On February 12 and 13, 2023, the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published a two-part interview by the daily's chief editor, Ghassan Charbel, with Leila Khaled, a former terrorist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and a current member of the Palestinian National Council. Khaled was involved in the hijacking of a TWA flight to Tel-Aviv in 1969 and in the attempted hijacking of an El-Al flight to New York in 1970.
In the interview she describes her activity in the PFLP's External Operations section along with notorious fellow terrorists Wadie Haddad, who was the section head, and Carlos the Jackal. She describes how she unwittingly helped save Haddad from death because, when his apartment when it was targeted by Israeli shells in 1970, she was briefing him about an operation in the living room, thus keeping him out of the bedroom that was hit. She also presents details about the planning and execution of the plane hijackings in which she took part.
Khaled also tells that Rafik Al-Hariri, Lebanon's prime minister who was assassinated in 2005, was active in the PFLP as a young man and was involved in transferring the organization's weapons to Europe in 1970 and 1971. Another figure active in the PFLP at the time, according to the interview, was Jalal Talabani, who decades later would become president of Iraq. The interviewer Charbel claims that, as a young man Talabani carried our reconnaissance missions in Europe on behalf of the PFLP, including as part of a plot to assassinate Israeli politician Shimon Peres.
In addition, Leila Khaled describes Wadie Haddad's extensive connections with the Soviet KGB. She states that, when the External Operations was developing advanced bombs and needed special components that could not be obtained in Lebanon, Haddad contacted the Soviets and visited Moscow, where he met with KGB officials, including with the leader of the KGB at the time, Yuri Andropov. Hadded explained to his hosts that his mission was to liberate all of Palestine, and presented them with a list of weapons and equipment he needed, which the Soviets later supplied in full.
Leila Khaled (Source: Diffah.alaraby.co.uk/viewimage/f3e7d02d-5fe1-4283-bcf5-bacd1b943baf)
The following are excerpts from the interview, as it appeared in the English-language edition of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. 
"Journalists sometimes fall into the trap of being drawn into the story of a thorny, sensual, or cruel man who has a remarkable role at a certain stage. The man’s name could be Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, or Muammar Gaddafi. I was attracted to stories shrouded in so much malice and mystery. That is how I spent years looking for features, stories, and details.
"The story of another man, the Palestinian leader Wadie Haddad, whose name has been associated with hijacking planes and 'chasing the enemy everywhere' had caught my attention. In the 70s of the last century, Haddad, who was responsible for foreign operations at the 'Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,' shook the region and the world. Operations launched by Haddad preoccupied political, security and media circles with two key stars: Carlos the Jackal, whose star shone after the kidnapping of the OPEC ministers in Vienna, and the second was the young Palestinian woman, Leila Khaled, who participated in the 1969 and 1970 hijackings of two planes.
"In the summer of 2001, I published a lengthy investigation on Haddad, which also included Carlos’ responses to questions I sent to him in his French prison, where he still resides. However, circumstances prevented Khaled from being involved in the matter.
"Late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, at that time, asked me why I was interested in Haddad's story, and I replied that it was out of journalistic curiosity. I was surprised that a busy prime minister would have enough time to read an interview of this kind. I later heard from an informed source that during a visit to Haddad’s house in Beirut, a day after it was targeted in the summer of 1970 by Israeli shells, a young Lebanese man was taking part in removing shards of glass. Curiosity got the better of me and I discovered after repeated attempts that the young man was Hariri. I had many doubts, because at that time Hariri was working in Saudi Arabia. But the source seemed confident of their statement since they knew Hariri personally…"
Late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri Transferred PFLP Weapons To Europe In 1970-1971
"Years ago, poet and journalist Zahi Wehbe was giving an interview on Future TV, which Hariri owned, along with Leila Khaled. During the interview, Wehbe received a call from Hariri's house in Quraitem Palace asking him to extend the ad period, which he did. During the break, Hariri called and asked to speak to Khaled. 'I am Rafik Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon,' Hariri told Khaled. 'I do not know the Prime Minister of Lebanon. I know the old Rafik (Hariri),' replied Khaled. This is when Hariri requested that Khaled visit him at home. Khaled went with Wehbe, and Hariri met with them. They discussed the difficult conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, and Khaled stressed the need to ease the restrictions on the lives of camp residents.
