PARIS (Jul. 21)
Former Syrian Premier Solah Bitar was killed this morning in the center of Paris. A lone gunman shot him in the back of the neck as he was entering his office. Bitar’s killing took place only three days after a Palestine Liberation Organization commando tried to murder former Iranian Premier Shapur Bakhtiar, killing a French policeman and a woman neighbor in the process.
The 68-year-old Bitar was shot as he was putting his key into his Paris office a few hundred yards off the Arch of Triumph. The killer walked away and got lost in the Lunchtime crowd.
Bitor founded the Syrian Booth Party together with Michel Aflak in 1942. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he served as Prime Minister or Foreign Minister in a half dozen Syrian governments. Overthrown by an army coup in 1966, he fled first to Lebanon and later to France where he started publishing last year a monthly in Arabic “The Arab Renaissance.” Sentenced to death in absentia by a Syrian military court, he was pardoned by President Hafez Assad in 1970.
Bitar was one of the most important Arab politicians to have been murdered abroad in recent years. His killing, following Friday’s attempts against Bakhtiar, has provoked a loud outcry throughout France against foreign and mainly Arab “hit teams” operating in Paris.
ARAFAT GAVE THE ORDERS
Police sources quoted by the French state run television today said that the head of the five man crew who tried to kill Bankhtiar “had been given his orders by Yasir Arafat himself.” The man, Anis Naccache was quoted as having told police that he was summoned to Beirut early last month. There he met PLO leader Yasir Arafat who told him that his mission “has been ordered by the Iranian authorities.” According to Naccache he was not told who these authorities were but “obeyed like a good Fatah soldiers.”
A French journalist, Figaro’s Beirut correspondent, reported today that he had met Naccache in Beirut some months ago and said he was a Lebanese Christian who worked for the PLO.
Though police say they have no clues as yet as to Bitar’s murder, many sources here link his killing and the attempt against Bakhtiar with the PLO. The pro-Syrian branch of the PLO might have carried out the Bitar “contract” at Damascus request.
At least 12 people were killed in France during the last two years over the Middle East inter-Arab strife. Last January, a bomb exploded at the Syrian Embassy in Paris killing one person and wounding eight. On July 31, 1978, two Palestinians attacked the Iraqi Embassy. During the ensuing shootout two people were killed, including a French policeman. A few days later, Aug. 3, gunmen killed the PLO representative in France, Ezzedian Kallok. The two killers have since been convicted for the murder and found to have belonged to the pro-Iraqi “Abu Nidal.”
Bakhtiar himself blamed the Palestinians for most of the recent killing including the attempt against himself. According to Bakhtiar, the Iranians just do not have trained men to carry out this type of operation.