Omar Zayed, who had been the subject of an extradition application to Bulgaria by Israel regarding his escape from jail where he had been serving a life sentence for murder, and who died in the grounds of the Palestinian embassy in Sofia on February 26, had been still alive when found, according to Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov.
Tsatsarov said that Zayed was found in the inner backyard of the embassy, which is in Sofia’s James Bourchier Boulevard, an important thoroughfare in the Bulgarian capital.
A call was made to emergency number 112 soon after 7.30am when Zayed – who had been taking shelter at the Palestinian embassy because of Israel’s extradition application – was found, apparently by an embassy staffer arriving for work.
An earlier statement by the Prosecutor’s Office said that an investigating team led by prosecutors had been sent to the embassy after the report about the dead man in the grounds was filed. The team was admitted to the embassy grounds at 9.40am after the ambassador granted permission.
The team consisted, apart from the prosecutors, of two investigators, a medical examiner and a representative of Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry.
Tsatsarov said that at this stage the identity of the dead man could not be confirmed 100 per cent, “but according to statements by representatives of the diplomatic representation, he was a citizen of Palestine, Omar Zayed”.
The Prosecutor-General said that at the time the ambulance arrived, doctors pronounced the man dead.
An initial examination on the spot established that he had died violently. Some reports have suggested that Zayed died after falling from one of the storeys of the embassy, a three-storey building.
Actual cause of death will be established after an autopsy has been performed. By mid-morning, Zayed’s body had been removed from the embassy grounds.
Zayed escaped from custody in Israel more than 25 years ago after being given a life sentence for the murder of an Israeli yeshiva student, Eliyahu Amedi. Two other men, one of them Zayed’s brother, were convicted of involvement in the same murder. The two were among a group released in a 2011 in a prisoner swap, in return for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit.
Zayed (52) was sentenced on December 23 1986 to life imprisonment for murder. He was a member of the National Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
In April 1990, he went on hunger strike and was transferred to hospital. He escaped and in 1994 moved to Bulgaria, where he was later granted permanent residence in 2012. His spouse and children, all three of which were born in Bulgaria, have Bulgarian citizenship.
Israel lodged an extradition request to Bulgaria in December 2015. A Bulgarian court issued a search warrant after investigators failed to find Zayed at his home address. Zayed reportedly left his home after receiving a written notice from the Supreme Cassation Prosecution of Israel’s application for his extradition.
The extradition application was based on the European convention on extradition to which Israel became a signatory in 2012.
Reports at the time said that Zayed had taken refuge at the embassy of Palestine in Sofia. Reports quoted a statement by the ambassador of Palestine, Ahmed Madbuh, as saying that the consulate would not comply with the extradition application and would not hand Zayed over to the Bulgarian authorities.
Reacting to the death of Zayed, the Palestinian authority issued a statement alleging that Israel was to blame. Israel’s foreign ministry rejected the allegation. Palestinian authority president Mahmoud Abbas ordered an investigation into what he termed the “assassination” of Zayed.
The death of Zayed took place the morning after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov returned from a two-day visit to Israel, where Borissov had met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, president Reuven Rivlin and Palestinian leaders including Abbas.
On February 26, speaking to reporters in the corridors of Parliament, Borissov confirmed that the question of the application by Israel for the extradition of Zayed had been raised by both sides during his visit.
Borissov said that he had responded to both that Bulgaria was governed by the rule of law and the extradition application was a matter for a court to decide.