Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the World's

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:12 am


Chapter 8: Murder of the Moderates

Ben-Gurion said that whoever approaches the Zionist problem from a moral aspect is not a Zionist.
- Moshe Dayan

The PLO? A bunch of traitors penetrated by a few patriots.
- Abu Nidal

As I charted Abu Nidal's career in Iraq and his subsequent moves to Syria and Libya, he seemed to me at first a classic case of a Palestinian faction leader who, in search of safe haven, had turned mercenary, and then, in search of financial independence, had turned gangster. I reviewed the information I had gathered. Iraq had "created" him when it wanted the leadership of Arab radicalism but had dropped him during its war with Iran. Syria had taken him on to fight its terrorist war against Jordan but had lost him to Libya, which had used him against its "stray dogs" and other external enemies. All three Arab "sponsors," hostile to an independent PLO, had also used Abu Nidal to keep Arafat in check.

Abu Nidal himself posed as the supreme rejectionist, a diehard opponent of the negotiated settlement with Israel that the "capitulationist" Arafat had been angling for since 1974. But it was evident that he was also running an extortion racket, with little reference to the Palestine cause. In fact most of his operations seemed to do the Palestinians harm. The man was a puzzle. I couldn't understand what drove him.

Widening the scope of my inquiries, I left Tunis and its hothouse politics of defectors and guerrilla fighters to consult sources in Europe and the Middle East. I interviewed intelligence and police officers, as well as journalists and politicians, people who for one reason or another had a professional interest in the Israeli-Palestinian war because some of its battles had been, and continue to be, fought on their territory. What view did they have of Abu Nidal and his organization?

I heard two quite different explanations. The conventional view was the one Abu Nidal advanced -- that he represented one extreme pole of the internal Palestinian debate, which had raged for twenty years, about whether a compromise with Israel was possible or even desirable. But a second opinion put forward by some of my sources was more sensational -- and more in line with Abu Iyad's allegations: Abu Nidal was a tool of the Israelis, either because his organization had been penetrated by the Mossad (much as the Mossad had penetrated every other Palestinian faction, at one time or another, over the past twenty-five years) or because he himself had been recruited. The argument was usually stated like this: In theory, Israel and Abu Nidal are bitter enemies; in practice, their anti-PLO objectives and operations are so similar as to suggest an operational relationship.

In this view, Abu Nidal was less a product of intra-Palestinian disputes than of Israel's long-running war against the Palestinians. Whatever jobs he might have done for Arab sponsors, and they had been numerous and nasty, he had done many other jobs from which Israel alone appeared to "benefit."

Hard evidence remained scant, but as I discovered, the subject was gossiped about a good deal. A senior Jordanian intelligence officer, now retired and living in Amman, told me, "Scratch around inside Abu Nidal's organization and you will find Mossad." Much of this man's career had been spent liaising with Israeli intelligence and running agents against Palestinian organizations. It is not widely known that Israel and Jordan worked together from the late 1960s to contain what they saw as a common threat from the Palestinian guerrillas. The Jordanian intelligence officer supplied no evidence to support his remarks, but his view is typical of the widespread gossip that surrounds this supposition in Mideast intelligence circles.

The grave crisis of 1970-71, in which King Hussein put down the Palestinian rebellion, greatly strengthened the Israeli- Jordanian intelligence relationship. As my Jordanian source explained, the guerrillas shook King Hussein's throne; they called on Syrian tanks for support; they assassinated Hussein's prime minister, Wasfi al-Tal. It was not surprising that Hussein should look to Israel as a counterweight to Syria during the crisis itself, and afterward coordinate with it the intelligence war against the fedayeen.

Most Palestinians thus found themselves controlled by two powers, Israel and Jordan, whose excellent intelligence services wanted to contain Palestinian militancy and penetrate the various Palestinian groups beyond their borders. When the Black September terrorist movement emerged in the early 1970s, Israel, Jordan, and other affected states had a further strong incentive to plant agents in Palestinian networks and training camps to monitor, and if possible abort, hostile operations.

The intriguing hint dropped by the Jordanian intelligence officer about a Mossad-Abu Nidal connection was put more strongly by some of my other sources. A German security officer engaged in counterterrorism, whom I interviewed in London in April 1990, told me, "Israel needs to control men such as Abu Nidal. It must neutralize him. If it can make use of him, so much the better. Any intelligence service would do the same if it could." But this, of course, was still only an opinion based on a general observation. Then a French government expert on international terrorism, with considerable Middle East experience, said to me in the course of a long interview in 1991, "If Abu Nidal himself is not an Israeli agent, then two or three of his senior people most certainly are. Nothing else can explain some of his operations. But," he added, "the tracks are well covered and proof will be hard to find."

Among such people it was widely assumed that there was some overlap, some common ground between Abu Nidal and the Mossad. Some thought the penetration was at a low level; some believed that senior men had been recruited, perhaps even Abu Nidal himself and members of his extended family.

A former CIA officer, who had served as station head in several Arab countries and whose attitude toward the Arab-Israeli conflict was detached and professional, was more explicit: "It's as easy," he said, "to recruit the man at the top as it is someone lower down the ladder. It's quite likely that Mossad picked up Abu Nidal in the late 1960s, when it was putting a lot of effort into penetrating the newly formed Palestinian guerrilla groups. My guess is that they would have got him in the Sudan when he was there with Fatah in 1969. Once they had set him up, funded, and directed him, he would have had nowhere else to turn. If he had tried to quit, he would have been a dead man.

"The British could not have done it, or the French, or the Americans. Only Israel would have had the professionalism and the motivation to nurture and control him over twenty years."

This sort of argument from an intelligence professional sounded plausible, but once again proof was absent. On the whole I tended to discount Palestinian evidence on this subject as surely biased. One Palestinian who had had plenty of time to study Israeli methods was Abu Ali Shahin, a veteran guerrilla fighter who was captured by Israel in the West Bank in 1967 for setting up a clandestine cell and who spent the next seventeen years in Israeli jails -- the first thirteen years and ten months, he told me, in solitary confinement.

When I interviewed him in Tunis in August 1990, I found him to be a small, strong man of about sixty, with a thick mustache, round glasses, and patient, fathomless eyes. His hatred for Israel ran deep, but nevertheless he seemed capable of objective judgments. Once he was out of solitary confinement, he was able to question other prisoners about their experiences. "Israel," he told me, "makes great efforts to 'turn' prisoners in jail, using all sorts of pressures and inducements. It also recruits Palestinian students who leave Israel to study at Arab universities, most of whom are instructed to penetrate Palestinian organizations and report back. Israel has a permanent interest in penetrating Palestinian groups, Abu Nidal's organization among them."


The principle of penetration is well established. It is a commonplace of intelligence work that effective counterterrorism or counterinsurgency vitally depends on intelligence from inside the enemy camp. Ever since it resorted to armed struggle in the mid-1960s, the Palestinian guerrilla movement has been too dangerous to be left alone. All the major players in the region, and a good many outside it, have found it necessary to monitor and control its activities -- in other words, to try to penetrate it.

Some guerrilla groups are penetrated almost openly. In Fatah, for example, can be found a pro-Iraqi faction, a pro- Egyptian faction, a pro-Syrian faction -- and, if not a pro-Israeli faction, then a good many Israeli agents. Abu Nidal's organization, jealous of its secrets, is harder to penetrate, but for obvious reasons, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Fatah, and Israel all seek to penetrate it and, probably, have often succeeded. Penetration agents from most of the Arab countries abound in all the Palestinian groups.

Arab states need to control the Palestinians for three main reasons. The first is security. Because Israel usually responds to Palestinian attacks by retaliating violently against Arab countries that shelter Palestinians, Arab states need to keep abreast of Palestinian activities to protect themselves against reprisals. The second is prestige. The ordeal of the Palestinians is so large a part of contemporary Arab consciousness that every Arab ruler wants to be seen as the Palestinians' champion. The third reason has to do with inter-Arab feuds. The Palestinians are so often used by Arab regimes against one another that at one time or another, most Arab states have sought to control the PLO. When they have failed to do so, states like Syria or Iraq have set up their own Palestinian factions to use against their rivals or against the PLO itself.

But no state in the region is more obsessed with the Palestinians than Israel. As a former Israeli intelligence officer explained to me, Israel has targeted Palestinian groups of all political colors for the past quarter of a century. To have done otherwise would have been self-destructive neglect of national responsibility.

For this purpose, Israel has mainly drawn on the large Palestinian population that came under its rule after the Six-Day War of 1967, over which it exercises powers of life and death. Whether bought or coerced, Palestinian agents have been taken on in large numbers by the Shin Bet, Israel's security service, and by the Mossad, its intelligence service, and have been used both to crush resistance in the occupied territories and to infiltrate guerrilla groups outside. Ze'ev Schiff, a respected Israeli military correspondent, reported in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz on August 21, 1989, that informants or collaborators in the territories -- the sort of people who, during the intifada, have been the victims of often savage killings by fellow Palestinians -- were estimated to number about five thousand.

As early as 1967, an Israeli recruitment drive for Palestinian agents was aptly named Operation Flood because of the large numbers netted. "The Israelis go in for quantity," my Jordanian intelligence source told me. "They try to recruit almost every Palestinian student traveling to an Arab country. This way they can't lose. If a student agrees to work for them, they have gained an informer. If he refuses, they don't let him back into the occupied territories and they are therefore rid of yet another Palestinian!" These young Palestinians come under great pressure. Unless they cooperate, they risk not seeing their families again. Often, they are the only breadwinner in the family and simply have no choice but to return. So they start reporting to the Mossad through the post-office box addresses they are given.

Thanks to information from such agents, Israel was able, in the late 1960s, to stifle at birth the guerrilla war the Palestinians hoped to wage against it and to keep on top of the Palestinian problem ever since.


In Cyprus in the spring of 1991, and after elaborate negotiations, I was able to interview a retired Fatah intelligence officer, a tall, thin man with a long nose and doleful eyes, who claimed he had lured a Mossad agent runner, Baruch Cohen, to his death in Madrid in 1973. Cohen had set up a Europe-wide network of Palestinian student informers, which he used to penetrate guerrilla movements.

The Fatah officer first explained how the trap had been baited. In 1972, when he was studying in Spain on a stipend from his brother in Kuwait, Fatah had instructed him to write to his parents in the occupied territories to say that he was so short of money that he was thinking of giving up his studies. Fatah knew that Mossad censored the mail and, on learning of his financial straits, would consider him a potential recruit. Sure enough, shortly afterward, in October 1972, the Palestinian was telephoned by a man calling himself Sami Haddad, who, speaking to him in Arabic with a Jerusalem accent, said he was a friend of his brother in Kuwait. They arranged to meet at the Plaza Hotel in Madrid.

"He was a small, kindly man," the former Fatah officer told me, "and he began merrily enough, joking and talking, telling me how much of a financial burden I was to my brother and mentioning the complaints I had made to my parents. I talked to him as if I really believed he was a family friend. Then he turned serious and suddenly told me that he belonged to Mossad. He asked me to work for him."

Although the Palestinian had been set up to solicit just such an approach, his feelings got the better of him. He had left the West Bank before the 1967 war and had had no previous contact with Israelis. He leaped to his feet and said he could not continue the conversation.

"Sit down!" Sami Haddad said scornfully. "I have a letter for you from your father."

"You're a liar! My father can't write."

The letter was written in the hand of his younger brother, a boy in sixth grade who used to write his father's letters for him.

"Your family is in our power," Haddad told him. "You are responsible for their lives. If you want them to stay alive, you had better do as I tell you."

Pretending to be suitably intimidated, the Palestinian agreed to supply Haddad with the information he wanted -- which was mainly about the activities of Palestinian students and student groups in Spain and about the PLO office in Madrid. He reported to him regularly about these matters over a three-month period.

At one of their secret meetings, Sami Haddad told the Palestinian that he had been recalled to Tel Aviv to investigate the Red Front, a spy network of left-wing Jews and Arab nationalists said to be in Syria's pay. But according to the retired Fatah officer, Fatah agents in Madrid, who had been keeping Haddad under surveillance, learned that his real destination was not Tel Aviv but Brussels, where he was based at the Israeli embassy. They also discovered that his real name was Colonel Baruch Cohen and that he had been involved in the murder of two PLO representatives in Europe -- Wa'il Zu'aitar, in Rome in October 1972, and Mahmud al-Hamshari, in Paris in December. My informant told me that Fatah then decided to kill Baruch Cohen on his return to Madrid.

The Palestinian met Cohen again in mid-January, when Cohen instructed him to go to Lebanon in order to penetrate one of the Black September cells operating from Beirut. They agreed to meet again on January 26 to go over the details at La Palmera Cafe, on Jose Antonio Street. But this time the Palestinian had brought along an accomplice armed with a pistol, who waited at a newspaper kiosk near the entrance to the cafe. When Cohen stepped out of the cafe, he was gunned down at close range. The two Palestinians escaped.

But such PLO successes were rare. Abu Iyad told me they had managed to kill six Mossad agents over the years but had lost many more men themselves. It was, he said, an unequal struggle.


As the Baruch Cohen case showed, Israeli penetration of Palestinian organizations was common, but it was clearly not the whole story. Most intelligence sources I consulted agreed that it was standard practice to use penetration agents not simply to neutralize or destroy the enemy but to try to manipulate him so that he did one's bidding without always being aware of doing so. If the exercise was successful, the enemy's organization became an unwitting extension of one's own. For practitioners of counterespionage, this was the stuff of dreams.

Israel, my intelligence sources argued, was bound to see an extremist Palestinian like Abu Nidal as someone to be provoked or manipulated because of the damage he could do inside the Palestinian movement. His rejectionist views made him an obvious instrument to use against Arafat and the PLO. If he could be encouraged to kill Arafat loyalists, so much the better.

Gerard Chaliand, a French expert on irregular warfare, explains in his book Terrorism: From Popular Struggle to Media Spectacle (1978) how a state can sometimes play on the internal contradictions of a guerrilla or liberation movement by manipulating even a small fraction of it. He cites the example of PIDE, the Portuguese secret police, which engineered the assassination of Amilcar Cabral, leader of the anti-Portuguese movement in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, by manipulating members of Cabral's own PAIGC party. The Black Guineans were promised independence on the condition that they got rid of the half-caste Cape Verdians, of whom Cabral was one. There are numerous examples of such devious tactics in the struggles waged by intelligence services against insurgents in many parts of the world.

But the fact that manipulation of liberation movements has occurred elsewhere does not amount to evidence in the case of Abu Nidal. Nonetheless, it gave me a lead. I determined to take a closer look at the spate of murders of moderate Palestinians, focusing in particular on five well-known Palestinian "doves" -- Hammami, Yassin, Qalaq, Khudr, and Sartawi -- killed in London, Kuwait, Paris, Brussels, and Portugal between 1978 and 1983, allegedly by Abu Nidal. Was there any evidence, I wondered, of an Israeli involvement in these killings?

There was plenty of evidence of Israeli penetration of Palestinian groups, but as the retired Israeli general in military intelligence had told me, manipulation was another matter.


Throughout their recent history, many Palestinians have been killed by both Israel and their fellow Arabs. In more than forty years of bloodletting, Palestinians have died in the 1947-48 war that led to the creation of Israel; the 1967 war, in which Israel conquered the rest of Palestine; the showdown with King Hussein of Jordan and the "pacification" of Gaza by General Ariel Sharon, both in 1970-71; the battles in Lebanon against the Maronites and against Syria in 1975-77; Israel's two invasions of Lebanon, in 1978 and 1982; the intra-Palestinian fighting at the time of the Fatah mutiny of 1983; the War of the Camps between Palestinians and Shi'ites in 1986-87; Israel's repression of the intifada from 1987 onward and its repeated bombing of Palestinian settlements and positions up to the present time; and of course, the punishment inflicted on the Palestinians, in Kuwait and elsewhere, for their stance in favor of Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf war.

In addition to these "battlefield" deaths, the resistance has suffered many assassinations. As was clear from the list I drew up at the start, many of its brightest people have been gunned down or blown up in cold blood either by Israel or by Abu Nidal. Yasser Arafat has so far escaped assassination -- although he has had a number of narrow escapes, notably during the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 and, again, in 1985, when Israel bombed his Tunis headquarters. In the meantime, the murder of so many of his associates has crippled the PLO.