"Hariri asked his guest if she still remembered the 'labneh sandwiches,' and Khaled affirmed that she did. Wehbe tried to inquire about the sandwiches, but Hariri stopped the conversation with a wave of his hand and moved on to another topic. The 'labneh sandwiches' was Hariri’s most confidential matter. Hariri hid the secret from the closest people to him, and now the readers of Asharq Al-Awsat are learning about it half a century after it had happened.
"To be honest, I did not go to Khaled's house in Amman to ask her about Hariri. I went to collect stories, especially since this woman is about to turn eighty without changing her convictions or regretting what she did.
"Khaled unwittingly contributed to saving Haddad from death because of her presence in his apartment when it was targeted by Mossad shells in 1970. She was instructing him about an operation being prepared, keeping him outside the bedroom which was targeted in the attack that injured his wife and son. When Khaled told me this, I remembered the young man who was said to have collected the shards of glass the next day. I asked her if she saw him the next day, and she replied that she was with Haddad’s family at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, and she did not know who came to the apartment. When asked if she knew Hariri in those years, she replied: 'Yes. I knew him because he lived with my brother during their studies at the Beirut Arab University. A year before he was due to graduate, he came to my sister's house in Mazraa, Beirut. He said he decided to go to work in Saudi Arabia. We tried to persuade him to complete his studies, but he was not convinced. If I remember well, this was in 1965 or soon after. He visited us later in Lebanon, met with Haddad, and got assigned the task of transporting weapons to Europe.'
"I pretended not to be surprised and asked where and when he had transferred the weapons, and Khaled’s response was: 'To Europe, and he did that more than once between 1970 and 1971. At that time, he was working in Saudi Arabia. I am not aware of how Haddad was asking him to come to Lebanon. He was the one delivering the weapons. After 1972, we no longer saw him,' added Khaled. I inquired if Hariri - despite his modest capabilities at the time - contributed to any financing for the group, and Khaled’s answer was: 'I am not sure, all I witnessed was his assignment to transfer weapons. The rule of thumb was that no one should know anything except for what they have to complete their mission.' I asked about the reason for assigning Hariri a task of this kind while he was working in Saudi Arabia, and she replied: 'I told you what I know. Perhaps because his passport did not arouse suspicion.' Khaled refused to talk about how Hariri got the weapons to pass through the airports of France, Spain, and Germany.
"The tape recorder was on and thoughts started racing through my mind. The young man who was assigned by Haddad to transport weapons to Europe will later appear to be an acceptable player on Arab and international levels. Hariri would later visit the White House, the Kremlin, and 10 Downing Street. The Elysee master will break the protocol to dine at his Parisian home.
"At that moment, I remembered what I heard two decades ago from Zaki Hillo, who worked with Haddad, when he told me that he knew Hariri. Hillo didn’t reveal much. He had trained to live in a world of secrets, and was the one who trained Carlos in marksmanship and small explosives. I turned to those who accompanied Hariri in his early youth in his hometown of Sidon, southern Lebanon. They said Hariri was an enthusiastic young man who joined the 'Movement of Arab Nationalists' as an activist.
"At the movement, Hariri got acquainted with the names of George Habash and Haddad and got to know them later. His role was modest. He participated in a committee headed by Haddad, which was concerned with providing facilities to some members of the movement, such as finding homes for rent and services of this kind. Hariri was also tasked with delivering the movement’s publications secretly to its members in Syria. He chose to hide these leaflets in the vegetable trucks that were traveling from Sidon to the Syrian cities. Those days were the thread that linked Hariri to some of the movement's symbols before the birth of the 'Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine' led by Habash."
