Jeremy Corbyn has been condemned by his own election candidates after admitting he attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of a Palestinian terrorist involved in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.
Less than a year before becoming Labour leader, Mr Corbyn visited the cemetery in Tunisia where members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, including Atef Bseiso who was directly involved in the Munich attack, are buried, prompting outrage from Jewish groups.
Labour Friends of Israel – which represents 100 Labour peers and former MPs who are currently trying to be re-elected – condemned the news, saying it was part of a “a very disturbing pattern of behaviour.”
Mr Corbyn faces his toughest challenge of the campaign when he – and Conservative leader Theresa May – answers questions posed by former BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and a live studio audience on Monday.
The Tories are hoping to increase the pressure on Labour by sending out a fleet of ‘ad vans’ as part of a final push to convince voters she is best placed to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The news emerged as Mr Corbyn appeared to shift position on his claim on Friday that he had never met the IRA, saying yesterday that he had met with “former prisoners who have told me they were not in the IRA”.
That came moments after Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, refused to renounce her support for the IRA decades ago, saying only that her hairstyle and views had changed since then.
The election campaign has been dominated by questions about Mr Corbyn’s toleration of the IRA, and links to Palestinian organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah which he has described as “friends”.
Mr Corbyn has also been under fire since he became Labour leader for failing to take a tougher line against anti-Semitism in the party.
Mr Corbyn admitted attending a ceremony in Tunisia, north Africa in an article in the Communist-supporting Morning Star newspaper in October 2014.
He described how he had attended a commemoration for Palestinians killed at their Tunis headquarters by Israeli jets in 1985.
The Labour leader wrote: “After wreaths were laid at the graves of those who died on that day and on the graves of others killed by Mossad agents in 1991, we moved to the poignant statute in the main avenue of the coastal town of Ben Arous, which was festooned with Palestinian and Tunisian flags.”
The Sunday Times, which reported the claim, said the words were an “apparent reference” to Bseiso, a former head of intelligence at the PLO, who is believed to have been buried there.
There is no record of Mossad, the Israeli secret service, assassinating anyone in Paris in 1991.
However, Mossad has been accused of shooting and killing Bseiso, the head of intelligence for the PLO and a terrorist involved in the Munich massacre, in the city in on June 8,1992.
Jeremy Corbyn: I have not spoken to the IRA
At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Palestinian terrorists captured and murdered eleven Israeli athletes and a German police officer. Over the following years Israeli agents allegedly hunted down and allegedly killed many of those involved including Bseiso.
According to one account two young men approached Bseiso, then aged 43, in the street; one of them pointed a Beretta pistol fitted with a silencer at him and shot him in the head.
Israeli author Aaron Klein wrote: “The three bullets hit Bseiso in the head. He fell on the spot, next to his friend’s car, his final inhalation a gurgle.
“The hot cartridges were caught, along with the clues they held, in a sturdy cloth bag attached to the pistol. Within seconds, the assassin and his backup were rapidly retreating down the street.”
Jennifer Gerber, director of the Labour Friends of Israel which is backed by 100 peers and MPs before Parliament broke for the election, said: “It is almost unbelievable that any Labour MP would participate in a ceremony honouring a man involved in the vicious murder of innocent Israeli athletes.
“Unfortunately, this appears to be part of a very disturbing pattern of behaviour and we are seeking urgent clarification from the Leaders office on this matter.”
Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, the umbrella body of Jewish communal organizations, added: “It is high time that Jeremy Corbyn clarify his views regarding Palestinian terrorism.
“At first sight, attending a wreath laying ceremony for a known terrorist, who led one of the most notorious acts of international terrorism, the attack on the Munich Olympics, would appear to be beyond the pale.”
A Tory source said: “Jeremy Corbyn’s inappropriate relationship with murdering terrorists isn’t ancient history – it continues to this day.”
Sir Michael Fallon, the Conservative defence secretary, added: “Jeremy Corbyn has spent thirty years siding with those who oppose Britain and the west.
“Too often he has either ignored the horrendous actions of Britain’s enemies as he stands by their side, or worse still sought to excuse their actions.
“Now with two weeks to go before an election he wants to pretend to voters he will put Britain’s security first and will stand up for the country’s interests in the Brexit negotiations. His record says otherwise.”
The Israeli Embassy did not comment. A spokesman said it did not get involved in elections.
A source close to Mr Corbyn said he attended the ceremony because it was “commemorating the bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunis in 1985”
While he was there wreaths were laid on other graves, although Mr Corbyn was not part of that ceremony.
The source said: “He didn’t lay a wreath – there was a wreath laying ceremony for the people who died in the bombing of the PLO headquarters in 1985.
“Also in the same cemetery there are some other people in it, some of these people – not Jeremy, he was just physically present – also laid a wreath on another grave.”
A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “This is an extremely tenuous set of connections.”
On Sunday evening one of Mr Corbyn’s key aides suggested that he will try to continue as Labour leader even if the party is defeated in the General Election.
Labour elections and campaign coordinator Ian Lavery told a rally in Glasgow that “whatever happens” the “Corbyn project” is only beginning.
Mr Corbyn has come under pressure to say whether he will stand down as Labour leader if the party is defeated in the June 8 election.
Mr Lavery said the party was in the “long, long, long process of changing politics here in Britain”. He added: “Whatever happens in the election isn’t the end in the Corbyn project, it’s only the beginning in the Corbyn project.”