I started by reviewing the political background to the murder of the moderates. Abu Nidal's split from Fatah, the most damaging factional dispute in its history, occurred in October 1974, at a crucial moment in the fortunes of the resistance movement. Yasser Arafat had persuaded Arab leaders to recognize the PLO as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people; he had tamed Black September activists and largely put an end to PLO terrorism; he had gone on to address the UN General Assembly and won observer status for his organization. His efforts to persuade his followers to substitute political action for armed struggle strongly suggested that he wanted a peaceful settlement with Israel.

As we have seen, for both Israeli and Palestinian hard-liners this program was a deadly threat, and over the following years, Arafat found himself caught between two fires, neither of them friendly.

The Israeli right considered that any concession to Palestinian nationalism undercut the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise and threatened the integrity of the "land of Israel." What such hardliners found especially dangerous was that Arafat had managed to alter the world's perception of the Palestine problem from an Arab-Israeli border conflict, involving some displaced refugees, to a struggle for self-determination by a national liberation movement. The more sympathy Arafat won for the PLO, the higher his international profile, the more urgent it became for Israel and its friends to stop him.

When the Labor party's Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister, Israel's attitude toward the Palestinians was negative enough: Rabin had no interest in encouraging PLO moderates and opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state. But the policy became one of violent and unflinching rejection once Menachem Begin came to power in May 1977. However strenuously Arafat sought to steer his movement toward moderation, Begin was determined to give him neither an ounce of recognition nor an inch of territory. Begin, and his successor Yitzhak Shamir, saw Palestinian moderates as their real enemy because, by mobilizing international and Israeli opinion in favor of a peace settlement, they risked forcing Israel into negotiations that might lead to territorial concession.

Israel has made no secret of its utter refusal to deal with the PLO, as successive American administrations have discovered in their efforts to promote Middle East peace talks. In 1986, Yossi Ben-Aharon, the influential director-general of the prime minister's office and Yitzhak Shamir's political adviser, was candid about Israel's policy toward the PLO.

There is no place for any division in the Israeli camp between Likud and Labor. There is in fact cooperation and general understanding, certainly with regard to the fact that the PLO cannot be a participant in discussions or in anything.... No one associated with the PLO can represent the issue of the Palestinians. If there is any hope for arrangements that will solve this problem, then the prior condition must be to destroy the PLO from its roots in this region. Politically, psychologically, socially, economically, ideologically. It must not retain a shred of influence ...

Israel's strategy to destroy the PLO by all possible means has included sending specially trained commando units to assassinate Palestinian leaders and waging a full-scale war in Lebanon in 1982 to liquidate Arafat's organization physically. It was therefore not implausible that if it could, it would use Abu Nidal to kill key men in Arafat's camp. An alliance of rejectionists was not inconceivable.

Just as Israel considered the PLO a menace to be rooted out, so Abu Nidal branded Arafat a traitor for considering the "surrender" to Israel of 80 percent of Palestinian territory, condemning most Palestinians never to return to their original homes. Before 1974, Abu Nidal had been a rallying point for Arafat's left-wing critics within Fatah. After 1974, he became something more deadly: He split the Palestinian movement, identified it with terrorism, and then silenced the moderates by killing them.

He justified his position to his followers by preaching that Arafat and his Fatah colleagues were the "enemy within" -- an enemy that, he said, was more dangerous to the Palestinian revolution than the external Zionist enemy. Fatah, he thundered, was run by traitors who threatened to wreck the revolution by working for a "peaceful solution" with Israel. It was absolutely essential to prevent any such "surrender." The treacherous "enemy within" had to be struck down.

In their parallel anti-PLO activities, to what extent did Israel and Abu Nidal act independently of each other and to what extent were their efforts coordinated? This, my intelligence sources said, was the puzzle every service was anxious to crack.

I reflected that in the murders of the Palestinian moderates, alternative explanations could be found. For example, if Abu Iyad's suspicions were correct, Abu Nidal may have killed Palestinian doves because Israel wished to eliminate Palestinian moderates who had made an impression on Western leaders; but he may also have killed them because he believed they were traitors who consorted with the Israeli enemy.

It could be argued, however, that the successful manipulation of an apparently hostile organization was usually possible only under the cover of an alternative explanation. If some of these moderates had not been abused and vilified in Abu Nidal's own magazine as traitors to the Palestinian revolution, killing them, if the killings were indeed manipulated from outside, could not have been justified by Abu Nidal as the apt response to treachery.

Moreover, Abu Nidal's violence made it easier for Israel to depict all Palestinians as terrorists and murderers and to define the PLO as an outlaw group with which no peaceful dealings could be contemplated. This fitted in well with the Israeli view that the PLO should never be allowed to escape from the terrorist stigma or be accepted as a partner in the peace process. "How can you negotiate with a man who wants to kill you?" was a familiar Israeli query.


On January 4, 1978, a single bullet to the head killed Sa'id Hammami, Arafat's dovish "ambassador" to London. The lone gunman spat at him and called him a traitor as he fired, and ran off. A few weeks earlier, in November 1977, Egypt's President Sadat had visited Israel-- a bold initiative hailed in the West as a breakthrough but condemned by many Arabs as a betrayal. Arafat, too, condemned Sadat, but so hesitantly that Arab rejectionists suspected him of wanting to go to Israel himself. Everyone knew that he had encouraged Hammami, his man in London, to put out peace feelers to the Israeli left. For Abu Nidal and his Iraqi backers, such contacts were treachery and Hammami deserved to die.

Hammami was one of the most eloquent Palestinian advocates of peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. From 1975 onward, he had held a series of meetings with Israeli peace campaigners, notably with the editor and writer Uri Avnery, whose book My Friend, the Enemy (1986) gives a moving account of these furtive but unfruitful encounters.

Hammami's was the first in a series of terrorist murders that, over the next five years, killed the most thoughtful and persuasive Palestinian spokesmen in the West. Clearly, now that Arafat was ready to talk peace, someone was out to wreck his diplomacy and leave him powerless. As a result moderates in the Palestinian movement were scared into silence. Few now dared pursue contacts with the Israeli left: The hit-and-run attacks had shown how vulnerable these PLO doves were, and that protecting them was hardly a priority of European police forces.

Nevertheless, the British police established that Hammami's killer was Kayid Hussein (sometimes known as As'ad Kayid), a Tunisian member of Abu Nidal's organization, registered in London as a student.

On February 13, 1978, a little more than a month after Sa'id Hammami's murder, a meeting was held in London to honor him. One of the speakers was Claude Bourdet, a leading member of the wartime French resistance, founder of the underground paper Combat, and no stranger to intelligence operations. He concluded his address with the following words:

Could it not be that the masterminds behind Sa'id's death -- not the people who pressed the trigger and protected the murderer, not even the people who ordered the murder, but possibly those who, by cunning and deceit, by subtle intoxication of less subtle brains -- contrived a situation where the organizers of the murder were led to believe that they were doing a service to the Arab, to the Palestinian cause ...

There are many ways of provoking a killing. Other than doing it. Other than ordering it.

It would not be the first time in history that extreme radicals are manipulated by foreign agents -- in ways they themselves are unable to understand.

Bourdet's suggestion that Hammami's killer might have been manipulated by foreign agents is, of course, pure conjecture, but the foreign agents he had in mind were the Israelis, as he told some of those who attended the memorial service. Here was an experienced Frenchman, I reflected, who shared Abu Iyad's suspicions.

Both Arab and Israeli rejectionists had reason to want Hammami dead. Abu Nidal and Iraq's leaders detested him for his language of reconciliation. I learned from Abu Bakr that in the months before Hammami's death, Abu Nidal's organization had demanded that he call a press conference to denounce Arafat. Hammami had refused. But Israel's hard-liners also loathed him for his advocacy of a two-state solution and his impact on British opinion. It was clear that Abu Nidal's man had done the deed with Iraqi approval. But had Israel, by manipulation, given the murderous process a nudge? So far as I could see, there was no evidence for it and the mystery remained unsolved.

On February 18, 1978, a few days after the service for Hammami, Abu Nidal struck again. Two of his men burst into the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Nicosia and shot to death Yusuf al-Siba'i, editor of the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram and a confidant of President Sadat, whom he had accompanied to Jerusalem. The aim was to punish Sadat and give him a taste of what he, too, might expect.

Defectors from Abu Nidal's organization told me in Tunis that the operation had been mounted by Samih Muhammad Khudr (code-named Zuhair al-Rabbah) -- one of Abu Nidal's most dangerous foreign operatives, of whom more will be heard -- in close coordination with Iraqi intelligence. This sounded plausible as Iraq was then taking the lead in ostracizing Egypt for its contacts with Israel.

Once they had killed Siba'i, the gunmen seized hostages at the hotel, then demanded and were given a Cyprus Airways plane, which flew around the region looking for a place to land. But on being turned away everywhere, the plane returned to Larnaca. In the meantime, Sadat had sent in a force of Egyptian commandos to overpower the gunmen and free the hostages. The Cypriots resented this foreign interference. When the Egyptians landed, they were engaged by the Cypriot National Guard, which killed fifteen of them in an hour-long battle. As Cyprus and Egypt exchanged bitter recriminations, the gunmen released their hostages and surrendered. It seemed to me a good example of Abu Nidal's disruptive abilities.


A few months later, three more prominent PLO "ambassadors" were attacked. On June 15, 1978, Ali Yassin, Fatah's representative in Kuwait and a noted moderate, was shot to death in his home; on August 3, 1978, Izz al-Din Qalaq, PLO representative in France, a cultured, soft-spoken, and dedicated Palestinian who had made a considerable impression on French opinion, was murdered in Paris; and two days after that, on August 5, gunmen attacked the PLO office in Islamabad, killing four people but missing Yusif Abu Hantash, the PLO representative.

The PLO immediately blamed Abu Nidal and Iraq. The killing of Yassin aroused particular fury. "I never wanted to kill Abu Nidal until the day he murdered Ali Yassin," Abu Iyad told me. (He added that he had attempted to have him killed several times -- on one occasion he actually took the weapons into Baghdad himself, on one of his official visits. But Iraqi intelligence guarded Abu Nidal as securely as it guarded President Bakr or Saddam Hussein.)

Yassin had been everyone's friend -- he had been Abu Nidal's friend, too, and had even kept him supplied in Baghdad with cars and gifts of electrical appliances from Kuwait. To the Palestinian movement, his murder seemed wicked and incomprehensible.

To avenge Yassin, Fatah went to war, firing rockets at the Iraqi embassy in Beirut on July 17, 1978, and, two days later, storming Abu Nidal's office in Tripoli, Libya, killing two of his members. On July 24, Fatah planted a bomb outside the Iraqi embassy in Brussels, and on July 28 the Iraqi ambassador in London escaped an attempt on his life. On July 31, Sa'id Hammami's brother, Ahmad, tried to seize the Iraqi embassy in Paris, whereupon members of the embassy staff opened fire, killing a French police inspector.

Then, on August 3, 1978, Qalaq was killed in Paris (together with Adnan Hammad, brother of Nimr Hammad, the PLO representative in Rome, who happened to be paying Qalaq a visit). Qalaq's office was above a cafe. On his way up to his office, he waved to a student he recognized sitting at a table. It was his killer. When Qalaq realized that the student was coming up after him, he tried to barricade himself by moving a cupboard against the door. But the killer broke the door down and pushed the cupboard aside. As in the case of Hammami, the assassin was overheard calling him a traitor before shooting him and running off.

Qalaq's killer was the same Tunisian, Kayid Hussein, who had killed Hammami in London, who had then moved to Paris and registered in a language school. Who, I wondered, was responsible this time? Was it Iraq, or was some other party involved?

A partial answer was to emerge a few months later. Early in November 1978, an Arab summit was convened in Baghdad to condemn Egypt for signing the Camp David accords with Israel. For the occasion, Syria and Iraq were temporarily reconciled. As he prepared to leave for Baghdad, Syria's president, Assad, decided to take Arafat and Abu Iyad with him, so that they too could make their peace with Iraq's president, Bakr, and his deputy, Saddam Hussein, and put an end to the Iraqi-PLO war caused by Iraq's support for Abu Nidal's murders of PLO moderates.

Bakr gave a reception at his home for the visiting Arab delegations and was persuaded to invite Arafat, although he was still not on speaking terms with him. At some point in the evening, Bakr could contain himself no longer. According to an eyewitness (Khalid al-Fahum, a veteran Palestinian politician, who told me the story), Bakr marched up to Arafat and screamed at him: "All right! We killed Hammami! Yes, we did it. But as for the others, we were not involved. We had nothing to do with their deaths!"

It is hard to see what Bakr would have had to gain from lying. Killing opponents was something he and his deputy, Saddam Hussein, did every day. They were not shy about it. In denying responsibility for the killings of Yassin and Qalaq, Bakr was probably telling the truth. Abu Iyad later told me that Iraq's intelligence chief, Sa'dun Shakir, and the foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, also strenuously denied any Iraqi involvement in these killings and that he was inclined to believe them.

In 1987 when, as we shall see, Abu Iyad had a night-long confrontation with Abu Nidal in Algiers, arranged by Algerian intelligence, Abu Nidal would admit to killing Hammami, but he also repeatedly denied having had a hand in the murders of Yassin and Qalaq. Even inside his highly compartmentalized organization, defectors later told me, there was puzzlement about these murders, with different directorates blaming each other.

If neither Iraqi intelligence nor Abu Nidal ordered the killings, who did? Perhaps there was a hint here of outside intervention. Qalaq, in Paris, and Yassin, in the Gulf, were men who preached peace and urged a settlement with Israel -- one that would involve Israel giving up territory. They were both eloquent exponents of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, of a two-state solution, ideas that were anathema to the Likud, the governing coalition in Israel. Certainly, they did not fit Begin's standard smear of the PLO as "the blackest organization -- other than the Nazi murder organizations -- ever to arise in the annals of humanity."
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:12 am



Whether or not the Israelis had had a hand in the murder of Qalaq and Yassin, they were soon killing other Palestinians without the help of anyone. Within a few weeks of the Baghdad summit, on January 22, 1979, an Israeli car bomb in a Beirut street killed Fatah's security chief, Ali Hassan Salameh (also known as Abu Hassan), together with four of his bodyguards and five passersby. Another powerful blow had been struck in Israel's war against the PLO.

The rumor was that Israel was exacting revenge for Salameh's role in Black September operations five years earlier. The able young Salameh had been Abu Iyad's deputy in rasd al-markazi, the counterespionage outfit Fatah had set up in 1967, but he had broken with Fatah during the Jordanian crisis of 1970. He then took over one of Black September's "tiger cub" groups and managed to throw a small bomb at some oil storage tanks in Trieste on August 5, 1972 -- whereupon he was secretly contacted by a number of oil companies with offers of protection money. In fact, no further operations of the sort were being planned, but Salameh dutifully reported the offers to his former colleagues in Fatah, who took note of his honesty. This was one of the reasons that Arafat later brought Salameh back into Fatah and put him in command of his personal bodyguard, the unit that came to be known as Force 17.

The new, prestigious job in Fatah, together with optimism about a peaceful settlement after the 1973 war, led to a dramatic change in Salameh. On Fatah's written instructions, he began an intelligence relationship with the CIA station chief in Beirut, with the result that the former Black September terrorist who had once wanted to attack American targets now became the guardian of the American embassy in Beirut during the civil war and the overseer of the safe evacuation of American civilians in 1976. To complete his entry into the conservative beau monde, Salameh took as his second wife a stunning Lebanese beauty queen and a former Miss Universe, a Christian girl named Georgina Rizk.

U.S.-PLO relations grew closer still when Jimmy Carter decided to support the Palestinian "homeland" that Arafat himself was asking for. Salameh went twice to stay at CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia, where he gave his hosts an in-depth personal assessment of Arafat, the first time CIA officers had heard such testimony from someone so close to the PLO leader. Salameh explained that the PLO was funded by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and Palestinian capitalists -- and not by Moscow -- and that it was prepared to guarantee that a future Palestinian state would not be communist or terrorist or a dictatorship of any sort. The Palestinians, he told the CIA, were ready for friendship with the United States, and they were certainly not interested in destroying Israel.