Late Iraqi President Jalal Talabani Carried Out Reconnaissance For The PFLP In Europe
"Khaled noticed that Haddad was skilled at using some friendships, especially with non-suspicious people, to play roles that serve his work. In this context, he once assigned a young Kurdish leftist to carry out reconnaissance missions in Europe. I had heard years ago that this Kurdish youth later assumed a high position, so my suspicions went to the late Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Taking advantage of the opportunity to meet with him during his visit to Damascus, I asked him to confirm the story. He kindly wished not to focus too much on it 'so that friends in the US would not say that the president of Iraq is a former terrorist.' Perhaps he was also avoiding saying that his trip was part of a plan to assassinate Shimon Peres.
"The truth is that I was not surprised that Talabani played a role of this kind because of his upbringing, his inclinations, and his connections. But it is strange that Hariri transported weapons and that this role remained a secret for five decades.
"Haddad used his friendships to serve his cause. 'He used to ask me to go to some personalities and friends, including a number of doctors, to get money from them to cover travel expenses and missions,' revealed Khaled. 'He used to tell me to tell them we want to buy travel tickets,' she explained. 'Once I went to Najib Abu Haidar (former Lebanese minister) and he asked me where Haddad wanted to travel. Of course, I replied, "I don't know." 'They would give us the money and we would buy the tickets. Haddad was dependent on some of his relatives, including those who were at the head of a major company.'
"Khaled tells how Haddad used to talk to his friends and relatives. He urged them to fund him because he was fighting for a Palestine that was for all. 'Their confidence in him and the justice of the case prompted them to be responsive,' clarified Khaled.
"Another friend of Haddad that was not hesitant to offer his services was the representative of the city of Sidon in the Lebanese parliament, Marouf Saad. One day, Saad was asked to suggest a suitable place for a hijacked plane to land. Saad searched for a place that had Haddad’s approval, but Khaled was afraid that the place would be within reach of the Israeli warplanes, so the matter was dismissed. The search later moved outside Lebanon, and Khaled was tasked with recruiting members and training them to hijack planes, which she did."
Khaled Unwittingly Saved Haddad From Assassination Attempt
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"I asked Khaled to tell the story of the assassination attempt on Haddad at the hands of the Mossad, because she was with him at the moment of the attack. 'Haddad was adhering to strict security measures and all his movements were surrounded by complete secrecy,' she recalled. 'However, they succeeded in hitting his apartment in Al-Zarif in Beirut with six missiles directed at the bedrooms at 2:00 am. Fortunately, I was sitting with him in the dining room. I had to travel in the morning, but I was supposed to write down the details of the operation that was supposed to lead me to Tel Aviv. I was writing the details to send to the leadership when the explosions went off.'
'I was thrust from my place, and we heard the screams of Hani, Haddad’s son. Haddad was not injured, but shrapnel hit his son in more than one place. The glass in the apartment shattered and we felt as if we were suffocating. The closet was on fire and was about to fall on Hani, who was lying in his bed. Haddad came forward and I saw his hands were burning, but he was able to carry Hani and give him to me. The boy was bleeding, so I picked him up. But I didn't know how to open the door. Haddad came with his burning hands and grabbed the lock. The missiles hit, especially the lower and upper floors, and I still remember Haddad’s sentence in those harsh conditions when he said: Their operation failed'
"Khaled added that Haddad had gone into the other room to bring his wife after collecting the papers of the operation’s details and placing them in his pocket. 'He came to his wife and asked her to get up. When she discovered that her son was not near her, she started screaming. I rushed to the hospital and started yelling after the staff demanded money before admitting Hani, knowing that he was bleeding on my hand. I pushed the man who asked for the insurance, entered the hospital, and Haddad followed me with his wife.'
"The plan, which was aborted because of the attack, was for Khaled to go with a fake passport to Tel Aviv to spend her honeymoon there, and then carry out the operation. 'In the hospital we had to think of a response, and I brought a book about the flights of Israeli planes to and from Tel Aviv. I spotted three planes that can be hunted almost simultaneously. I presented the idea to Haddad and he liked it'"…
The KGB Provided PFLP With Weapons And Equipment
"Khaled was born in Haifa in 1944 and immigrated with her family to Lebanon after the Nakba. She resided in Tyre, Sidon and Beirut before later going to Kuwait. [Today] Leila Khaled is approaching 80. She has spent her life chasing a dream that has not been achieved. She has not abandoned it and feels no regret or remorse. She joined the Arab Nationalist Movement while she was still in high school and later joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). She rose up the ranks to become a member of its leading body. Danger would become her daily companion when she joined the PFLP’s External Operations headed by Wadie Haddad.
