Yasir Arafat was born Rahman Abdul Rauf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husayni on August 24, 1929. Although he was raised in Cairo, Egypt, he always considered himself a Palestinian. In the late 1940s while a student in Egypt, he became an ardent Arab nationalist and adopted the name Yasir, after Yasir al Birah, a famous Arab resistance leader. When Arafat as 14, he was involved in gunrunning for Arab guerrillas in Gaza, a task he continued to perform during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. After the war, Arafat entered Cairo University where he received a degree in engineering in 1955. During his student days, he began to train secretly as a guerrilla, becoming an expert in demolitions and taking part in raids on British installations near the Suez Canal. After his graduation from the university, Arafat was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Egyptian army.
He saw some combat at Port Said and Abu Kabir during the Suez war of October 29-November 6, 1956. In the mid-1960's, Arafat emerged as the chief military and political leader of the Palestian homeland movement. From his residence in Kuwait where he ran a successful engineering concern, he published the major nationalist organ, Our Palestine, and established Al Fatah, an acronym for the Movement for the Liberation of Palestine. In 1967, after the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War, he became the chairman of the Palestian Liberation Organization (PLO) where throughout the 1970s he directed the PLO in a series of terrorist attacks against Israel and its Western allies. In an effort to garner broader support for his movement in the 1980s he began to distance himself from the PLO's more violent factions like the Abu Nidal group, but has not firmly renounced terrorism as a means of achieving his goals to create a Palestinian state within Israel. He had residences in Gaza and Tunis, where the PLO has its headquarters. He died after a short illness in November 2004.