According to my Western intelligence sources, Israel opposed this U.S.-PLO friendship. I was told that as soon as Israel learned of Salameh's contacts at Langley, the Israelis decided to kill him -- not because of his earlier Black September activities but because he had become the PLO's liaison man with the CIA. (For a fictionalized account of Salameh's story, see David Ignatius's novel Agents of Influence.)


After a pause, the killing of PLO representatives was resumed. Na'im Khudr, the PLO representative in Brussels, like Hammami, Yassin, and Qalaq, a prominent moderate, was shot dead on June 1, 1981. He happened to be the only Christian among PLO ambassadors, and an ex-priest in the bargain. Abu Nidal was generally blamed for the murder.

However, the former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky says bluntly that the Mossad killed Khudr. In his book By Way of Deception (1990), he writes: "On his way to work, a dark-complexioned man wearing a tan jacket and sporting a pencil mustache walked up to Khader [Khudr], shot him five times in the heart and once in the head, walked off the curb, climbed into a passing 'taxi' and disappeared. Although Arafat didn't know it then, the Mossad had struck."

Khudr was killed at a time when Menachem Begin, Israel's prime minister, was greatly concerned with Lebanon. Having removed Egypt from the Arab front line by the 1979 peace treaty, Begin now wanted to bring Lebanon into Israel's orbit, and thus neutralize Syria. The Mossad had for some years been grooming a Lebanese Christian warlord, Bashir Gemayel, to be Israel's proconsul in Beirut. In the spring of 1981, Begin began a series of aggressive maneuvers in Lebanon -- the shooting down of two Syrian helicopters in April; the heavy air and naval bombardments of Palestinian positions in May and June -- which he clearly hoped would draw the Syrians and the Palestinians into a fight. In fact he had to wait until June 1982, when an attempt on the life of Israel's ambassador in London gave him the pretext he needed for a war in Lebanon, which he hoped would allow him to realize his strategic plan.

Khudr, the PLO's man in Brussels, was one of several Palestinian leaders at that time who understood how vital it was not to give Begin reasons to invade Lebanon. Khudr had telephoned a diplomat at the Israeli embassy in Brussels, asking for a meeting to explore ways of defusing the dangerous Lebanese situation. But this was the last thing the Israeli government wanted to do, for as we have seen, the main fear of Israeli hard-liners such as Begin -- a fear shared by his successors -- is not PLO militancy but PLO moderation, which might, under pressure of international opinion, force Israel to negotiate and therefore make territorial concessions.

In his book, Ostrovsky says that Khudr was murdered by a Mossad hit man precisely because he was trying to prevent a war in Lebanon -- a war the Palestinians feared but one that the Mossad and its political masters wanted, in order to destroy the Palestinians and make their man, Gemayel, president.

Ostrovsky is not a careful writer, hardly, it would appear, any sort of writer at all: He enlisted the Canadian writer Claire Hoy to help him with the writing. But no one, so far as I know, has ever denied that he worked for the Mossad or that his lengthy account, in the first part of the book, of his recruitment and training is anything but authentic. The Israeli government tried strenuously to suppress his book and sued him in New York to stop its publication. In Israel's Secret Wars (1991), two highly respected authors, Ian Black and Benny Morris, say that Ostrovsky's book embarrassed the Israelis. "If an intelligence agency cannot manage to keep its own innermost secrets ... how effective can it be?" they write. It is therefore hard simply to dismiss Ostrovsky's claim that the Mossad killed Khudr.

Yet sources from inside Abu Nidal's organization assured me without doubt in the summer of 1990 that the man who actually gunned down Khudr in Brussels was not an Israeli but a member of Abu Nidal's organization. His name was Adnan al-Rashidi (code-named Hisham Hijah), and the murder weapon was smuggled into Belgium by a Tunisian, Muhammad Abu al-Jasim, and given to Adnan al-Rashidi by an unknown cut-out.

Assuming the defectors I interviewed were correct, here then was a possible case of the kind of collaboration between the Mossad and Abu Nidal that Abu Iyad had been trying to tell me about, assuming that Ostrovsky's Mossad assassin was in fact al-Rashidi. On this theory the Mossad had either planted its man in Abu Nidal's organization or, by complicities higher up the chain of command, had managed to influence Abu Nidal's target selection.

Second, the slush fund helped finance the intelligence community's "black" operations around the world. These included funding Israeli-controlled "Palestinian terrorists" who would commit crimes in the name of the Palestinian revolution but were actually pulling them off, usually unwittingly, as part of the Israeli propaganda machine.

A key player in some of these operations was the former Jordanian Army Col. Mohammed Radi Abdullah, the man who was with Pearson and Davies when I made our approach to Davies. Today in his early 50s, Radi was decorated by King Hussein of Jordan for his bravery in the 1967 Middle East war. However, his family fell out with the king because they were not willing to participate in the mass slaughter of Palestinians by the Jordanian Army in 1970. The family emigrated to London. The colonel married a woman related to Saddam Hussein and went about setting up a number of companies, including shipping offices in Cyprus and Sicily.

Radi became known as a businessman who championed Arab and Palestinian causes in Europe. But he missed his homeland and the days when he was lauded as a hero. He fell to the ways of the West, started drinking heavily and spent a fortune on gambling and women.

In the mid-1970s, to recoup his losses, Radi went to work for Pearson, who was supplying intelligence information to Israel. With Radi's unwitting help, Pearson began to acquire intelligence about Palestinian organizations in Europe. The way he did it was by selling arms to those organizations. An arms dealer named John Knight, who ran a company called Dynavest Limited, located at 8 Waterloo Place, London SWI, and another dealer who operated out of Sidem International Limited, Appleby House, 40 St. James Place, St. James Street, London SWI, acquired arms from Yugoslavia. They would sell them to Radi, who would in turn sell them to the Palestinian terrorist, Abu Nidal, and other Palestinian groups. Radi was unaware of Pearson's Israeli connection, as were the others involved.

While it may seem curious that Pearson, a man working with Mossad, was encouraging a Jordanian to sell weapons to Israel's enemies, it was actually all part of a very cunning plot. In doing business with these groups, Radi learned what they were going to use their weapons for and unsuspectingly passed the information on to Pearson. Pearson, in turn, passed on to Mossad the intelligence about the movements of the groups and the number of weapons they had.

Based on Radi's unwitting tips, over a two-month period 14 or 15 Palestinians were wiped out. Word went out among the Palestinian groups that Radi was working for Israeli intelligence and, fearing for his life, he took a trip to Baghdad and presented his case to Abu Nidal himself. Abu Nidal believed his story that he had been used -- which he had -- and put the word out that Radi was "clean." The blame was placed on Yasser Arafat's group -- Palestinian factions at that time were warring among themselves.

-- Profits of War: Inside the Secret U.S.-Israeli Arms Network, by Ari Ben-Menashe

But there were still too many loose ends. The possibility that al-Rashidi was Ostrovsky's Mossad hit man depended too much on hearsay evidence and was far from watertight. Ostrovsky might have had a lapse of memory, or my defectors might have misled me. In any event, a single example of a possible Mossad-Abu Nidal link was not enough to prove the case. Maybe it had happened only once.

There was a further twist to the Khudr story, which made me even more skeptical. On August 29, 1981, three months after Khudr's death, two of Abu Nidal's gunmen stormed a synagogue in Vienna. They killed two Jews and wounded nineteen others. They were arrested and interrogated by the Austrian police. According to the Israeli writer Yossi Melman, in The Master Terrorist: The True Story of Abu Nidal (1987), the Austrians sent a photograph of one of the gunmen they had arrested to the Belgian police team investigating the Khudr murder. Eyewitnesses, who had seen Khudr gunned down in Brussels, identified his killer as one of the gunmen in the Vienna synagogue.

In the two years before the storming of the Vienna synagogue, Abu Nidal had attacked several other "soft" Jewish or Israeli targets in Europe. Most of these attacks had failed. On November 13, 1979, for example, an attempt to kill Efraim Eldar, the Israeli ambassador to Portugal, failed. On November 20, 1979, an attempt to bomb an exhibition about Jerusalem, staged at a Salzburg hotel by the local Jewish community, had also failed. On March 3, 1980, an attempt to kill Max Mazin, a prominent member of Madrid's Jewish community, had also gone wrong: In an apparent case of mistaken identity, the killer gunned down a Spanish lawyer, Adolfo Cottello, who happened to live or work in the same building.

If there was any truth to the rumors that Israel had penetrated and was manipulating Abu Nidal's organization, then these failures could have been deliberate. But on July 27, 1980, two grenades thrown by Abu Nidal terrorists at a group of Agudat Israel schoolchildren in Antwerp killed one Jewish youngster and wounded twenty-one others. And in Vienna, on May 1, 1981, Heinz Nittal, a prominent member of Vienna's Jewish community, head of the Austria-Israel Friendship Society and a friend of Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, was murdered.

If Israel had agents inside Abu Nidal's organization and influenced its target selection, why had it not stopped such criminal violence against Jews? It seemed to me wholly implausible that the Israelis would condone or overlook the killing of Jews. People accept that Palestinians kill Palestinians and that Russians kill Russians, but Jews are not known to kill Jews. There was a case in Baghdad in 1950 -- well documented in Abbas Shiblak's book The Lure of Zion (1986) -- when Israeli agents bombed Jewish targets to stampede the Jewish population of Iraq into fleeing to Israel. But this was an isolated case.

Radi went back to his drinking and womanizing, and the money he made selling arms for Pearson all drained away. At that very vulnerable point, in 1978, Pearson stepped in again and offered Radi a £200,000 loan. This time, Pearson made it quite clear to him that the money was coming from an Israeli source. The desperate Radi accepted the loan and was recruited to work for an antiterrorist group in Israel run by Rafi Eitan.

The group's methods were rather unconventional, one could say heinous, but it had operated successfully for years. An example is the case of the "Palestinian" attack on the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. That was, in fact, an Israeli "black" propaganda operation to show what a deadly, cutthroat bunch the Palestinians were.

The operation worked like this: Eitan passed instructions to Radi that it was time for the Palestinians to make an attack and do something cruel, though no specifics were laid out. Radi passed orders on to Abu'l Abbas, who, to follow such orders, was receiving millions from Israeli intelligence officers posing as Sicilian dons. Abbas then gathered a team to attack the cruise ship. The team was told to make it bad, to show the world what lay in store for other unsuspecting citizens if Palestinian demands were not met. As the world knows, the group picked on an elderly American Jewish man in a wheelchair, killed him, and threw his body overboard. They made their point. But for Israel it was the best kind of anti-Palestinian propaganda.

-- Profits of War: Inside the Secret U.S.-Israeli Arms Network, by Ari Ben-Menashe

There was no way that I could see in which the attack on Jewish schoolchildren in Belgium could be fitted into the theory of Abu Nidal as an Israeli agent. Clearly, if the Israelis had penetrated his organization, they could not have controlled it entirely. It was possible of course that Abu Nidal, while unable or reluctant to attack Israeli targets, had targeted non-Israeli Jews to impress his Arab followers that he was nonetheless anti-Semitic and the Israelis could do nothing to stop him.

There was, however, a strange feature of the affair: The Israelis had done nothing to punish Abu Nidal. Attacks on Jews or on Israelis did not usually go unpunished. In fact, it was Israel's declared policy always to retaliate. It was a bewildering puzzle.

It seemed to me that the murder in Vienna of Heinz Nittal, a prominent liberal Jew who had expressed sympathy for the PLO, might be a somewhat different matter. By 1980-81, there were signs in the Jewish diaspora of mounting disenchantment with Begin and his aggressive hard-line tactics. Jewish personalities of international renown, like Nahum Goldmann, Philip Klutznick, Pierre Mendes-France, and Bruno Kreisky, were openly critical of Israeli policy. To men like Begin and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, the Jewish-born and peace-campaigning Chancellor Kreisky, with his friendship for the PLO, his meetings with Arafat, and his advocacy of Palestinian statehood, was a traitor to the "greater Israel" cause. Even if Jews were not known to kill Jews, I reflected, it was just possible that Israelis might kill a Jew they thought was a traitor, and that is what Begin thought of Kreisky. So the Israelis might have sent Abu Nidal after Kreisky's friend, the dovish Heinz Nittal, as a warning as to what constituted acceptable Jewish behavior. Although pure speculation, this seemed to me not implausible.


After the murders of Hammami, Yassin, Qalaq, and Khudr, Dr. Isam Sartawi was the only prominent dove left in the Palestinian movement, a perfect example of the species loathed equally by Israeli hawks and Arab rejectionists. He had repeatedly and publicly accused Abu Nidal of being an Israeli agent. In an interview with the distinguished French daily Le Monde on January 22, 1982, Sartawi was bold:

Abu Nidal is not a maximalist serving the cause of the rejection front, but a renegade in the service of Israel. The Austrian security services have established, without any doubt, that a right-hand man of Abu Nidal not only killed the municipal councillor Heinz Nittal on May 1, 1981, and attacked the synagogue in Vienna in August, but also murdered, on June 1, Naim Khudr, the representative of the PLO in Brussels ...

Who but Israel could be interested in eliminating our leaders? Who was interested in discrediting the Palestinian resistance by committing crimes of such a scandalously anti-Semitic nature?

We do not ask ourselves these questions anymore since the members of the Abu Nidal group whom we hold in Beirut have admitted to having been recruited by the Mossad in the occupied territories.

In great agitation, Sartawi repeated this charge to me when I interviewed him a year later in Algiers, at the Palestine National Council meeting of February 1983. He claimed that Fatah had arrested some of Abu Nidal's men in Beirut and that they had confessed to having been recruited by the Mossad in the West Bank. He was certain that Abu Nidal or the Mossad -- or the Mossad through Abu Nidal -- would try to kill him.

To make matters worse for him, at the PNC meeting Arafat had disavowed him and his dovish views, which were too extreme even for Arafat, and had not allowed him to speak. I well remember the scene, because I was standing beside Sartawi at the side of the hall. Faruq Qaddumi, the PLO's "foreign minister," delivered a hard-line political report that rejected everything Sartawi stood for. Listening to Qaddumi, a white-faced Sartawi turned to me and exclaimed (with doubtful syntax), "Are you now disgusted enough!" This once popular man was now alone. No one came up to talk to him. He may have known then that he was doomed -- alone, out in the open without protection or political cover, and pursued by killers from both camps. In contacting the Israeli peace camp, Sartawi had acted under Arafat's instructions, but he may have gone too far.

On April 10, 1983, as Sartawi was chatting in the lobby of a hotel at Albufeira, Portugal, with other delegates attending a meeting of the Socialist International, an assassin killed him instantly with a shot to the head. A few hours later in Damascus, Abu Nidal jubilantly claimed responsibility for the death of "the criminal traitor Sartawi."

Whether or not Israel had had a hand in his murder, there was as usual an alternative explanation. A few months before his death, Sartawi had received a letter from Abu Nidal asking when he planned to meet his Israeli contacts in Vienna. Abu Nidal wanted to arrange to have them killed. Sartawi tipped off the Austrian police: Fatah was then cooperating with the Austrians, and with other European police forces, to frustrate Abu Nidal's terrorism. When two of Abu Nidal's gunmen flew to Vienna, they were arrested, and Sartawi helped the Austrians with their interrogation. Abu Nidal was enraged.

Sartawi had not always been a dove. For years he had been a close friend of Abu Nidal and had shared his rejectionist views. In 1948, his family had fled from Acre, near Haifa, to Iraq, where he began his medical studies, later becoming a heart surgeon in the United States. But after the Arab defeat of 1967, he left America and joined the guerrillas in Jordan, fighting at Karameh in March 1968.

In 1969, Sartawi broke from Fatah and set up a group that he called the Action Committee for the Liberation of Palestine, with funding first from Iraq and then from Egypt, which led some Palestinians to believe that he had sold out to Arab intelligence services. At this stage of his life, both his language and his actions were extremely violent. In January 1970, he mounted an attack on a busload of El Al passengers at the Munich airport.