"Throughout the years, I had always wondered whether there was any connection between the External Operations and the intelligence empire of the Soviets’ KGB that was long headed by Yuri Andropov before he became master of the Kremlin.
"Khaled had the answer. She said: 'Wadie opened the channel of communication with the Soviets through a military attaché in Beirut. At one point, we were building bombs that could breach the entrance of airport gates, no matter how high advanced they were. We tested some of them, leaving the British with quite a surprise,' she recalled in an interview to Asharq Al-Awsat in Amman. 'One day we realized that we needed a specific spring to develop the bomb. We didn’t trust any embassy and we used to resolve our problems through Wadie’s doctor friends at the American University of Beirut hospital. This time, they couldn’t find a solution to our problem.'
"'It was difficult for us to approach the Soviet embassy or arrange a meeting elsewhere. Western security agencies were tracking us. The best way to meet the Soviet military attaché was at the seaside promenade where we could appear as casual pedestrians. We explained our case to the official, who relayed our request to his command. Afterwards, we headed to Moscow and received what we had asked for. I did not take part in the meetings, but did go with Wadie to Moscow,' Khaled said.
"I asked her about a meeting that had allegedly taken place between Haddad and Andropov in a forest outside of Moscow. She replied that she had not taken part in that meeting.
Haddad Told The KGB: "We Have Never Thought About The Rise Of Two States. If The Whole Of Palestine, Including Jerusalem, But Excluding Haifa, Were To Be Offered To Us, We Would Turn It Down"
"The forest meeting did indeed happen. Haddad was hosted at a palace in the middle of a forest. He held a series of meetings with Soviet officials that tackled military, political and technical issues. The talks were capped with a meeting with KGB leader Andropov.
"The topic at hand was not easy. At the time it was called 'terrorism'. The discussions quickly revealed evident differences over the two-state solution. Haddad stressed that 'our country is one and indivisible. We have never thought about the rise of two states. If the whole of Palestine, including Jerusalem, but excluding Haifa, were to be offered to us, we would turn it down.'
He was then asked if he had any specific demands. Haddad replied: 'I had made a list before my arrival. I am not greedy, but in need. We need the list to be met in full or not at all.' He handed over his list and indeed, the Soviets fulfilled all of his demands. Some weapons, machineguns, rifles, ammunition, timers, and certain devices.
"Khaled recalled: 'After some time, we were contacted in Aden. Some six kilometers off the shore, we received all the weapons that Wadie had asked for. There would be no follow up to the meeting in the forest. The relations would remain as they were. Later, at Wadie’s funeral, a Soviet diplomat asked us who would be his successor and we told him that now was not the time for such discussions. Actual relations were never established after that.'"
Israeli General Yitzhak Rabin Was Supposed To Be On Board The Hijacked Plane
"I was a student in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon when news broke out that a young Palestinian woman, who called herself Shadia Abou Ghazaleh, had hijacked an Israeli plane and flown it over Haifa before landing in Damascus airport. Abou Ghazaleh was the name of the PFLP’s first female operative to be killed.
"The news of the hijacking was exceptionally exciting. It was uncommon in the Middle East and even the world for a woman to hijack a plane. Her family had been displaced to Lebanon in 1948. She graduated from a school in Sidon before joining the PFLP and later the External Operations.
"I had never imagined back then that decades later, I would one day be in an apartment in Amman to listen to Khaled recount to Asharq Al-Awsat what happened at that time.
"Haddad was studying medicine at the American University of Beirut. His colleague, George Habash, dreamed of returning to Palestine. He was horrified at the thought of a world that would get used to seeing Palestinians living under occupation or displaced in camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. He was aware of Israel’s power and strength of its ties with the West. He feared that Palestine would be forgotten by the world.
