Skip To Content
Breaking News

Palestinian Fugitive Murdered in Bulgaria Diplomatic Mystery

A Palestinian who escaped from Israeli custody after being convicted of a 1986 murder has died at the Palestinian embassy in Sofia, Bulgarian prosecutors said on Friday.

Police sealed off the mission building in the capital as an investigation began into the death of Omar el-Nayef, who was jailed along with two other men for killing an Israeli settler.

Prosecutors said in an initial statement they had been alerted by a representative of the Palestinian mission in Bulgaria “about a man who died as a result of violence” but a spokeswoman for the prosecutors later said no signs of violence were found on his body.

She said Nayef was found in the mission’s back yard and that prosecutors were investigating whether he was pushed or fell from a high floor.

The mission confirmed the dead man was Omar el-Nayef Zayed but declined further comment.

Palestinian sources said he had been shot.

Official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had ordered an investigation into the circumstances of Nayef’s death.

“The president has condemned the crime in the strongest terms possible and has ordered the members of the (investigation) committee to travel immediately to Bulgaria to discover what happened,” WAFA said.

Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said the presidency would pursue the issue with Bulgarian authorities.

Nayef was sentenced to life in prison for the 1986 murder but escaped in 1990 while being moved to hospital after he began a hunger strike. He first went to the Palestinian Territories before fleeing to an Arab country and then to Bulgaria, where he had lived since 1994.

Bulgarian authorities had sought to detain him following an extradition request by Israel in late December, prompting him to seek refuge at the Palestinian mission and leading to a country-wide search after Nayef could not be found at his Sofia address.

On Friday, Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov told reporters there was evidence Nayef had been living at the embassy. He also said Nayef had been alive when medics arrived at the embassy but died later.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said on Friday that although Israel had asked for his extradition, it learned of his death in the media and is currently studying the information.

Issa Qaraqea, chairman of a prisoners’ association run by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which is widely recognized as representing the Palestinian people, accused Israel in a statement of “assassinating” Nayef.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, who returned from a visit to the Palestinian Territories and Israel late on Thursday, said Nayef’s extradition had been brought up in meetings by both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities.

“I told both sides that Bulgaria respects the rule of law and will follow the legal procedures in the case,” he told reporters in parliament on Friday.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.