But by the early 1970s, Sartawi underwent a conversion and became for the rest of his life an ardent advocate of Arab- Israeli coexistence. He worked with PLO and Israeli peace activists and appealed to such people as Austria's Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and the king of Morocco. He argued that the Arabs could not challenge Israel with conventional military force or with guerrilla warfare. Such attempts were bound to fail. Only dialogue and links to forces inside Israel could bring peace to the Middle East, a peace that might at last give the Palestinians a state of their own.

In 1987, during a meeting between Abu Iyad and Abu Nidal in Algiers, Abu Iyad would bring up Fatah's main grievance: the long list of PLO men murdered by Abu Nidal -- or, as he believed, by some secret hand inside his organization. Abu Iyad later told me what he and Abu Nidal had said:

"'Why did you kill Isam Sartawi?' I asked him. 'He was your lifelong friend!' I told him I believed this was an operation in which the Israelis had pulled the strings. The whole affair stank of penetration and manipulation -- the way the weapons had been smuggled in, the escape of the killer, the arrest of a young accomplice traveling on a false passport whom the Moroccans could not charge with the murder. 'I know Israel is playing games with you,' I told him."

Abu Iyad told Abu Nidal that he began to suspect Israeli penetration when a Moroccan intelligence officer had given him a list of Abu Nidal's members in Spain -- nineteen names in all -- and said his source was the Mossad. Abu Iyad then checked out the list himself and found it accurate: Seventeen of the men on it, most of them students, were still living in Spain; two had graduated and returned home.

Abu Iyad told me: "I was amazed by Abu Nidal's answer. 'Yes,' he had responded calmly. 'You are right. Israel has penetrated us in the past. I discovered this from my Tunisian and Moroccan members. Israel used to plant them on me. But let me tell you that I send my own North African members -- the ones I really trust --to France to turn and recruit Israel's North African agents! The flow of intelligence is sometimes to my advantage. These people have supplied me with truly astonishing information.'

"'Take for example the Sartawi case. They gave me all the detailed information I needed for the operation!'"

As he recollected their conversation, Abu Iyad could still hardly believe what he had heard: "Israeli agents were present in his organization. They had fed him information. He admitted it! His matter-of-fact tone astounded me. He added that he was trying to liquidate the Israeli agents one by one. That is what he said!" Though the admissions implied no more than penetration, Abu Iyad was convinced they also indicated collaboration between the Mossad and Abu Nidal.

Abu Iyad told me that he had thought about Israel's manipulation of Abu Nidal with North African agents. He knew for a fact that Khudr had been killed by a Tunisian member of Abu Nidal's organization. So had Hammami and Qalaq.

"We stopped terrorism in 1974," he insisted, "but the Israelis did not, although they convinced the world of the contrary. They continued to attack us. Sometimes they did so quite blatantly, as when they killed Abu Jihad in Tunis in 1988. More often they mounted operations that could be read in different ways. I must admit it confused us. On several occasions we weren't sure whether Abu Nidal or Mossad was responsible."

The Mossad agents that Abu Iyad had in mind were probably trained in Morocco, where the Moroccan government and the CIA run an unusual intelligence school that specializes in Palestinian affairs. I learned about this school from several intelligence sources, both Arab and Western. They told me that the CIA, which works closely with Israel on Palestinian matters, had brought the Mossad into the arrangement as well. The students are mostly young North Africans who are recruited in Europe and brought back to the Moroccan school to be trained as spies. They are put through courses on the various Palestinian factions, studying their leading personalities, their structure, ideology, and operations -- so that by the end of the course, they are able to use the arcane jargon of these organizations. All the principal groups -- Fatah, the PFLP, the Democratic Front, the PFLP-General Command, the Arab Liberation Front, and Abu Nidal's organization -- are studied.

Once their course is completed, the youths are taken back to Europe and instructed to hang about in cafes, meet other Arabs, and speak to them in the language they have been taught. The hope is that they will eventually get taken on by the groups they have learned to mimic, so that the Moroccans, the CIA, or the Mossad can use them. Some of the graduates of the school become informers, some plan operations, and some are even schooled to become ideologues for the groups on which they are planted. Some are killers.


There was one further case I learned about. It was an attempted murder rather than a murder, and it did not involve a dove. But it seemed relevant to my inquiries.

On July 27, 1981, a month before the attack on the Vienna synagogue, the prominent Fatah commander Abu Dawud narrowly escaped death in Warsaw. In Tunis in 1990, he gave me his account of the incident.

He had been Abu Nidal's friend, he told me, since their early days in Saudi Arabia but had broken with him over the killing of Yassin and the other PLO representatives. In July 1981, he had gone to Warsaw on Fatah's behalf for talks with the Polish authorities and booked in at the Hotel Victoria on Friday, July 27. But as it was too late to see anyone that day, he had gone to take a sauna in the health club before wandering upstairs to the cafe on the first floor. It was a quiet place, he said, but it was frequented by prostitutes.

"I noticed as I came in that the place was full of Arabs. I learned later that they were a party of thirty Iraqi intelligence officers on an official visit. Rather than sit at a corner table as I usually do, I sat at the first empty table I could see. I didn't want them to think I was trying to pick up a girl.

"I had just ordered a coffee and a bottle of mineral water when two men came bursting through the door. One pointed me out to the other, who rushed up and started firing at me when he was about six feet away. His first shot went through my hand. The next broke my jaw -- I had to keep my mouth shut for five months while it was being rebuilt. A third and fourth went through the fleshy parts of my body.

"The Iraqi intelligence officers in the cafe pretended they had seen nothing and never offered to help me."

Abu Dawud chased the gunman as far as the hotel entrance but failed to catch him. Bleeding profusely, he collapsed on a sofa in the lobby and waited for nearly two hours for a Polish ambulance to take him to a hospital -- where there was a further long wait before he received medical attention. The next day, the Poles moved him to a clinic that belonged to the ministry of the interior, where he stayed for ten days before going on to East Germany to convalesce. He later learned that the Poles had arrested his would-be assassin but had released him a day later on receiving a payment of $200,000 from Abu Nidal's Polish company, Zibado.

Abu Dawud continued his story: "The man who pointed me out in the cafe was one of Abu Nidal's boys. I recognized him. But who was my attacker? I was curious to find out. I didn't think he could be a Palestinian member of Abu Nidal's organization, because I knew most of them. I had trained many of them myself in various militias. And what was the motive? There seemed no obvious reason to kill me. Unlike Hamrnami, Abu Nidal couldn't accuse me of having dealings with the Israelis! So why me?"

About eleven months later, Abu Dawud happened to be in Iraq, where he took a room at the Baghdad Hotel. Hearing he was there and thinking that he had come to kill him, Abu Nidal sent one of his henchmen, Dr. Ghassan al-Ali, to sound him out. Abu Dawud pretended that he did not suspect Abu Nidal of involvement in the shooting. He asked after his health and said he would like to see him.

"Abu Nidal is a crafty devil!" Abu Dawud continued. "To put me to the test, he sent my would-be assassin to sit in the hotel lobby to see how I would react. There he was, large as life, a small, dark man with curly hair, reading a newspaper and wearing the same suit he had worn when he shot me.

"Some Palestinian friends had come to see me at the hotel, so I sounded them out discreetly about the identity of the man in the lobby. I learned that he was a Tunisian who posed as a businessman but in fact worked for Abu Nidal.

"There he was, eyeing me warily from behind his newspaper. I decided I would try and capture him. I approached, but he saw me coming and started running. I gave chase, but once again, as in Warsaw, he got away.

"The moment Abu Nidal heard what had happened, he left Baghdad for his farm in the north and did not reappear until he was certain I had left the country. There is no doubt in my mind of his involvement in the affair. No one else could have sent his man to point me out in the Warsaw hotel, and no one else could have bribed the Poles to let my attacker escape."

Abu Dawud asked everyone he could about the Tunisian who had tried to kill him. He told me that the Tunisian had been recruited by the Mossad in Paris, sent first to Israel for training and then on to the CIA's intelligence school in Morocco, where he was taught Abu Nidal's theories and jargon. He was then sent to Paris, where he was picked up by Abu Nidal's people and recruited.

Abu Dawud believed after an extensive investigation that the Israelis had planted the Tunisian on Abu Nidal. The real question in his mind was who in the organization had chosen to kill him and ordered that particular agent to mount the attack. He had no doubt that the Mossad had someone high up in Abu Nidal's organization, perhaps at the very top. I asked him who it was, but he couldn't tell me.

The interesting thing was, Abu Dawud added, that Abu Nidal did not tell even his closest associates that he had ordered the attack. Abu Dawud learned later that the secret was shared with only two people: the man responsible for selecting and researching the target -- very probably Dr. Ghassan, of whom more will be heard -- and the Tunisian hit man. The youth who had identified him at the hotel in Warsaw had been brought in at the last minute. He had worked as a courier for Abu Nidal and knew Abu Dawud well.

"My Tunisian attacker is now living in France," Abu Dawud told me. "I know this and so does French security. He has recently left Abu Nidal's organization."

Although I was still by no means satisfied with the evidence I had collected, it seemed to me that there were grounds to pursue the hypothesis that a terrorist outfit like Abu Nidal's was most dangerous not when it was operating on its own account but, as Claude Bourdet might have put it, when it was systematically manipulated by more sophisticated minds, with their own ruthless agenda.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:15 am


Chapter 9: The Organization

Researching the murder of the moderates left me with the suspicion that there might be something after all to Abu Iyad's allegations. At any rate, I could see how his obsession came about. The evidence was still fragmentary, but it had begun to look as if a number of Israel's North African agents might have had a free run of Abu Nidal's organization. They kept cropping up on murderous assignments. But who directed these agents? Abu Dawud's story, which I had no reason to doubt, suggested that the Mossad had a man, or perhaps several, at the very top of the organization. Thus, I shifted the focus of my inquiries. In interviews with Arab and Western intelligence contacts, with Abu Iyad, and with defectors back in Tunis, I set about trying to make a chart of Abu Nidal's organization to see who, if anyone, was in a position to direct these North Africans who, according to Abu Iyad, had killed Khudr, Hammami, and Qalaq and had tried to kill Abu Dawud. As I discovered, it was no easy task.

I had one important lead. Abu Iyad told me that French intelligence had asked him for information about a certain Sulaiman Samrin (code-named Dr. Ghassan al-Ali), a very senior man in Abu Nidal's organization who the French suspected was a Mossad agent. Who was Dr. Ghassan and what job did he do? How did he fit into Abu Nidal's elaborate structure? And how was the whole outfit run? My inquiries lasted several months.


Some men lead from the front, others from behind the scenes, some by making themselves accessible, others by being remote. Some men dominate through personal charisma, others through fear. Some owe their power to popular vote or to a party machine, others to the armed forces.

Abu Nidal rules by contempt -- bullying, browbeating, and humiliating his colleagues. He dictates not only where they live and what work they do but also what brand of cigarettes they may smoke, how much meat they may consume, what toys their children may play with, what items -- and certainly not chocolate! -- they may buy at airport duty-free shops, and even what dresses their wives are allowed to wear.

Abu Nidal is especially contemptuous of the wives of the men who work for him. Once he tried to save money by buying women's underclothes in bulk for all his members' wives. A guard from the Intelligence Directorate measured the women for bras and panties, and only after great resistance from the women was the scheme dropped.

When he first started out in Baghdad in the early 1970s, Abu Nidal's main instrument was a clandestine "Military Committee" that planned and directed his terrorist operations. In due course, various administrative bodies coalesced around this secret core, but it was only in 1984-85, when Abu Nidal returned to the Middle East from Poland, that the organization finally took shape. Abu Nidal's model was Yasser Arafat's Fatah, but he also borrowed from what he knew of Israel's Mossad and of Action Directe, the French terrorist group. After he was thrown out of Syria in 1987, he had to make further organizational changes to take account of his dispersal between Libya and Lebanon.

Today, the organization comprises a number of executive directorates and committees through which the day-to-day work is conducted. Supervising them are three central institutions -- a small Political Bureau: a somewhat larger Central Committee, of about twenty people; and a still larger Revolutionary Council. Of these three, the Political Bureau, a mere handful of men chaired by Abu Nidal in Tripoli, is the supreme decision-making body.

Hierarchically, directorates and committees are on the same level. The only difference is that directorates are bigger and comprise more than one committee. Both directorates and committees are usually headed by a member of the Political Bureau or Central Committee.

From defectors and other sources, I have been able to identify Abu Nidal's principal colleagues and gain some insight into the inner workings of the organization, of which the principal subdivisions are the Secretariat, the Intelligence Directorate, the Organization Directorate, the Membership Committee, the Political Directorate, the Finance Directorate, the Committee for Revolutionary Justice, the Technical and Scientific Committees, and the People's Army.


Abu Nidal controls his organization through the Secretariat, a command-and-control unit that he runs himself and that keeps him informed of everything in the minutest detail. The Secretariat also keeps the organization's archives, but its main function is as a communications center: All communications between different parts of the organization and all documents passing between Libya and Lebanon are channeled through it. Five cadres work in the Secretariat's archives in the South Lebanon port of Sidon and another five in Tripoli, Libya. Their task is to note, transmit, and file and to keep Abu Nidal informed.

All this activity generates a great deal of paper -- most of it carried back and forth under seal by special messenger. (Routine messages are also sent by radio, and in addition, a good deal of material travels between Libya and Lebanon, via Damascus, by Libyan diplomatic bag.)

The present head of the Secretariat is none other than Sulaiman Samrin (Dr. Ghassan al-Ali), the man whom, Abu Iyad told me, the French suspected of being a Mossad agent. The high-ranking defector Atif Abu Bakr described him to me as "one of the most violent and dangerous criminals in the whole organization." If Dr. Ghassan was in fact Israel's man, he was extremely well placed to manipulate the organization. He was the only person, except for Abu Nidal himself, who knew everything that happened inside the outfit. He virtually ran it.

Based in Lebanon with the title of first secretary of the Central Committee, Dr. Ghassan is a lean, dark chain-smoker of maniacal energy. He drinks heavily and has gray hair and large owlish glasses. He claims to be a karate expert and watches karate films on video. He has also read Marxist economics and discusses world events in those terms. He edits the organization's in-house magazine, al-Tariq (The Path), and is its principal contributor. He greatly influences Abu Nidal and considers himself his natural heir. In 1990-91, he filled the number-three position in the organization, after Abu Nidal and his deputy, Isam Maraqa (code name Salim Ahmad).

For all his power in the organization, Dr. Ghassan is also intensely unpopular and has even become an object of suspicion. He is aloof, elitist, insulting to others. But with Abu Nidal he is servile. Abu Nidal was once heard to call out, "Samrin, your sisters in Kuwait, those three whores, I hear they've done such and such ..." and Dr. Ghassan nodded meekly.

Dr. Ghassan was born in the West Bank village of Silwan in 1946. He was a good student and was sent to study in Britain, where he graduated with a B.A. in chemistry and later was awarded an M.A. Although he calls himself Doctor, he has no such degree. He learned English well, married an Englishwoman, and had several children by her, including male twins. But in 1970 he went to Beirut to work for Fatah. He left his wife behind in Britain and eventually divorced her.

(One of his twin sons recently died violently. He fell in love with a girl who, like himself, was studying computer science at an institute in Sidon, in South Lebanon. But she rejected him. On April 18, 1990, he shot her and then killed himself. His death was reported in Abu Nidal's magazine, where he was referred to by his code name, Kamal Hassan, no doubt to prevent readers connecting him with his father. The true cause of death was not given. He was described as a martyr, killed by enemies of the Palestinian revolution.)

Dr. Ghassan's first job in the early 1970s was working on weapons development and radio communications in Fatah's embryonic Scientific Committee. When the committee moved from Beirut to Baghdad in 1974, because of the better facilities available there, Dr. Ghassan went as well -- eventually transferring his allegiance to Abu Nidal when the latter broke from Fatah. Over the next few years, he rose to become head of Abu Nidal's Scientific Committee and then, attaching this committee to the Intelligence Directorate, he moved across in the mid-1980s to head the Directorate's Committee for Special Missions, its terrorist arm.