"He thought of different ways to again draw the world’s attention to the plight of the Palestinian people. And so, the idea of hijacking planes was born. It would serve as a reminder to the world and to prompt the release of prisoners held in Israeli jails.
"Khaled stressed that Haddad was aware of how sensitive this issue was to international public opinion. That is why he stressed that the hijackers should never harm passengers or fire back at any shooter…
"It was the summer of 1969. Khaled was happy and excited. She was chosen to carry out a shocking and unprecedented operation – evidence of the faith she enjoyed from the leadership that recognized her loyalty and abilities. She received training at the hands of PFLP member Salim Issawi in Jordan. He would also be her partner during the hijacking.
"Haddad briefed them on the plan: Hijack a TWA flight flying from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv. The purpose was to exchange Palestinian prisoners with the Israeli passengers. Reportedly, a major Israeli figure was supposed to be on board the flight, which would have forced Israel to agree to negotiate. Khaled tried to find out who that important person was from Haddad, but he said that it was a 'need to know' situation. She would later find out that it was General Yitzhak Rabin, who would later become prime minister. He would ultimately change his itinerary and deprive the hijackers of a 'hefty catch'.
"Khaled would undergo intense training for four months. She would learn about how planes work and about maps and coordinates and what to do if the aircraft encountered turbulence. The American flight had two stops in Europe, Rome and Athens, before arriving in Tel Aviv. Khaled and Issawi departed Beirut to Rome and booked a flight to Athens.
"August 29, 1969, was the day it happened. Khaled sat in first class with Issawi. The plan would go into action a half hour into the flight when the plane was at 35,000 feet. They took out their weapons and asked the first class passengers to head to the tourist class. Issawi and Khaled then stormed the cockpit.
"She told the pilot: 'I am Captain Shadia Abou Ghazaleh of the Che Guevara unit in the PFLP.' She informed him that she would take command. She took his headset and microphone. He noticed that she had taken off the pin of a hand grenade she was carrying and asked that she rest her hand so that the explosive would not go off.
"'I explained to the pilot and the copilot that we were not here to kill or blow up anyone. We only want our rightful demands,' she added. 'I asked that the plane’s code be changed to Popular Front Liberated Arab Palestine. I told them that we will not respond to any call that does not use that code. I asked the pilot to head directly to Tel Aviv without stopping in Athens.'
"She added: 'We didn’t want to land in Tel Aviv. We only wanted to fly over the Palestinian territories to remind the world of our cause.' She told the pilot that they wanted to fly to Syria. 'I heard an exchange between the Damascus and Beirut watch towers. The Syrians asked: ‘Where is this plane going?’ The Lebanese replied: ‘Not to us. It’s headed to you.’'
"Damascus airport was still new and not operating at full capacity. This was the first American flight to land there. Haddad had not informed the Syrian authorities of his plan ahead of time because he did not trust them.
"'The plane landed in Damascus according to plan. We turned ourselves over to the authorities and explained to them why we did what we did,' said Khaled.
"The passengers, some 122 of them, ran towards the airport building. Only a small group ran towards the fence. 'I told the police that they may be Israelis and indeed, they were,' recalled Khaled.
"'A Syrian officer asked us: ‘Why did you come to us?’ Shocked, I replied: ‘I came to Syria, not to Israel.’ He was angered by this, but the operation had still gone according to plan,' she said. The ensuing negotiations led to the release of 23 Palestinian and Arab prisoners and two Syrian pilots, who were detained during the 1867 war."
The PFLP’s External Operations Attracted Terrorists From Many Countries
"The popularity of the PFLP and Haddad would skyrocket after the first hijackings. Anti-West groups and individuals seeking an opportunity to tangle with their perceived enemy soon poured into the Middle East. The PFLP’s External Operations would later become tied to a group of people from diverse nationalities. Jordan was their preferred destination because the Palestinian factions had set up base there while the Jordanian army did little to stop them because it wanted to avert a clash that would eventually happen later.
