that formed after Arab states' overwhelming defeat in 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, was formed in December 1967 by George Habash, a Palestinian doctor from an Orthodox Christian family. 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.
In the spring of 1968, Habbash was arrested in Syria, the Syrians apparently feeling that he and the PFLP were plotting a coup against the Baath regime in Syria. In November 1968 Habbash was dramatically rescued from his Syrian captors by some PFLP followers, reportedly while being transferred from one person to another. By this time the PFLP was in a shambles.
The PFLP in which Habbash secured his control defined its ideology as revolutionary Marxism-Leninism. Habbash has said that a future state of Palestine would have Marxist-Leninis t principles, and that the PFLP would be the leader of the revolution. Habbash supported the view that a revolution must eventually occur throughout the Arab world; for example, he said that after Palestine's liberation (a process he said will take from 20 to 30 years), not only will Palestine be free of Zionism, but Lebanon and Jordan will be free of "reaction" and Syria and Iraq of their petit bourgeoisie.
However, this revolutionary ideology appeared to be secondary for Habbash, the real raison d'etre of the PFLP being the elimination of the state of Israel, a goal which Habbash felt must take precedence over attempts to change the remainder of the Arab world. While denying that its goal at any one time was primarily the overthrow of incumbent regimes, the PFLP did not feel it had any obligation to help sustain the governments in power in what it considers reactionary countries. It therefore felt free to undermine Jordan and Lebanon and to reject any agreements made between these countries and other fedayeen. Habbash judged his allies on the basis of their degree of hostility to Israel. Thus, in June 1970 he stated that "our best friend is China," because China wanted Israel erased from the map.
On January 24, 1995, President William J. Clinton designated the PFLP as a Specially Designated Terrorist pursuant to Executive Order 12947 for its grave acts of violence which were disrupting the Middle East peace process and threatening the'national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States. See 60 Fed. Reg. 5079 (Jan. 23, 1995). The PFLP’s designation was accompanied by an order blocking all of the organization’s assets.
The PFLP is one of the original members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Throughout most of its existence, the PFLP combined Marxist ideology with Palestinian nationalism, and was among the ?rst of the Palestinian organizations to use terrorism as a means to win attention to its cause.
In order to achieve its goal of destroying the state of Israel, the PFLP has stated that it will conduct an all-out, world-wide struggle against Israel and her supporters. Limited by its small size and lack of money and arms, the PFLP has relied on spectacular international actions, such as plane hijackings, to gain its increased attention and support; it was the group responsible for most of the international terrorist operations attributed to Palestinians.
Since its inception, the PFLP carried out a long list of terrorist attacks in the international arena, particularly hijackings against aviation targets. 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.
In the early 1970s a relatively small group of Japanese terrorists, working with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), conducted or collaborated with the PFLP in three terrorist operations. These incidents - the Lod Airport massacre in May 1972, the Japan Airlines (JAL) hijacking in July 1973, and the Singapore incident in January 1974 - are believed to have been planned by the PFLP and then implemented with the assistance of Japanese radicals operating out of the Middle East. In the recent successful operation in the Hague to secure the release of Furuya Yutaka, a Japanese Red Army (JRA) comrade held in a French jail, the JRA appears to have acted independently of the PFLP.
Available information indicates that Shigenobu Fusako, thought to be the leader of the JRA, made contact with the PFLP in 1971. In May 1971 she helped produce a film called "The PFLP and the Red Army Declare World War." She also appears to have participated in the publication of a book entitled The Arab Guerrillas and the World Red Army. It is not known whether Shigenobu and her JRA followers initiated contact with the PFLP on their own volition or as the agents of a terrorist organization inside Japan.
- 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. Okudaira and two other Japanese radicals were trained and sent by the PFLP into Israel to perpetrate what is now called the Lod Airport massacre in May 1972. It is likely that the three men were not members of any well~established organization in Japan, but rather individuals who were motivated by the goals of the PFLP in combating Israel. PFLP spokesman in June 1972 readily admitted that the PFLP had trained and dispatched the Japanese terrorists on the Lod mission.
- 1973. On 20 July 1973 a combined JRA-PFLP group hijacked a Japan Airlines (JAL) Boeing 747 as it departed Amsterdam's international airport. The aircraft was hijacked by five terrorists, who included both Palestinians and members of the leftist Japanese Red Army. 87 hours after the hijack began, the aircraft landed at Banghazi and was set on fire and ultimately destroyed. One of the hijackers was killed by her own grenade.
- 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 Ze’evi in 2001, to avenge Israel’s 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.
Two Palestinian attackers senselessly and brutally attacked innocent worshippers as they prayed in the Har Nof neighborhood of west Jerusalem on 18 November 2014. Four victims - hacked to death with meat cleavers - were Israelis with dual nationality, three of whom were Americans. The fourth was from Britain. They were all rabbis. The fifth victim was an Israeli policeman who died of gunshot wounds. The attackers, affiliated with the PFLP, were shot dead by Israeli police. The attack was the latest in a series of incidents that have raised tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
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
The group received support from the Soviet Union and China. Syria has provided financial support, training, and safe haven. Libya has also helped the PFLP.
Until 2000, the PFLP was led by George Habash. 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.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list