It was in this capacity that he supervised the attacks on the El Al counters at the Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985, the hijacking of the Pan Am airliner at Karachi in September 1986, and the killings at the Istanbul synagogue that same month. But if Abu Iyad was right in believing he was the Mossad's man, how could he have done such things? It was a puzzle I could not explain. It was not conceivable that an Israeli agent would mastermind an attack on a synagogue. Yet there was no doubt in my mind that Dr. Ghassan had been in charge of the Special Missions Committee at that time. The strangest puzzle of all was that the Israelis had not retaliated against him or against the organization for these attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets -- although, except in this case, they invariably sought revenge quickly and violently. This was clearly an area I needed to investigate further.

The working procedure in force at that time inside the organization was for the Committee for Special Missions to produce a list of potential targets, which Dr. Ghassan and Abu Nidal would then discuss, picking out the ones that attracted them. As a defector from the organization told me,

Dr. Ghassan always seemed to favor the most extreme and reckless operations. He used to speak with the greatest admiration of the Khmer Rouge, the IRA, the Red Army Faction. These were the models he held up to us. He detested any form of moderation.

On the Palestinian side of things, he was totally opposed to the efforts of men like Atif Abu Bakr to bring about a reconciliation with Fatah. Instead, he seemed to encourage Palestinian discord. I formed the impression that he was a nihilist who reveled in the language of blood.

Yet several of Dr. Ghassan's operations proved unsuccessful or were aborted at an early stage -- which in itself aroused the suspicions of some of his underlings. There was, for example, an attempt in late 1986 to smuggle arms into Britain -- an operation that he directed. A member of his Committee for Special Missions, a certain Dr. Ramzi Awad, who lived in Spain, drove a car into Britain with a hidden consignment of arms. He passed through customs without difficulty and got as far as London, where he was suddenly stopped in the street and arrested. The British police had evidently been tipped off. Dr. Awad was given a twenty-five-year sentence.

Sources inside the organization report that on this occasion, no attack was being planned. Abu Nidal had merely wanted to hide guns in Britain for future use. For once the weapons are in place, it is no great problem to forge a passport and smuggle a man across a border to mount an attack. The weapons Dr. Awad was transporting may even have been destined for another organization: Barter is common in the terrorist underground. A bomb in London might be swapped for a machine gun in Madrid. Ten forged passports in Amsterdam might be worth as many hand grenades in Rome. In anticipation of a deal, Abu Nidal liked to accumulate supplies in different centers. If one of his sponsors, say, needed arms in Berlin, Paris, or Athens, he liked to be in a position to oblige.

After the organization moved out of Syria in 1987, the Secretariat was of necessity divided between Lebanon and Libya. While Dr. Ghassan presided in Lebanon, his deputy, known as the second secretary, lived and worked in Libya. The present incumbent of this post is Samir Muhammad al-Abbasi (code-named Amjad Ata), whom Jorde saw in the Libyan camp -- a tall, dark man of about forty (in 1991), who is married to one of Abu Nidal's nieces, Salima al-Banna, by whom he has a son and a daughter. As Abu Nidal's right-hand man and confidant, he is privy to many of his criminal secrets. Ata's position gives him ultimate control over the archives and over the training camp where Jorde spent many desperate months.

Amjad Ata is well prepared for these tasks. In the 1970s he was a hard-working cadre of the Military Committee in Baghdad, helping organize the hostage taking at the Saudi embassy in Paris and the clandestine movement of weapons to Greece -- then one of the organization's main centers for arms storage and distribution. In Syria in the 1980s, he headed Abu Nidal's private office before being put in charge of the Libyan end of the Secretariat once Abu Nidal settled there in 1987.

Middle-level cadres of the Secretariat tend to be moved around fairly frequently, to limit possible damage from leaks and indiscretions. But this did not prevent a couple of catastrophic defections. In December 1989, Muhammad Khudr Salahat (code-named Karim Muhammad), then in his late twenties, fled with his wife and two children to Algeria, where Algerian intelligence was said to have pumped a great deal of information out of him -- but nothing, it would appear, about a possible Israeli connection.

Salahat had been hand-picked by Abu Nidal to look after a top-secret section of the Secretariat's files known as the private archive. What made matters worse was that he was a nephew of Abu Nidal's wife -- a member of the family. He may have had a sense of grievance on account of an earlier episode in his career: He had spent a year in one of the organization's jails, on a charge of embezzling $125,000 from a larger sum that, for safekeeping, Abu Nidal had deposited in Salahat's name in a foreign bank.

A second damaging defection, in March 1990, was that of Arif Salem, one of the chosen few, the four or five people able to paint a complete picture of the organization. For three years he had occupied the sensitive post of secretary to the first secretary -- the man who opened the mail, examined its contents, and decided which items he could deal with himself and which he should pass on to his chief. Before that, he had filled an almost equally sensitive post in the Membership Committee, which, as its name suggests, keeps all the members' files. Arif Salem defected to Jordan, and it is suspected that he may have been working for Jordanian intelligence all along. I reflected that since neither of these people is thought to have revealed to Algeria or Jordan an Israeli connection, they either did not know about it or there was none.


From the moment of Abu Nidal's breach with Fatah in 1974, his "special operations" were in the hands of a secret core organization known as the Military Committee, staffed by men who had undergone special training, had worked clandestinely, and were committed to violence. Obsessive where security was concerned, Abu Nidal was at pains to protect the identity of the committee's members, laying down strict rules to restrict their contacts, even with each other. They were not allowed to meet at each other's homes, and the committee as a whole was utterly closed to all members not actually working in it.

Throughout the Baghdad years, the Military Committee was the heart of the organization. It was headed from 1979 to 1982 by an explosives expert, Naji Abu al-Fawaris, who had lost a hand and an eye in an accident in 1973. His specialty was car bombs. It was he who had handled the operation to kill Heinz Nittal, Chancellor Bruno Kreisky's friend, in Vienna in May 1981 -- which, as we have seen, is difficult but not impossible to square with the notion that Israel had penetrated the organization.

When the organization moved from Iraq to Syria in 1982-83, the Military Committee changed its name and became known as the Committee for Special Missions, directed in the mid-1980s, as has been mentioned, by Dr. Ghassan al-Ali, who oversaw most of the murderous operations of those years. Despite the change of name, the basic cadres -- those with training and field experience -- remained in place.

A bigger change occurred in 1985, when the Intelligence Directorate was formed, with four subdivisions. These were:

• the Committee for Special Missions, which was now absorbed into the new directorate;
• the Foreign Intelligence Committee;
• the Counterespionage Committee;
• the Lebanon Committee

From the start, this directorate was by far the most important in the whole organization. Like the old Military Committee, it was concerned with planting undercover agents abroad, establishing secret arms caches, gathering intelligence about potential targets, carrying out assassinations, and monitoring and penetrating hostile services. Inside the host countries it was responsible for instructors, weapons, and stores at the organization's various training establishments. Any information of a security nature gleaned by other directorates or committees was immediately passed to it. It was the control center to which everything of importance was referred.

The Intelligence Directorate maintained thirty or forty "residents" in foreign countries, who were responsible for dozens of arms caches, the largest of which was probably in Turkey -- from where arms could be conveyed overland to Europe and to the Arab world. In the organization's history, there have been two main phases of arms distribution: the Iraqi phase, in which arms dumps were primarily established in Greece, Turkey, and France; and then the Syrian phase, when Cyprus, Italy, and West Germany were added to the list.

To an outside observer, there seemed to be periods when the directorate was intensely active and others when it was dormant. But an inside source told me that even when no operations were being mounted or planned, the directorate was always vigilant. Security arrangements at airports and seaports had to be constantly reviewed, alterations to visa and immigration stamps monitored, and a host of other subjects kept up to date; the training of staff was a daily preoccupation. "It was work all the time," the source said. "There were no periods of rest at all. The directorate could not afford to pause for a single moment."

This directorate was the object of Abu Nidal's special attention, and whoever else he might appoint as its titular head at any one time, he was its real chief.

At the beginning, when the directorate was first founded, in 1985, Abd al-Rahman Isa was a natural choice for the job. The longest-serving member of the organization, he had for years been Abu Nidal's shadow (which was the reason I had been so anxious to interview him when he defected, though I had to make do with his taped debriefing). He had been close to Abu Nidal ever since they had first met in Jordan in the 1960s. Abu Nidal had taken Isa to the Sudan and then to Iraq as his assistant and private secretary, entrusting him with all sorts of personal and family matters.

When the organization planned to move to Syria in the early 1980s, Isa was sent ahead to run things until the arrival of Abu Nizar and other Central Committee members.

Although physically ugly, unshaven, and shabbily dressed, Isa had charm and was quick and shrewd. On one occasion he was stopped by a customs officer at the Geneva airport and asked if he had anything to declare. As it happened, he was carrying $5 million in notes, which Abu Nidal had asked him to deposit in one of the organization's numbered accounts. Without hesitation, he declared the full amount. Respectfully, the customs officer detailed one of his colleagues to escort Isa to the bank of his choice.

But Isa was restless. He had the instincts and reactions of an intelligence agent and saw the whole world in terms of plots and covert operations. Hailing from the village of Amin, near Jenin in the West Bank, he was consumed, like many Palestinians of similar background, with the bitterness of the refugee. He was an old-fashioned believer in armed struggle, in the conviction that violence alone would make Israel yield and return him to his home in Palestine.

If anyone deserved Abu Nidal's confidence, it was Abd al-Rahman Isa: They had been partners in crime for close on two decades. But in the mid-1980s, Isa made the fatal mistake of associating himself closely with such leading men as Mustafa Murad (Abu Nizar), then Abu Nidal's deputy, and Atif Abu Bakr, the reformist ideologue who was seduced by events in Lebanon and came to believe that the organization could emerge aboveground and take its place in the mainstream of the resistance movement.

Abd al-Rahman Isa was to pay for his mistake. Hardly had Abu Nidal settled in Libya in the summer of 1987 than he demoted Isa, excluded him from the center of affairs, and publicly humiliated him. Isa tried to resign, but Abu Nidal insisted that he stay on in the directorate in a junior capacity, to be ordered about by men whose boss he had been and whom he had himself protected in their time. Abu Nidal even gave instructions that Isa should be treated with particular contempt -- thus encouraging the small fry to believe that their own promotion depended on deriding their former chief.

Although Isa had been one of the founders of the organization, by 1988 he found himself alone in a small office, forbidden to contact anyone in the directorate, and having to report daily to Abu Nidal on any telephone calls or visitors he might have received.

In Isa's place at the head of the Intelligence Directorate Abu Nidal appointed two men: Mustafa Awad (code name Alaa), who took charge of the Lebanon Committee and was based in that country; and his deputy, Ali al-Farra (code name Dr. Kamal), who was based in Libya and took charge of the directorate's three other committees: Special Missions, Foreign Intelligence, and Counterespionage. In theory, Alaa was the senior of the two, with the title head of the Intelligence Directorate, but as Dr. Kamal worked with Abu Nidal in Libya on a daily basis, he was the true intelligence supremo. From then until the present, Alaa and Dr. Kamal have been Abu Nidal's most malleable instruments.

Alaa was a sensual, violent, good-looking man in his forties (in 1991). Like Dr. Ghassan and Abu Nidal, he drank and probably used drugs. He was a West Banker from the village of Tal and had studied in Pakistan before joining Abu Nidal in the 1970s. But as with so many of his colleagues, Abu Nidal had acquired a special hold over him. In 1978, Alaa had been one of a group of Baghdad-based fighters whom Abu Nidal had sent to Sidon to help Abu Dawud harass the Israelis during their invasion of Lebanon that year. Arafat had interpreted the arrival of these fighters as a mass penetration of his ranks by Abu Nidal and had rounded them up and interned them.

Rather than face detention, Alaa had joined Fatah and had talked, revealing everything he knew -- in effect betraying Abu Nidal, who promptly condemned him to death in absentia.

When Israel invaded Lebanon a second time, in 1982, and the PLO was expelled, Alaa switched allegiance yet again and rejoined Abu Nidal. Some members wanted to execute him for his earlier defection but others believed he should be given a second chance. Abu Nidal exploited the situation by making Alaa understand that if he made the slightest mistake, his past would be dredged up and he would be killed.

Thereafter, Alaa tried to satisfy Abu Nidal's every whim, displaying exemplary obedience and loyalty. He became one of the fiercest members of the organization, and was soon up to his ears in blood. His special talents were moving weapons about, hiding them, and planning and carrying out operations.

For whatever reason, Abu Nidal promoted Alaa rapidly, brought him into the Political Bureau in 1986 and, in personal matters, allowed him exceptional leeway. Abu Nidal was forever lecturing his members about the need for strict sexual morality -- adultery was a crime in the organization, punishable by death -- but Alaa was known to sleep with women prisoners, with many women outside the organization, and even with several of his comrades' wives. Abu Nidal ignored this.

There was, for example, the pathetic case of Bassam al-A'raj, an old cadre who had lost most fingers of both hands in an attack on the PLO office in Karachi in the 1970s. In due course he married a Lebanese girl from Sidon, Abir Qubrusli, only to discover that Alaa was involved with her. When he objected to this, he found himself accused of a security crime, imprisoned in the Balawi refugee camp, and then killed in North Lebanon in 1987, leaving Alaa free to continue his relationship with his wife.

There were several aspects of Alaa's career that struck me as odd. He had defected but been let back in; he was sexually promiscuous but got away with it. When I found out he had prevented a Mossad cell that had been uncovered in Lebanon from being "played back" (an incident we shall hear more of later), it dawned on me that he might be in on the Mossad deal, if there was one, with Dr. Ghassan. I put him on my short list of suspected penetration agents. As the Lebanon-based intelligence chief of the organization, he was admirably placed to manipulate events to Israel's advantage.

The Libya-based intelligence chief, Ali al-Farra (or Dr. Kamal, as he was more usually called), was also guilty of sexual peccadilloes, which Abu Nidal either indulgently excused or used as evidence against him. He had gotten hold of photographs of Dr. Kamal in diverse sexual positions, allegedly taken by the French police in a Paris brothel, and held them over his head, threatening to send them to his family and his village.

Dr. Kamal was a tall, bald, bespectacled man of about forty (in 1991) who came from Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, and had dropped out of Alexandria University, in Egypt, after two years in its engineering department. He had joined Abu Nidal's Military Committee in Iraq, where he climbed the intelligence ladder. Once the organization moved to Tripoli, Dr. Kamal's special responsibility was the daily relationship with Libyan intelligence. But Abu Nidal also used him as a troubleshooter and special envoy to foreign countries or terrorist organizations with which the organization had intelligence dealings. He was the contact man with ASALA, the Armenian secret army, and with the New People's Army of the Philippines. He also handled Abu Nidal's delicate undercover relationship with French intelligence.

Dr. Kamal was married to Alia Hammuda, sister of Atif Hammuda, Abu Nidal's main colleague in the Finance Directorate. At one time he and his wife lived in rooms above Abu Nidal's office, and had to suffer his constant harassment. For example, Abu Nidal would summon Dr. Kamal's wife downstairs and scold her about her cooking -- it smelled -- or for being too fat or for allegedly stealing some trivial object that had arrived at the office or even for gossiping with other wives about him. He accused her of giving his telephone number to the CIA. Bullying was Abu Nidal's way of controlling everyone around him.

At meetings, Abu Nidal would spend the first half hour haranguing those present with sarcastic, slighting remarks, browbeating them so that when it came to discussing serious matters, they were at a psychological disadvantage. "You marry slim women," was one of his favorite themes, "but within a month they turn into elephants. It must be all that chocolate you feed them! If I'm given a piece of chocolate on a plane, I take it home to my son. But you take chocolate out of the mouths of your children and eat it yourselves!" His members listened meekly to such inanities.


This directorate dealt with the recruitment of new members, their education in the rules and philosophy of the organization, and their preparation for a job within it. In theory, it should have served as a sort of mother directorate, except that it was always in a state of upheaval because Abu Nidal was convinced its leaders were spies in the employ of hostile powers. It had three main branches: the Committee for Foreign Countries; the Committee for Arab Countries; and the Palestine/Jordan Committee.

