Palestinian sought by Israel for extradition from Bulgaria found dead in Palestine embassy grounds in Sofia
Bulgarian prosecutors and police are investigating after the dead body of a man was found in the grounds of the embassy of Palestine in Sofia in the early morning of February 26. Media reports said that the body was that of Omar Nayef Zayed, a Palestinian who escaped from custody in Israel more than 25 years ago after being given a life sentence for the murder of an Israeli yeshiva student, and who had been the subject of an extradition request by Israel.
A statement by the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office said that it had received a report from the embassy of Palestine about a person found dead as a result of violence in the embassy grounds. Reports said that the report was received at about 8am.
A team of prosecutors, investigators and forensic experts was sent to the scene. At 9.40am, the ambassador of Palestine authorised the investigative team to enter the embassy grounds, the Prosecutor’s Office said.
Senior members of Sofia metropolitan police were at the scene and there was a large police presence around the embassy, in the Bulgarian capital city’s James Bourchier Boulevard, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television said.
According to BNT, Zayed had fallen from one of the floors of the embassy building.
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 a few years later moved to Bulgaria, where he was later granted permanent residence. 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 Bulgarian 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.
Coincidentally, the death of Zayed came just as Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov returned from a visit to Israel, where he held meetings both with Israel’s prime minister and president and with Palestinian authority leaders.
Zayed’s lawyer has been quoted as saying that Zayed told him that he had been tortured into confessing to the murder, of which he was accused along with two other men. Zayed’s lawyer said earlier that the application to extradite Zayed was politically-motivated.