"The relations between these groups would start off with reaching common political ground. Once firmly established, they would begin to cooperate according to a specific agenda. They would exchange information, documents and weapons. They would also provide facilitations and trainings and sometimes take part in direct operations.
"The West named the network that was established by Haddad the 'empire of terrorism' because of the many foreigners who were involved. The External Operations would become a hub and training and planning ground that would produce figures that shocked the world with their violence: Venezuela’s 'Salem', who was none other than the infamous Carlos, 'Mariam', who was Fusako Shigenobu, head of the Japanese Red Army, and 'Mujahid', who was Hagop Hagopian, head of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia.
"After his death, Haddad’s 'students' would eventually be tracked down. Some would be shot dead and others would land in jail. Perhaps their downfall could be blamed on their poor organization and lack of uniting leadership. Perhaps they committed the error of forming ties with countries and agencies. Of course, infamy could be lethal in a world that must be shrouded in secrecy.
"In 1970, Jordan was at boiling point. Coexistence between the army and Palestinian factions had grown fragile and strained. Coexistence between two authorities in the same country is unwieldly at best. Ceasefires acted more as sedatives in the buildup to zero hour when one party had to give.
"In July 1970, the Israeli Mossad tried to assassinate Haddad in Beirut. They attacked his bedroom, but he was in another room where he was deep in conversation with Khaled. Both came out alive. These discussions would move to the American University of Beirut hospital where Haddad’s wife was treating their son, Hani.
"At the hospital, Khaled would study a book on flight movements all over the world. She searched for El Al and noted the pattern of flights to and from Tel Aviv. She said she proposed to Haddad carrying out a new hijacking in retaliation to the attempt on his life. He agreed and asked her to follow up on it and bring in female comrades to train."
The September 6, 1970 Coordinated Hijackings
"Haddad would send Khaled to a dinner with people she did not know. One of the guests told her he had just returned from a hunting trip in Jordan where he came across a facility, similar to an airport, that the British had used for their trainings. She eagerly listened and asked more about the location to determine if it was suitable for her plan.
"Khaled said she vividly remembers that night. 'I was eager for the dinner to be over so I could go back to Haddad and tell him all about what I had learned. It was decided that I would go scout the location. I was accompanied by a comrade from the Arab Nationalist Movement. At the facility, I ran around to test the firmness of the ground. My comrade asked me why I was so interested and I replied that I was looking for an appropriate training ground.'
"The plan called for hijacking three planes at once and flying them to what was called the 'revolutionary airport' - the Jordanian site. 'Negotiations would then be held over the liberation of prisoners held in enemy and European jails,' Khaled said.
"September 6, 1970, would become known as the day of plane hijackings in the world. All eyes turned to the 'revolutionary airport'. The attempt to hijack an El Al flight was thwarted while it was in the air. Two planes, one Swiss and one American, were blown up at the airport. Another American plane was blown up at Cairo airport.
"Luck was not on Khaled’s side this time. Four of her accomplices were supposed to board the El Al flight in Amsterdam, but two failed to secure a reservation. She boarded the plane with her accomplice, Patrick Argüello. The hijacking failed and the plane landed in London. Argüello was killed by a marshal that was on the plane and Khaled threw a hand grenade that did not explode. She was arrested in Britain. After an investigation and weeks of detention, authorities were forced to release her as part of an exchange.
"I asked her if the Mossad had ever managed to reach her. She replied: 'Yes, in Beirut. They planted an explosive under my bed. Security measures at the time demanded that we change our apartments constantly. I was training women in the South and the Bekaa. I would return exhausted to my temporary furnished apartment in the capital. I would immediately collapse in bed and get as much rest as possible because Wadie would often send for me and he believed that we had no right to feel tired.'
"That day, Khaled returned to her apartment in Beirut’s Caracas neighborhood and by chance, she noticed a black box under her bed. 'I wasn’t sure if that box was mine. I had my doubts. I immediately went to the PFLP office. A explosives expert head to the apartment and discovered that the box held ten kilograms of explosives.'"
 English.aawsat.com, February 12, 13, 2023.