Bulgarian prosecutors investigating the February 26 death of Omar Zayed, a Palestian fugitive who had sought refuge at the Palestinian embassy in Sofia to avoid an Israeli request to extradite him to serve out a life sentence for murder, do not believe it was the result of murder.
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 was sentenced on December 23 1986 to life imprisonment for murder. He was a member of the Marxist-Leninist 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.
The State of 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 was found dying in the grounds of the Palestinian authority embassy in Sofia on February 26 2016.
Bulgarian Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov told reporters on March 21 that the results of the autopsy of Zayed had established that his death was the result of a fall from the third floor of the embassy building.
“For the moment, we do not believe that it was a murder,” Tsatsarov said.
He said that Sofia city prosecutor Hristo Dinev had held a meeting with the Palestinian delegation that had been sent to Bulgaria to look into Zayed’s death.
Tsatsarov said that the Criminal Procedure Code did not allow disclosure of the details of an ongoing investigation. The details, including all materials such as the conclusions of the forensic examination of Zayed’s corpse, would be given to Zayed’s relatives after the investigation concluded, he said.
Relatives of the dead Palestinian held two protests last week, one in front of the embassy and the other at the Palace of Justice urging investigators to state the cause of his death, and saying that if this was not done, they would approach EU institutions about the matter.
Zayed’s death came soon after Prime Minister Boiko Borissov returned from an official visit to Israel, where he met the prime minister and president of the State of Israel as well as Palestinian authority leaders. After Zayed’s death, Borissov confirmed that Israel’s extradition application had been discussed.
Immediately after the death, various Palestinian groups rushed to try to put the blame on Israel. Israel has not commented, although local media quoted senior security sources as saying that Israel was in no way involved with Zayed’s death.