Palestinian-American dies in custody U.S. sparks investigation after Jericho death of man held by security police

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- Under heavy pressure from U.S. officials, the Palestinian police force in Jericho said yesterday it had begun investigating the death in custody last week of a Palestinian-American who had been taken for questioning to the Palestinian self-rule zone.

The body of the man, Azzam Muhammad Ibrahim Muslih, 52, was returned to his family Friday, two days after he was arrested in the West Bank village of Ein Yabrud, apparently by agents of the Palestinian security police based in Jericho.


Relatives said Mr. Muslih's body bore a bruise on the forehead and wounds on the lips and right ear.

Police said Mr. Muslih had died of a heart attack in the Jericho hospital.


A senior police official said an inquiry into Mr. Muslih's death had been ordered by Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and head of the Palestinian Authority, which governs Jericho and the Gaza Strip.

The deputy U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, John Bargeron, met yesterday with the Jericho police chief, Hajj Ismail Jaber, and was told the inquiry had begun.

A consulate spokeswoman said, "We are taking this very seriously, and we've asked for a full investigation."

News of the death emerged a day after the signing in Washington of an agreement to extend Palestinian self-rule to much of the West Bank, and it raised fresh concerns about possible abuses by Mr. Arafat's security forces in the area.

Four Palestinians are known to have died in custody in Gaza and Jericho since those towns came under Palestinian rule in May 1994.

Jericho residents have complained about violence by the local security police, known as the Preventive Security Service.

A report issued last month by an Israeli human rights group, B'tselem, said that the service tortured detainees under interrogation, particularly by subjecting them to severe beatings.

The group has also frequently criticized the Israeli police for their treatment of prisoners.


Although the Preventive Security Service is officially limited to the Jericho area, its agents in fact operate throughout the West Bank, investigating crimes, mediating disputes and sometimes taking suspects to Jericho for questioning.

Mr. Muslih, who owned a grocery store in Dallas, had been on a visit to his home in Ein Yabrud, north of the town of Ramallah, where neighbors described him as a wealthy contributor to community projects.

Like many Palestinian men in the Ramallah area, Mr. Muslih made his living in the United States and carried a U.S. passport, and visited the West Bank periodically.

Wintesses said he was arrested Wednesday by four men who took him aside as he sat in a cafe in his village.

Police officials said he was being questioned in connection with a criminal offense, apparently the slayings of two Palestinians for which Mr. Muslih was arrested two years ago by the Israeli police but was later released without charges.

According to accounts given by relatives to a B'tselem researcher, Bassem Eid, they went to Jericho the day after Mr. Muslih's arrest in an unsuccessful attempt to see him.


They said they were told at Preventive Security Service headquarters that he was there, though later they were directed to the intelligence service, another security agency.