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Social Psychology of Terrorism

Social Psychology of Terrorism

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Published by Dafi D. Wiradimadja

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Published by: Dafi D. Wiradimadja on Jun 15, 2011
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Position: First Secretary of the PFLP’s Palestinian Popular Women’s Committees

Background: Khaled was born on April 13, 1948, in Haifa, Palestine. She left
Haifa at age four when her family fled the Israeli occupation and lived in
impoverished exile in a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)
refugee camp in Sour, Lebanon. By age eight, she had become politically aware
of the Palestinian plight. Inspired by a Palestinian revolutionary of the 1930s, Izz
Edeen Kassam, she decided to become a revolutionary “in order to liberate my
people and myself.” The years 1956-59 were her period of political
apprenticeship as an activist of the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM). By the
summer of 1962, she was struggling to cope with national, social, class, and

Library of Congress – Federal Research Division

The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism


sexual oppression but, thanks to her brother’s financial support, finally succeeded
in attending the American University of Beirut (AUB) in 1962-63, where she
scored the second highest average on the AUB entrance exam.

While an AUB student, Khaled received what she refers to as her “real education”
in the lecture hall of the Arab Cultural Club (ACC) and in the ranks of the ANM
and the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS). Her “intellectual
companion”at AUB was her American roommate, with whom she would have
heated political arguments. In the spring of 1963, Khaled was admitted into the
ANM’s first paramilitary contingent of university students and was active in ANM
underground activities. For lack of funding, she was unable to continue her
education after passing her freshman year in the spring of 1963.

In September 1963, Khaled departed for Kuwait, where she obtained a teaching
position. After a run-in with the school’s principal, who called her to task for her
political activities on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), she
returned to Lebanon in late June 1964. She returned to the school in Kuwait that
fall but was demoted to elementary teaching. The U.S. invasions of the
Dominican Republic and Vietnam in 1965 solidified her hatred of the U.S.
Government. The death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara on October 9, 1967, convinced
her to join the revolution.

When Fatah renewed its military operations on August 18, 1967, Khaled
attempted to work through Fatah’s fund-raising activities in Kuwait to liberate
Palestine. She pleaded with Yasir Arafat’s brother, Fathi Arafat, to be allowed to
join Al-Assifah, Fatah’s military wing. She found an alternative to Fatah,
however, when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked
an El-Al airplane in July 1968, an action that inspired her to seek contacts with
the PFLP in Kuwait. She succeeded when PFLP representative Abu Nidal, whom
she described as “a tall, handsome young man” who was “reserved and
courteous,” met her in a Kuwaiti bookstore. After performing fund-raising for the
PFLP, she was allowed to join its Special Operations Squad and underwent
intensive training. In her first mission, she hijacked a TWA plane on a flight from
Rome to Athens on August 29, 1969, and diverted it to Damascus, where all 113
passengers were released unharmed. Although her identity was revealed to the
world by the Syrians, she continued her terrorist career by training to
commandeer an El-Al plane. When Jordan’s King Hussein launched a military
offensive against the Palestinian resistance in Amman in February 1970, Khaled
fought in the streets alongside PFLP comrades. That March, in preparation for
another hijacking, she left Amman and underwent at least three secret plastic

Library of Congress – Federal Research Division

The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism


surgery operations over five months by a well-known but very reluctant plastic
surgeon in Beirut.

While Khaled was discussing strategy with Dr. Wadi Haddad in his Beirut
apartment on July 11, 1970, the apartment was hit by two rockets in the first
Israeli attack inside Lebanon, injuring the man’s wife and child. On September 6,
1970, Khaled and an accomplice attempted to hijack an El-Al flight from
Amsterdam with 12 armed security guards aboard but were overpowered. He
was shot to death, but she survived and was detained in London by British
police. After 28 days in detention, she was released in a swap for hostages from
hijacked planes and escorted on a flight to Cairo and then, on October 12, to

Following her release, Khaled went to Beirut and joined a combat unit. In
between fighting, she would tour refugee camps and recruit women. She married
an Iraqi PFLP member, Bassim, on November 26, 1970, but the marriage was
short-lived. She returned to the same Beirut plastic surgeon and had her former
face mostly restored. She barely escaped a bed-bomb apparently planted by the
Mossad, but her sister was shot dead on Christmas Day 1976. After fading from
public view, she surfaced again in 1980, leading a PLO delegation to the United
Nations Decade for Women conference in Copenhagen. She attended university
in Russia for two years in the early 1980s, but the PFLP ordered her to return to
combat in Lebanon before she had completed her studies.

Khaled married a PFLP physician in 1982. She was elected first secretary of the
Palestinian Popular Women’s Committees (PPWC) in 1986. At the beginning of
the 1990s, when she was interviewed by Eileen MacDonald, she was living in
the Yarmuk refugee camp in Damascus, still serving as PPWC first secretary and
“immediately recognizable as the young Leila.”

Since then, Khaled has been living in Amman, Jordan, where she works as a
teacher, although still a PFLP member. She was allowed by Israel briefly to enter
Palestinian-ruled areas in the West Bank, or at least the Gaza Strip, in February
1996, to vote on amending the Palestinian charter to remove its call for Israel's
destruction. She was on a list of 154 members of the Palestine National Council
(PNC), an exile-based parliament, who Israel approved for entrance into the Gaza
Strip. Khaled said she had renounced terrorism. However, she declined an
invitation to attend a meeting in Gaza with President Clinton in December 1998
at which members of the PNC renounced portions of the PLO charter calling for
the destruction of Israel. "We are not going to change our identity or our history,"

Library of Congress – Federal Research Division

The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism


Kozo Okamoto (presumably on right)
with three other captured PFLP
comrades, 1997. (AP Photo courtesy of

she explained to news media.

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