Salameh was born in the Palestinian town of Qula, near the city of Jaffa, to a wealthy family in 1940. He was the son of Shaykh Hassan Salameh, who was killed in action by the Israel Defense Forces during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, north of Jaffa. Ali Salameh was educated in Germany and is thought to have received his military training in Cairo and Moscow.
He was known for flaunting his wealth, being surrounded by women and driving sports cars, and having a very popular appeal among Palestinian young men; his nickname underlined his popularity—the "Red Prince." He served as the security chief of Fatah. After the Munich Massacre during the 1972 Olympic Games, he was hunted by the Israeli Mossad during Operation Wrath of God. In 1973, Mossad killed an innocent Moroccan waiter, Ahmed Bouchiki, in what became known as the Lillehammer affair in Norway, mistaking Bouchiki for Salameh, and resulting in the arrest of some of the Israeli agents.
As a result of the failure of Lillehammer and his alleged CIA protection, Salameh felt relatively safe, and hence did not act like a man on the run. Having lived under cover in various parts of the Middle East and Europe, in 1978 he married Georgina Rizk, a Lebanese celebrity who had been Miss Universe seven years earlier in 1971. The couple spent their honeymoon in Hawaii and then stayed at Disneyland, California. When Rizk became pregnant, she returned to her flat in Beirut where Salameh also rented a separate apartment. Rizk was six months pregnant at the time of his death. Their son Ali Salameh is a political science graduate who studied in Canada. By a prior marriage he was a grandson-in-law of Mohammad Amin al-Husayni. He had two sons from his first marriage to Um Hassan.
According to several sources, Salameh served as a secret contact between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 1970 until his death, guaranteeing not to assassinate US citizens in exchange for financial and political support. However, when asked by the Israelis, the relationship was denied by US officials. He helped protect US citizens in Beirut, and his role was to facilitate contacts between the Palestinians and the US, in hope of obtaining US support for the Palestinians.
It is believed a Mossad agent, pseudonymously known as "Erika Chambers", a British citizen, took part in Salameh's assassination. She travelled to the Middle East with a charity supporting Palestinian refugees and arranged a meeting with Salameh in Beirut, where Salameh was being harbored by the Lebanese government. Chambers learned Salameh's daily routine.
On 22 January 1979, Salameh was in a convoy of two Chevrolet station wagons headed from Rizk's flat to his mother's for a birthday party. Chambers was on her balcony painting, with her red Volkswagen parked below on Rue Verdun (an upscale commercial and residential street in Beirut). As Salameh's convoy passed the Volkswagen at 3:35 pm and turned onto Rue Madame Curie, 100 kg of explosive attached to the car by a fellow Mossad agent was remotely exploded, either by Chambers or on her notification to another Mossad agent.
The detonation left Salameh conscious, but severely wounded and in great pain, having pieces of steel shrapnel embedded in his head and throughout his body. He was rushed to the American University Hospital, where he died on the operating table at 4:03 p.m. Salameh's four bodyguards were also killed in the explosion. Four bystanders were also killed. In addition, at least 16 people were injured in the blast. Immediately following the operation, the three Mossad officers escaped as well as up to 14 other Mossad agents believed to have been involved in the operation.
Salameh was buried in Beirut after a public funeral ceremony attended by Yasser Arafat and about 20,000 Palestinians on 24 January 1979.Ali Hassan Salameh was featured in the plot of the Steven Spielberg film Munich as one of the assassination targets. He is seen twice but was not assassinated until after the events of the film.He appears as the character named Jamal Ramlawi in the spy novel Agents of Innocence by David Ignatius, a thinly disguised account of his recruitment by the CIA.He is briefly mentioned in the Robert Ludlum novel The Janson Directive, where his alleged links to the CIA are cited as an example of shady deals the United States makes.Daniel Silva borrowed from the exploits of Ali Hassan Salameh and his relatives to create the background for his fictional spy novel Prince of Fire, 2005.Ali Hassan Salameh is repeatedly referenced in the book By Way of Deception by Victor Ostrovsky in his account of his own recruitment and training to become an officer in Mossad.