The first of these committees was the important one, because it dealt with Palestinian students at foreign colleges and universities, who from the very beginning were the bedrock of Abu Nidal's whole structure. In the first phase, in the mid-1970s, groups of students were enlisted and sent to Yugoslavia, Spain, Britain, Turkey, and Pakistan, the main centers at the time for his concentrated instruction. The students were instructed to spread the word, to recruit others, to gather useful data, to investigate potential targets and to set up secret arms caches. But they would not usually be involved in military or paramilitary operations. When an operation was planned, a specially trained hit team would be sent in to do the job.

Some students joined Abu Nidal because they needed money; others were fanatics, attracted by his political views. The organization preferred to recruit very young men, whose minds had not yet been formed. Most were country boys from one of the six hundred or so villages of pre-1948 Palestine. Such students were usually recruited before they were sent abroad to study. The organization's technique, much like that of other Palestinian factions, was to approach young people who had just left school and did not know what to do next. "Here is a scholarship to Poland or East Germany!" The student would be hooked as long as the organization could afford to pay him.

Abu Nidal spent millions on students -- he was the best payer among all the Palestinian factions. In Eastern Europe, Fatah used to give its students $50 a month; Abu Nidal gave his $500. No one could compete on this level. Of course, he gave his scholarships to young men he considered politically loyal. Many of them were good revolutionary material, good patriotic fighters. But instead of putting their idealism to work for Palestine, he implicated them in criminal acts. They came to see the world through the prism of his bitter philosophy and, in their isolation, he owned them.

In Western Europe, Abu Nidal was even more successful, because he could afford to meet all the expenses of his students -- rent, board, fares, pocket money -- which allowed them to settle down into big-city European life and to be ready for action when he needed them. In Spain, he built up a strong organization by taking over most of Fatah's students: He was able to pay them well; Fatah was not.

In the 1980s, there was a radical change of climate in several of the countries where Abu Nidal operated. His presence in Spain was virtually wiped out after his assassination of a defector had alerted the Spanish police to his activities; in Britain, after the crackdown that followed the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador, he found it difficult to maintain even a foothold; in Turkey, too, the organization was hit hard after it assassinated a Jordanian diplomat in Ankara in July 1985; and in Pakistan it suffered from harsh repression after the hijacking of the Pan Am jumbo jet at Karachi in 1986. Its presence in Yugoslavia, once a major center of its operations, was also much reduced, and in the late 1980s several of Abu Nidal's students were moved from there to Hungary.

As operations in Europe became more difficult to mount and counterterrorism became more effective, the organization shifted its emphasis to Southeast Asia, especially to Thailand and the Philippines; also to India; and in a sketchy way, to Latin America and a number of African countries. As Jorde's career illustrated, such faraway operations had nothing whatsoever to do with the Palestinian cause. By this time Abu Nidal was running a protection racket-raising funds by blackmail and extortion.

As its name suggests, the Organization Directorate's Committee for Arab Countries looked after members in those Arab countries where the organization had a presence, which was by no means all of them. After its departure from Iraq and Syria, the organization maintained a small underground presence in these two countries. In Algeria it was well represented, and in Libya it was, of course, present in strength. But in most other places it was a matter of a few individuals living a shadowy existence.

The Jordan/Palestine Committee was the weakest of all. The organization had been strong in Jordan in the 1970s, but when in the 1980s it started hitting Jordanian targets on Syria's behalf, it faced tough repression: Its leaders and prominent cadres were arrested and, in many cases, spent years in jail. As for Palestine, the real scandal was that in spite of its strident propaganda and exaggerated claims, Abu Nidal's organization was virtually absent from the occupied territories: For much of its existence, 1974 to 1990, its military activity there was nil. It did not throw a single stone during the intifada, let alone anything more lethal. This, more than anything else, I reflected, gave a clue to Abu Nidal's real priorities.

Until 1986, the head of the Organization Directorate had been Fu'ad al-Suffarini (code name Umar Hamdi), who had joined Abu Nidal when he was a young clerk in Abu Dhabi and had given himself over completely to the organization. He had served as the head of Abu Nidal's private office and knew all his secrets; he had overseen the attempt to murder Syria's foreign minister, Khaddam, in the United Arab Emirates; and he had interrogated and executed a number of people in the organization's prisons. As a result, Suffarini had been promoted to head of the Organization Directorate, a position very close to the center of power.

But in 1986, Suffarini could no longer cope psychologically with the terrible things he had witnessed. He fell into a depression and voluntarily asked to be passed over. Knowing Abu Nidal's methods, Suffarini must have feared he would be killed. He locked himself in his house, and whenever anyone from the organization knocked on his door, his wife would not open. There came a point when he would deal only with those members he felt would not betray him. Because his loyalty was not in doubt and he seemed genuinely in need of a rest, Abu Nidal sent him as his representative to Greece -- and it was from there that Suffarini fled to Jordan in 1987.

Had Abu Nidal suspected that he was planning to defect, he would have ordered Suffarini's execution there and then and denounced him as a spy for the "traitor king," his standard phrase for King Hussein. But clearly things had gone badly wrong in the organization if a man of Suffarini's seniority felt that his only way out was to escape to Jordan -- a country that was his enemy, against which he had mounted lethal operations, but from which he now felt he could expect more mercy than from Abu Nidal.

Suffarini was replaced at the head of the Organization Directorate by Mustafa Murad (Abu Nizar), Abu Nidal's deputy, who had now fallen from grace. In his case, the move to the directorate was a substantial demotion, for Abu Nizar had occupied the number-two position in the whole organization for many years.

Abu Nizar's career had been typical of the contemporary Palestinian resistance experience. He was born on March 15, 1946, in the Palestinian village of Umm al-Fahm, which was overrun by the Israelis in 1948. His family first fled to Jenin, then to Tulkarm, in the West Bank, where he grew up and went to school in a refugee camp. He attended a teachers' training college at Irbid, in Jordan, worked briefly as a teacher, and then joined Fatah at the age of twenty, in 1966.

He was a brave, strong youth and soon distinguished himself in clashes with the Jordanian army. Captured during the battles of September 1970, he was badly beaten and suffered severe leg wounds, which later required an operation in Czechoslovakia. By this time he had moved with many other fighters to Iraq, where he joined Abu Nidal after the 1974 split and was put in charge of the newly formed Military Committee.

Abu Nizar was involved, it will be recalled, in Abu Nidal's botched attempt to kill Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin), of Fatah, in Damascus in 1974. This was the operation that earned Abu Nidal a death sentence, passed by the PLO in absentia, and that put Abu Nizar into a Fatah jail in Syria for eighteen months. On his release in 1976, he returned to Baghdad and again took charge of the Military Committee. In 1979, at the time of the Naji Allush crisis, he played a decisive role in bringing the whole organization back under Abu Nidal's control and was suitably rewarded. When the organization moved to Syria, he was elected Abu Nidal's deputy.

Abu Nizar was a large, energetic man, popular with the rank and file, many of whom he had trained, but politically something of a simpleton. He was ill prepared for the in-fighting that was to start in 1985-86, when, on his return to the Middle East from Poland, Abu Nidal started scheming to consolidate his control over the organization -- and to destroy his deputy.

The battle over the deputy leadership started in Damascus in 1985, when Abu Nidal was still abroad, traveling between Poland and Libya. He sensed -- and rightly so -- that Abu Nizar, who had run the show in his long absence, had become a powerful figure in his own right, with a personal following swollen by the influx of new recruits in Lebanon. So Abu Nidal, as was his custom, started to attack Abu Nizar in sharply worded letters to the Central Committee and conspired to replace him with a young man in his mid-thirties, Isam Maraqa (code name Salim Ahmad).

Maraqa was generally considered mediocre, but he had two features that endeared him to Abu Nidal: He was the husband of his wife's niece, and therefore part of the family; and he was slavishly loyal to Abu Nidal. Born in the early 1950s, he was a blond, blue-eyed man from Khalil, in the West Bank, who had gone to Iraq in the early 1970s to study at the Basra Agricultural College, but he had dropped out to join Fatah before finishing his course. In 1974 he sided with Abu Nidal and went to work in the Military Committee. Abu Nidal took to him and pushed him up the ladder, securing his election to the Central Committee in 1986 and then, in the teeth of opposition from the rest of the leadership, to the Political Bureau itself. It was the first time a member had risen so high without a majority vote in his favor in the leadership.

Enraged at the opposition to his plans for Maraqa, Abu Nidal denounced Abu Nizar, who, puzzled and hurt, withdrew to his house for several months and refused to attend meetings. He was persuaded to resume his duties only by the need to mobilize for the War of the Camps -- which, in Abu Nidal's mind, it turned out, was yet another reason to kill him.

By the time the organization left Syria in 1987, Abu Nidal had secured the appointment of Isam Maraqa as his deputy -- based in Lebanon, with Dr. Ghassan, head of the Secretariat -- while Abu Nizar, stripped of his powers, was shunted aside to the Organization Directorate and transferred to Libya, under Abu Nidal's direct control.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:15 am



This ultrasecret committee controls the files of every member of the organization, whoever and wherever he may be. Originally paper files, they are now being computerized. No one knows for certain how many members Abu Nidal has and who they are. PLO sources put the total at several hundred. In 1986, Israeli intelligence estimated the strength at five hundred to eight hundred active members and several hundred sympathizers. Western sources suggest the membership could be as large as two thousand men, since the organization has the allegiance of many Palestinian students at universities in different parts of the world.

Since 1987, the committee has been based in Sidon, Lebanon, and has been headed by Aziz Abd al-Khaliq (code name Awwad), a West Bank Palestinian, born in 1947, who joined the organization in Baghdad as a young man.

Abu Nidal made every effort to keep this committee hermetically sealed off from the rest of the organization. No one was allowed access to its offices, and no direct contacts -- not by the leadership, still less by ordinary cadres -- were allowed with its staff. The committee functions both as an information bank and as a security sieve, for it has the power to accept or reject recommendations for membership submitted by other committees and directorates.

Its personnel files contain whatever is known about each member of the organization: birth, family background, education, relatives, marriage, children, career history, political allegiances -- and, of course, details of any intelligence or security agencies with which he might have been involved. Also included is the member's photograph, photographs of his wife, children, and relatives, and photocopies of his passport. A key entry is the long autobiographical statement that each member, and each candidate for membership, is obliged to write, spelling out the details of his life to date. Supplementary information may be called for if the committee sees fit. It might, for example, ask a member or would-be member if he knows the names of anyone in Jordanian intelligence or in the CIA or merely anyone rich. It might ask a member if he suspects his fiancee of having had relations with other men before him and, if so, with whom. Answers must be given in full, and the committee's decision is final.

Once accepted into the organization, a member may still have to face further questioning months or years later, and he might, as happened to Jorde, be asked to write out his autobiographical statement again, or face further probing if fresh material surfaces about him.

The committee will also pronounce on where in the organization the new member is to be placed, but clearly, members of the leadership also have a say in such matters. If a cadre is seen to have military qualities, for example, someone in the leadership can recommend his transfer to a suitable position. If he is thought to have political potential, he is assigned to political work. Abu Nidal intervenes when someone is spotted with a talent for intelligence or security work.

Most members join the organization on the recommendation of an existing member, but once in his job, a new member is forbidden to have any contact whatsoever with the cadre who first recommended him for membership. If a person recommends himself for membership, he will immediately be suspected of being a plant and will have to undergo a long, difficult examination. The investigation may be prolonged. If suspicions are thought to be well founded, the usual procedure is to accept the candidate for membership, transfer him to a "training camp," arrest and interrogate him, and, more often than not, kill him. To prepare for such eventualities, the organization takes the precaution of making would-be members sign a form, as Jorde did, saying that they agree to be put to death if treachery can be proved against them. When the organization was in Syria, any such suspect candidates for membership were usually transferred to Lebanon and dealt with there.

A good deal of poaching takes place from other Palestinian organizations -- a task to which the Intelligence Directorate applies itself. In fact, each directorate and committee is involved in poaching and recruitment -- from the street, from refugee camps, from villages, from other organizations. And constant efforts are made to infiltrate and plant members on other organizations.


This directorate is in many ways the most overt part of the organization. It administers two committees, the Publications Committee and the Political Relations Committee; and like some of its sister institutions, its activities are divided between Lebanon and Libya, with the Libyan end known as the Bureau of the Political Directorate Abroad.

The main function of the Publications Committee is to publish Filastin al-Thawra (Palestine the Revolution), the organization's weekly journal and principal mouthpiece. (Its name is the same as the PLO's magazine, another example of Abu Nidal's wish to present himself as a rival and alternative to Yasser Arafat's movement.)

The magazine was first edited in Baghdad; it then moved to Damascus, from the early 1980s to June 1987; and then, after the organization's departure from Syria, it established its headquarters in Lebanon, in the southern Shuf, in territory controlled by the Druze leader Walid Jumblat. About twelve thousand copies a week are printed and distributed.

Because the organization is isolated and clandestine, and at war with a host of Palestinian and other enemies, the magazine is its voice and platform. It is Abu Nidal's main medium of information, of propaganda, of political expression, but also the means by which he communicates his current political line to his scattered members. Occasionally, it has been used to transmit coded instructions. When the organization was in Syria, an attempt was made to publish an English-language edition of the magazine, but only two issues appeared.

The Publications Committee also produces posters, postcards, and other publicity material, as well as a series of booklets, of which ten have so far appeared under the imprint Manshurat Filastin al-Thawra (Palestine the Revolution Publications). In the late 1980s, Abu Nidal was believed to be spending about $165,000 a month on the activities of the Publications Committee.

When based in Syria, the Publications Committee owned and operated a printing press and a news service under the cover of Dar Sabra (the Sabra Publishing House). Its editorial department was housed in two Damascus apartments, while the computers, electronic typesetting, and German press (which had been purchased in 1984 for 22 million Syrian lira) were housed in a works outside the city.

Dar Sabra was headed by a Palestinian journalist, Dr. Ahmad Abu Matar, an able man with a doctorate in Arabic literature, whose allegiance to the organization was not generally known. He had had a career in radical Palestinian politics, having been involved with Dr. Wadi Haddad's PFLP in the 1970s, before secretly joining Abu Nidal in 1983. He used to claim that the apartments and the printing press were jointly owned by himself and his wife's family, but they in fact belonged to the organization, and Dr. Matar was paid a salary of $1,300 a month, together with a house, car, and travel expenses. With his wide range of contacts in journalism, politics, and the world of intelligence, he made great play of being independent, even writing critical articles about Abu Nidal in the Beirut press. However, he also reported regularly to Abu Nidal on intelligence and security matters.

When the organization left Syria, much of Dar Sabra was closed down, except for the news service, which Dr. Matar continued to run as a private business (although it has been suspected of links with Syrian intelligence). Dr. Matar has left the organization but has not wholly escaped Abu Nidal's attentions: Since 1989, a number of attempts have been made to abduct him to Lebanon, presumably to kill him there.

In Lebanon, the organization controlled a news service called Manara Press, which bought material from free-lance writers and sold it to news agencies and newspapers. On the surface it was a straightforward journalistic outfit, but it too provided the organization with political intelligence, gleaned from its contacts. In Beirut, Manara Press was for several years managed by a Lebanese woman, called Ibtissam Abbud, on a contract basis. She knew that Abu Nidal controlled the company, but she was not a member of his organization. In 1987, rebelling against his dictatorial methods, she decided to resign and claim statutory compensation. The organization's answer was to try to kill her. On orders from Alaa (the Lebanon-based head of the Intelligence Directorate), a car in which she and her fiance were driving came under fire. He was killed and she was seriously wounded. Reporting the incident, the Lebanese press spoke of "unknown assailants."

At one time, Manara Press also had a Damascus branch, run by one of Abu Nidal's nieces, Salwa al-Banna, a relatively independent-minded journalist who had specialized in Palestinian affairs and had built up a good range of contacts. But her family connection did not spare her Abu Nidal's harsh discipline. When she refused to marry within the organization and attempted to have a social life of her own -- an aspiration he found wholly reprehensible -- he had her imprisoned for a year in Iraq. Suitably chastened, she eventually agreed to marry Ibrahim al-Tamimi (code name Tariq Mahmud), a member of the Publications Committee, and in 1987 she returned to full-time work with the organization, joining the editorial board of Filastin al-Thawra.

But the editorial side of the magazine, like the rest of the organization, was subject to draconian controls. Abu Nidal laid down a whole dictionary of terms and expressions that had to be rigidly adhered to. The PLO was invariably referred to as "the so-called PLO"; Israel, as the "Zionist entity"; Jordan, as the "East Jordan regime"; Saudi Arabia, as "the regime of the Saudi family" or as the "Zionized family." Abusive sneerings constituted the entire political content of the articles.

Members of the committee trembled as they wrote, because any departure from the formula laid them open to security accusations. You could be a journalist one day and on trial the next. Failure to grasp the organization's political line, as laid down by the supreme "brain" and "architect," was a serious crime. Having to write to Abu Nidal's dictation, the editors were more like hostages than journalists. Copy arriving from Libya -- it was reverently called "central material" -- had to be used intact and without alteration. Even grammatical errors had to go uncorrected.

For a brief period, 1985 to 1987, the journal broke out of these shackles and became a genuinely Palestinian magazine able to compete with those of other groups. It was edited at that time by Atif Abu Bakr, the reformist ideologue, who tried to address Palestinian concerns: the War of the Camps; disunity in Palestinian ranks; the dangers facing the Palestinian people; and so forth. When Abu Nidal sent him an article that alleged that Arafat was suffering from AIDS, Abu Bakr refused to run it. Was it political AIDS, he inquired mockingly, or the real thing? If it was the illness, then it was simply untrue and slander was not the way to challenge policies with which one disagreed. But by 1987 Abu Nidal had regained control, and the magazine reverted to its old ways. Arafat was once more the "enemy within," the traitor who was steering the Palestinian ship onto the rocks.

There were, of course, other changes of tone in the magazine, depending on where it was based. When it was in Iraq in the 1970s, Syria was depicted as "the treacherous, Alawi, sectarian regime," while Iraq was the "nationalist regime," the "backbone of the Arab revolution." When the organization moved to Damascus, it was Syria's turn to be praised as the "champion of strategic balance." On Abu Nidal's orders, a photograph of President Assad appeared in every issue to illustrate flattering articles about Syria. Meanwhile, Iraq was abused as a "fascist dictatorship," Iran's victories in that Gulf war were extolled, and Iraq's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, became the special butt of Abu Nidal's venom: His Christian origins and "Crusader mentality" were constantly attacked. He was the tool of "a Vatican conspiracy against the Arabs," it was claimed. Then, when the move to Libya took place, Assad's picture was dropped, together with all flattery of Syria, and Qaddafi and Libya were praised.

The Political Directorate's second committee was the Political Relations Committee, in charge of handling all the organization's political relationships -- with Arab and foreign states, with political parties, with other Palestinian factions -- except for those of an intelligence or security nature. Abu Nidal could not resist poaching from the committee those relationships that interested him -- such as the relationship with France, for example -- on the argument that they were really an intelligence matter. But he was clever enough to realize that some relationships were better handled by reasonably open-minded people on the committee, able to conduct sensible political discussions, rather than by the thugs of his Intelligence Directorate.

Atif Abu Bakr was head of the Political Directorate from 1985 to 1987. He was replaced by Mansur Hamdan, a mild, cultured man who, in return for a quiet life, was evidently prepared to do Abu Nidal's bidding. As for the Political Relations Committee, it was divided into two when the organization left Syria, one part going to Lebanon to supervise relations with Palestinian and Lebanese factions, and the other to Libya, where it reported directly to Abu Nidal. Since 1987, the head of this committee has been Rizk Sa'id Abd al-Majid (code name Walid Khalid), who came to the attention of the foreign press at the time of the Silco affair, for which he acted as the organization's spokesman. As we shall see later, Silco was a converted French fishing boat captured by the Libyans in 1986 somewhere between Malta and Libya. A year later, in November 1987, Abu Nidal claimed this was his operation, in order to get Qaddafi off the hook.


The headquarters of this directorate were situated wherever Abu Nidal happened to be -- in Iraq, Poland, Syria, or Libya -- and the men who ran it were never anything more than employees, with full allegiance to him. All money matters were kept firmly in his own hands. It was Abu Nidal himself who monitored the foreign bank accounts, who determined the size of the organization's budget, who approved the monthly transfers of funds and made all the investment decisions. The more I investigated Abu Nidal's organization, the clearer it became to me that what he cared most about was the millions tucked away in foreign banks -- together with his personal security, which in turn dictated his political relations with his host countries. His preoccupation with money and with the broad political and diplomatic picture meant that he left the planning and conduct of operations largely to others, giving men like Dr. Ghassan al-Ali and Alaa great leeway.

The Finance Directorate was divided into two branches, one dealing with expenditure, the other with investments. The first dealt with the organization's spending on a day-to-day basis; the second managed funds, kept an eye on companies owned or partly owned by the organization, traded in arms and other commodities, collected commissions due on middleman activities. Although the directorate is at present based in Libya, where Abu Nidal can control it, a senior member of the leadership lives in Lebanon and supervises expenditure in that country.

The real head of this directorate is Abu Nidal. His deputy, Atif Hammuda (code-named Abu Siham), is an uninspired but useful technocrat who has been with the organization since its foundation. Although he has been a member of the Central Committee for years, he has never been known to utter a word at any of its meetings. As the custodian of the organization's financial secrets, he is not allowed to have social contacts with anyone and lives in great isolation. His sister is married to Ali al-Farra (Dr. Kamal), the Libyan-based intelligence supremo and Abu Nidal's right-hand man.

(Hammuda's predecessor as deputy head of the Finance Directorate was a certain Khalid al-Madi who, being less of a doormat, dared voice certain reservations about his work. To chastise him for not displaying the right slavish mentality, Abu Nidal removed him from his post and from the Central Committee and demoted him to being an ordinary cadre. In a further twist, characteristic of Abu Nidal, a pension paid to his old mother, who was then living with him, was stopped and the air conditioner from his house removed -- a grueling enough punishment in Libya in mid-summer.)

In the 1980s, two men were largely responsible for the foreign investments of the group. One was Dirar Abd al-Fattah al- Silwani, a member of the command of the Finance Directorate, who, from offices in East Berlin, ran one of the organization's companies, called Zibado. But Dirar defected first to West Germany and then to the United States, spilling the beans to the CIA about Abu Nidal's investment and trading network.

A second important overseas manager was Samir Najm al-Din (code name Abu Nabil), who, from a base in Warsaw, ran the SAS Foreign Trade and Investment Company, a large corporation with several branches and interests, ranging from property development to arms trading. (SAS stood for the first letters of the names of three members of the Finance Directorate: Samir Najm al-Din himself; Adnan al-Kaylani; and Shakir Farhan -- the last name an alias for Atif Hammuda.)

Samir Najmal-Din was a Palestinian from Iraq with a head for business who in the 1980s was already in his sixties. He made SAS a commercial success, which may have been the reason for his downfall. In 1987, Abu Nidal summoned him to Libya and demoted him. He forbade anyone to have dealings with Najm al-Din, and to break him further, he had his son-in-law, whose name was Dr. Sadiq, arrested, held captive for a year, and then murdered in September 1989. Abu Nidal then claimed that Sadiq had been killed by the Mossad.

When Abu Nidal first thought of branching out on his own in the early 1970s, he had very few assets. His first real acquisitions were Fatah's assets in Iraq, valued at some $4 million, which the Iraqis handed over to him. (This estimate excludes the $15 million worth of arms that they also gave him.) Then the Iraqis gave him another $5 million when Fatah condemned him to death. He was clever with money and managed, with these relatively small sums, to make sound high-return investments. No one in the organization knew the details of the banks or the brokers through whom he dealt. Such matters he kept very much to himself.

He made a lot of money from blackmail and extortion, adding substantially to his assets. Sources inside the organization told me that he had been shaking down the Saudis since the 1970s, using contacts he had made when he worked in Saudi Arabia. The go-between was a Saudi living in London. From blackmailing the Saudis and lesser Gulf rulers, he is estimated to have collected some $50 million in the twelve years from 1976 to 1988.

More money came from arms trading. Iraqi intelligence sources told me that Abu Nidal fronted for Iraq in buying weapons on the international market and shipping them to political factions and liberation movements that Iraq wished to support. By using Abu Nidal as an intermediary, the Iraqis were able to deny all knowledge of the traffic. "He made millions through his arms deals on our behalf," the Iraqis told me.

Those mid-1970s deals put Abu Nidal in touch with Polish and Bulgarian suppliers and with Syrian, Lebanese, and Iraqi dealers. In the late 1970s he made still more money selling Polish small arms and light machine guns to tribesmen on the borders of Saudi Arabia and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, a betrayal, incidentally, of the Saudis, who had been buying him off for years. He would buy a Kalashnikov in Poland for $120 and sell it in South Arabia for ten times that sum. He also bought cut-price copies of Western weapons from Bulgarian state corporations. He made money from these deals, but more importantly, he used these East-bloc countries as safe havens for his various operations.

Before the Iraq-Iran War, Abu Nidal had about $120 million, but by the end of the war in 1988, this sum, Western intelligence sources told me, had grown to $400 million. Like many other dealers, he made a fortune selling arms to both Iraq and Iran. The big money came in the 1980s, most of it from selling East-bloc weapons.

Most of his funds are salted away in nominee companies or deposited in banks in Switzerland, Austria, and Spain. Funds he deposited with the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in London were lost when it was found out in 1991 that the bank was run by bigger crooks than himself. Ghassan Ahmad Qasim, a former manager of BCCI's branch on Sloane Street, West London, said on the BBC's "Panorama" program on July 29,1991, that an account containing about $50 million was opened at a BCCI branch in London in 1981 by Samir Najm al-Din, Abu Nidal's commercial adviser, and was used to finance arms deals with British companies. Qasim said he had escorted Abu Nidal on shopping trips during three visits he made to London in the 1980s. He also said that he had been recruited by MI5, Britain's security service, in 1987 to pass on information about Abu Nidal's financial dealings with BCCI.

Much of Abu Nidal's money was deposited in foreign banks in the names of his wife; his son, Nidal; his daughter, Badia; her husband; and other members of his family. He was said to have placed $20 million in an account in the name of his wife's sister's son -- when the boy was still underage. Large sums were also deposited in the names of leading members such as Abu Nizar, Samir Najm al-Din, Dr. Ghassan, and others, usually with two signatories per account. But in 1985, Abu Nidal regained control of these funds. According to Atif Abu Bakr, Abu Nidal said to Abu Nizar, "Your joint account with such-and-such a bank in Geneva has been identified. We now think it best that it be transferred to the name of so-and-so." So Abu Nizar would go to the bank and relinquish his signatory rights to the person whom Abu Nidal had named. This was usually Atif Hammuda, deputy head of the Finance Directorate, who in turn gave Abu Nidal power of attorney over all the funds held in his name. He was one of the more mobile members of the directorate, investigating the organization's companies abroad, withdrawing or depositing funds in Swiss banks, and monitoring the various accounts. He behaved, according to one inside source, like Abu Nidal's lap dog, and Abu Nidal often referred to him as "you damn dog!"


This infamous committee runs the organization's prisons, interrogation centers, and places of execution. Its main base is in the village of Bqasta, in the southern Shuf Mountains of Lebanon, a location leased by Abu Nidal from the Druze leader Walid Jumblat. Two neighboring Druze villages, Karkha and Alma, are used by Abu Nidal as an arms depot and a military base. In exchange for the use of Druze territory, Abu Nidal supplies Jumblat with arms, expertise, funds, and security. It is a mutually convenient arrangement.

The committee is officially headed by Abdallah Hasan (code name Abu Nabil), a former schoolteacher now approaching sixty, who is not directly involved in interrogations or torture. But since he signs execution orders, he is nevertheless implicated in the committee's crimes.

Hasan was a senior and long-standing member of Fatah who left to join Colonel Abu Musa at the time of the 1983 Fatah mutiny. When that mutiny collapsed, he rallied to Abu Nidal in 1985. But he was not wholly trusted and, in fact, faced interrogation in 1987, which resulted in a heart attack. With his hands still manacled, he was rushed to the Ghassan Hammud hospital in Sidon, where he recovered. He was reinstated in his job on the committee but lives in the shadow of a sort of permanent blackmail.

The real boss of the committee is Mustafa Ibrahim Sanduqa (code name Khaldun), who is married to one of Abu Nidal's nieces. He is a member of the Central Committee and used to take the minutes at its meetings. He therefore knows many of Abu Nidal's secrets. In the following chapter, I shall describe the events of November 1989, when a Mossad agent was discovered. This episode led me to suspect that if there was an Israeli connection, Sanduqa, like Dr. Ghassan and Alaa, was probably part of it.


This small unit, responsible for forging passports, visas, immigration stamps, and diverse documents, used to be an independent body but, since the move to Libya, has been attached to the Intelligence Directorate and, like the principal committees of that directorate, is based in Libya, close to Abu Nidal.

The need for passports is an enduring preoccupation and one to which Abu Nidal gives his personal attention. All members' passports are in his personal custody. When in Syria and Lebanon, the organization made use of Armenian expertise in the printing business, through its contacts with ASALA, the Armenian secret army. Forged passports printed in Italy and Japan were also acquired, while the Sudan proved a useful source of genuine passports, largely because the political upheavals of recent years opened its bureaucracy to corruption and bribery.

One member of the Technical Committee is Isma'il Abd al-Latif Yusuf (code name Hamdi Abu Yusuf), a Palestinian from Gaza, who has concerned himself with forgeries over many years. Recently, he has been in charge of computer programming at the organization's Sidon offices. He also worked at one time as Abu Nidal's private secretary, is one of his proteges, and knows many of his secrets. The only shadow over his career is a spell in a Turkish jail in the 1970s when, under interrogation, he is believed to have told the Turks what he knew.


This is another small committee, specializing in developing and manufacturing weapons and explosive devices -- car bombs, suitcase bombs, guns concealed in briefcases (which fire when the handle is squeezed), lethal cigars, chemical poisons, methods of sedation, and the like. Its team of specialists attempts to follow developments in these fields and apply them to the organization's needs.

The present head of the committee is Mustafa Abu al-Fawaris (code name Naji), who headed the old Military Committee when the organization was in Baghdad and who lost a hand and an eye in one of his own experiments in 1973.

Fawaris has had no scientific training as such, but through long service with the organization he has acquired a good deal of practical experience. He was a military instructor at a Fatah camp in Iraq in 1968 and stayed on when Abu Nidal "inherited" Fatah's assets in that country.

The committee occupies several buildings in the Lebanese village of Wardaniyya, in the southern Shuf.


Wholly separate from the organization's other directorates and committees, the People's Army is a regular militia closely resembling those of other Palestinian factions. It is found only in Lebanon and concerns itself with Palestinian guerrilla fighters, their bases, training, weapons, and equipment.

It has no connection whatsoever with the secret agents and arms caches of the Intelligence Directorate or with special missions, foreign operations, assassinations, kidnappings, and so forth. Nor should it be confused with the former Military Committee that later grew into the Intelligence Directorate.

The People's Army was set up in 1985, when the organization came aboveground in Lebanon and started recruiting members en masse. As has been mentioned, it benefited from the 1983 mutiny in Fatah, when large numbers of fighters came over to Abu Nidal from Abu Salih. The role played by the People's Army in the War of the Camps increased its visibility and contributed to the organization's transformation from a purely secret network.

The head of the People's Army is Wasfi Hannun, a member of the Political Bureau and the only link with the organization as a whole. He used to be a sensitive, well-educated man. Originally from Anabta, in the West Bank, Hannun completed his studies at Mosul, in Iraq. He started with Fatah but joined Abu Nidal from the very start in 1974. However, his association with Abu Nidal has driven him to commit crimes that have broken and perverted him. Of these, the most terrible was the killing of his own mother-in-law and sister-in-law in 1986, on Abu Nidal's false charge that they were agents of Jordanian intelligence.

The story is worth recounting as an illustration of what happens to men caught up in Abu Nidal's organization. It involves not only Wasfi Hannun but also his brother-in-law, a cadre named Mahmud Tamim (code name Ali Abdallah), who now heads the Bureau of the Political Directorate Abroad -- that is to say, the Libyan end of the Political Directorate. Tamim has also had a painful and checkered history, and the story begins with him.

Before being posted to Libya, Tamim was employed by the organization in Lebanon, where he was accused of working for Jordan. With his wife and children, he was jailed for over three months, and as a form of coercion, they were all forced to bark like dogs. On being let out, the children continued to bark when spoken to, because they had become used to it.

Tamim's wife was one of a family of four sisters, one of whom was married to Wasfi Hannun. When Tamim and his wife were arrested, his wife's mother, accompanied by her youngest daughter, came to Damascus from Jordan to see what had happened. On arrival, they were seized, taken to Lebanon, and executed on the grounds that they, too, were Jordanian agents. Abu Nidal even alleged that the young woman had been sent to seduce Hannun and recruit him for the Jordanians. In a sick flight of fantasy, he described the pink nightgown she was supposed to have worn and her stock of poisons. Abu Nidal condemned them to death but specified that Hannun himself was to execute them.

The experience of killing his mother-in-law and sister-in-law to save his own life evidently unhinged him. Inside sources say that Wasfi Hannun is now resigned to perishing before long. He knows that his role at the head of the People's Army is largely a decorative one.

From my investigations, I concluded that real power in Lebanon was in the hands of Sulaiman Samrin (Dr. Ghassan al-Ali), first secretary of the Central Committee and head of the Secretariat; Mustafa Awad (Alaa), head of the Intelligence Directorate; and Mustafa Ibrahim Sanduqa (Khaldun), boss of the Justice Committee.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:17 am

Chapter 10: Invisible Strings

The case for suspecting a possible link between Israel and Abu Nidal rests on a body of evidence, much of it inferential and conjectural, some of it more substantial. In the previous chapters I discussed the possible involvement of Israeli agents, principally North Africans, in the murder of Palestinian moderates generally attributed to Abu Nidal. I then sought to identify the senior men inside the organization who might be directing these agents and otherwise manipulating operations in Israel's interest.


A curious aspect of Abu Nidal's activities, especially in Lebanon, also attracted my attention and fed my suspicions. Since the late 1960s, Israel has repeatedly bombed, shelled, raided, and overrun the positions of its Palestinian and Shi'ite opponents in Lebanon -- whether they be Fatah, the PFLP, the DFLP, the PFLP-General Command, Hizballah, or others. Israel has had a largely free hand in Lebanon. It controls the skies over Lebanon, and even on the ground in the south, there is little to stop it. Hardly a month passes without the publication of an Israeli military communique announcing a raid against "terrorist positions," which usually ends with the ritual formula "Our planes returned safely to base."

Since the 1970s, Israel has also regularly sent ground forces on punitive missions north of its self-styled security zone, established in southern Lebanon in 1978. And as we have seen, it has also sent hit teams to many countries to seek out and kill prominent Palestinians. Most of these attacks are described as preemptive, intended to keep the enemy off balance. If the Palestinians do from time to time manage to slip a punch through Israel's defenses, massive retaliation always follows: It is Israel's official policy that attacks on it must never go unpunished -- and with one curious exception, they never do go unpunished.

Abu Nidal has very largely been left alone. Despite his attacks on the El Al counters at airports in Rome and Vienna, his murderous assaults on synagogues in Istanbul and several European cities, and other anti-Jewish crimes, his organization in Lebanon and Libya has never seriously been hit by the Mossad's assassination squads or by the Israeli air force, which has so extensively bombed other Palestinian positions. That Abu Nidal should be left to kill Jews with impunity is an extraordinary -- indeed outrageous -- departure from Israeli policy. A German expert on counterterrorism told me in London in 1990, "Those that the Israelis want to destroy, they destroy, even if it means sending in assassins. But what have they ever done to Abu Nidal in fifteen years? He seems more like a protected species that the Mossad wants to keep alive!"

Abu Nidal's large establishment near the village of Bqasta, east of Sidon, in Lebanon, known as the Cadres School, is in fact a military camp, standing alone and exposed in the mountains. It presents an unmistakable target from the air. Only once, in the summer of 1988, has the Cadres School been attacked, when an Israeli precision bomb hit a single tent, killing eight female trainees but leaving intact dozens of other buildings housing Abu Nidal's troops and staff.

Before a split within Abu Nidal's ranks that would make them fear each other, the top men in his organization moved about southern Lebanon unprotected, as if they knew they were not at risk from Israel. They slept in unguarded houses and, in spite of their rhetoric about being threatened by "hostile services," lived perfectly normal lives. This complacency reigned even though everyone knew that the organization had hit Israel's ambassador in London in June 1982, to say nothing of the Istanbul synagogue and other Jewish targets.

There have been no victims of Israeli reprisals among Abu Nidal's top leadership.


Another aspect of Abu Nidal's activities puzzled me. Palestinian nationalists from the socialist left to the Islamic right regard the intifada in the occupied territories as the great national battle, a unique effort, after years of passivity, to liberate the territories. Abu Nidal has struck targets in nearly all parts of the world -- Bangkok, Australia, Peru. Yet he has not thrown a stone in the occupied territories, either before or during the intifada. In all the years I have been talking to people from the territories, no one has ever heard of a single operation -- no matter how trivial -- attributed to Abu Nidal. Eight-year-old children throw stones at Israeli troops. Old women brave tear gas. Abu Nidal does nothing. Palestinians from the territories hardly know his name, because he has committed no men, donated not a penny, done nothing at all -- absolutely nothing -- to support their struggle against Israeli rule. When the United National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU), the umbrella organization running the intifada, was set up in 1988, Abu Nidal's publications considered it an extension of Arafat's PLO and ignored it completely.

Abu Nidal's inattention to the Palestinian cause is reflected in the structure of his organization. The Intelligence Directorate's Committee for Special Missions -- which mounts assassinations -- employs dozens of cadres and has unlimited funds. The Organization Directorate's Palestine/Jordan Committee has almost no funds or facilities and was for a long time manned by only two persons -- Samir Darwish, who was sent on a mission to Peru, where he was arrested, and Fadil al-Qaisi, who died in London after undergoing heart surgery. Throughout the entire intifada, Abu Nidal has given no additional resources to the Palestine/Jordan Committee and mounted no operations in southern Lebanon, like those by other Palestinian organizations, to harass the Israelis.

In 1988, Atif Abu Bakr called for a special session of the leadership to see what could be done to help the intifada. Abu Nidal sabotaged the meeting by discussing such trivia as whose wife had been seen at the hairdresser's? Who had lunched at a fancy restaurant in Switzerland instead of making do with a sandwich? And who had thrown away a kilo of perfectly edible tomatoes at the training camp?

Far from supporting the intifada, Abu Nidal has deliberately interfered with it, as, for example in the case of the mysterious Lt. Col. Ma'mun Mraish. Universally known in the Palestinian underground as Ma'mun al-Saghir, Mraish was one of Fatah's ablest and most active officers. He was based at its clandestine naval station in Greece, where, in association with Abu Jihad, he was principally concerned with moving men and weapons into the occupied territories. The Mossad had every reason to want him dead.

But there was a further dimension to Mraish. Palestinian sources say that he had excellent contacts with the Soviets and had given them information, and even sensitive technical equipment, which he was well placed to acquire. The CIA must therefore have been on his trail as well.

On August 20, 1983, a hot summer's day, in a coastal suburb of Athens, a gunman riding pillion on a motorcycle came abreast Mraish's car and killed him outright with a burst of machine-gun fire. The PLO concluded that either the Mossad or the CIA was responsible.

But the Russians did not let the matter rest. They considered Mraish their man and wanted his killer. They investigated the case for several months and concluded that Mraish had been killed by Abu Nidal. They presented their evidence to Atif Abu Bakr, then head of Abu Nidal's Political Directorate, and demanded an explanation. Was Abu Nidal aware, they asked, of the risks he was running by killing Soviet agents?

When I interviewed him in Tunis after he had defected from Abu Nidal, Atif Abu Bakr told me that he had confronted Abu Nidal with the Soviet accusation and that to his great surprise, Abu Nidal had said they were right, he had killed Mraish to get back at Fatah. But he made it clear, Abu Bakr added, that he did not want his part in the affair to come out. Many Palestinians knew that Mraish was one of the most effective links between the PLO and the West Bank, and Abu Nidal, therefore, did not want it to be known that he had killed him.

It was not only in the occupied territories that Abu Nidal's behavior seemed to me suspect. It is well known that southern Lebanon, north of Israel's security zone, has for years been home to a number of rival parties and militias of widely differing composition and ideology -- Shi'ite, Druze, Nasserist, communist, Ba'athist, pan-Syrian, as well as the various Palestinian factions -- which often clash as they seek to defend their turf. Men from several of these groups have told me that whenever one Palestinian faction clashed with another, Abu Nidal's men would fire at both sides, provoking further conflict. Abu Nidal has also used similar tactics against the two Shi'ite factions, Amal and Hizballah.

Sidon is the major port of southern Lebanon. It is presided over by the "Nasserist" leader Mustafa Sa'd, whose city lives next to, and in reasonable amity with, the large PLO-dominated refugee camp of Ain al-Hilwa. Yet a defector from Abu Nidal's organization told me that Abu Nidal repeatedly sent masked men to infiltrate the refugee camp at night, to throw grenades and wreak havoc there, and at the same time plant bombs in Sidon, as if to incite hostilities between the PLO camp and Sa'd's militia. In the summer of 1990, these tactics were uncovered and several of Abu Nidal's members were expelled from both Sidon and Ain al-Hilwa.

Former officers of Abu Nidal's People's Army told me that Abu Nidal himself used to instruct his people in Lebanon to report to him on the strength, dispositions, and operations of other forces in Lebanon, and particularly the Syrian army. The Syrians once intercepted a messenger carrying reports back to Abu Nidal. Why and for whom, they wanted to know, was Abu Nidal collecting information about them?

A former member of Abu Nidal's Justice Committee told me that when Mossad agents were captured by the organization, they would usually be killed almost at once, often on the very day of their arrest. The standard practice is to keep such prisoners alive long enough to extract as much information as possible from them. If a prisoner is killed before he has talked, then the killing is usually to prevent him from talking. My informant suspected that someone had been planted in the Justice Committee to kill off captured Mossad agents before they could confess.


In July 1989, Abu Nidal's People's Army, his militia in Lebanon, learned that a two-man Mossad cell was operating in the big Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilwa, near Sidon. One of these Mossad operatives, Ziyad Zaidan, voluntarily confessed his links with the Israelis to the head of security of the People's Army in South Lebanon, who was code-named Sufyan. He said he wanted to clear his conscience and wash away the stain on his past. He was prepared to die for the terrible wrongs he had done to the Palestinian cause.

He told Sufyan that he had been captured by the Israelis near Sidon during the 1982 war, taken to Israel, jailed, recruited, trained, and sent back to Lebanon as a spy.

Zaidan revealed that he and his colleague, Fathi Harzallah, a relative from the West Bank town of Tal, near Nablus, had worked for the Mossad in South Lebanon since 1982, interpreting aerial photographs taken by Israeli reconnaissance aircraft. They would be sent films (he had one with him at the time, which was several meters long) of the Ain al-Hilwa camp and other locations, on which individual buildings were numbered in red. His job was to identify the buildings and tell the Israelis who was living and working there and when they were most likely to be at home.

He told Sufyan that over the years, he had radioed to Israel, using a cipher he had been given, no fewer than seven thousand messages and that he had been responsible for scores of Israeli air raids on Lebanon and for hundreds of Palestinian casualties. He said he was making good money at it.

Zaidan had returned to Israel two or three times for debriefing and further training. He would be told by radio where to wait on the shore for a small boat with frogmen in it to pick him up, usually before dawn. In the case of trouble, Zaidan and his colleague Harzallah could raise a white flag on a certain rooftop and be whisked away by an Israeli helicopter or be rescued from the beach by an Israeli patrol boat.

Abu Nidal's cadre Sufyan was immensely excited by Zaidan's confession. His first thought was that the cell could be "turned" against the Mossad. At the very least, Zaidan and Harzallah could serve as bait to draw onto the shore an Israeli boat or aircraft, which could then be shot up or captured.

Immediately, he took Ziyad Zaidan to see Wasfi Hannun, head of Abu Nidal's People's Army Directorate, who referred the case to Mustafa Awad (Alaa), Abu Nidal's highest-ranking intelligence officer in Lebanon, who was in constant touch with Dr. Ghassan al-Ali and with Abu Nidal. Alaa seemed indifferent to Zaidan's story, even bored by it. He said Sufyan's suggestion of playing back the cell was foolish. It would never work. Puffing calmly on his pipe, he tried to give Sufyan the impression that uncovering a Mossad cell, complete with film and intercepted messages, was routine, unimportant. Alaa did suggest, however, that Zaidan's partner, Fathi Harzallah, be brought in and made to confess his role in the affair, on pain of imprisonment or death.

When Harzallah was confronted, he admitted he was frightened of Israeli reprisals against his two wives and children if he quit. But if he did agree to be turned, he wanted the organization to pay him the $1,500 a month he said he was getting from the Mossad. Harzallah's family and connections in the West Bank seem to have been more heavily involved as collaborators with Israeli intelligence than were Zaidan's. Some years earlier, Fathi had gone to the United Arab Emirates in search of work and had been recruited by Jordanian intelligence. Then, he said, a man from his hometown had come to see him and suggested that if he returned home, the Mossad, in view of his background in intelligence work, would give him an even better deal than Jordan had done. He complied and was recruited and was then sent to Lebanon to work with Zaidan.

Though Alaa discouraged the idea, Sufyan and Zaidan went to the trouble of convincing Fathi to let himself be played back against the Israelis. He finally agreed to cooperate.

Within a day or two of this decision, the Mossad sent Zaidan a radio message summoning him to Israel, only the third such message he had had in the seven years he had been working for the Mossad. Sufyan argued that this was a good opportunity to kill or capture whoever the Israelis sent to pick up Zaidan. He drew up a plan, which he submitted to Alaa, and proposed that if the organization did not have the military resources needed for the operation, another Palestinian group, such as Jibril's PFLP-General Command, would be glad to help.

A day later and without telling Sufyan, Alaa, on direct orders from Abu Nidal, suddenly arrested Fathi Harzallah and charged him with working for the Mossad. The local PLO, which as usual was watching Abu Nidal's operations, learned of Harzallah's arrest and what he was charged with. It immediately arrested Zaidan, the man it knew to be his colleague -- even though it was Zaidan who had first confessed and had indicated his readiness to be turned.

Alerted by the arrest of their agents, the Israelis aborted their planned landing. The operation was blown. Within a month of Zaidan's original confession, any hope of exploiting the Mossad's intelligence failure had collapsed completely.

Palestinian sources with direct knowledge of the case pointed to several suspicious features:

Alaa's skepticism and seeming lack of interest;

the fact that, a year after Fathi Harzallah's arrest, Abu Nidal had still not released anything about his trial or punishment and had not shared with other Palestinian organizations information it may have gathered about Mossad methods, about other links Harzallah may have had, or about the estimated damage done to Palestinian security by the cell;

when Zaidan first approached Sufyan, he remarked that he had hesitated a long time before turning himself in, because of his suspicions about Abu Nidal's organization: Its methods of work, its tradecraft, and its communications, he said, were uncomfortably similar to those of the Mossad, in which he and his fellow agent had been trained;

finally, that Alaa, on orders from Abu Nidal, had aborted the operation suggested complicity with Israeli intelligence.

Sufyan was convinced by Abu Nidal's suspect handling of the case that it was time for him to leave the organization.


Sanduqa, as we have seen, was in charge of the Committee for Revolutionary Justice, the body responsible for prisons, interrogation, torture, and executions. He had previously served as the minute-taker at meetings of the Political Bureau and Central Committee and was married to one of Abu Nidal's nieces.

In October 1989, a certain Yusif Zaidan (no relation to Ziyad Zaidan) emerged as yet another link to the Mossad.

Yusif Zaidan was a German-trained scientist who, on graduation, had joined the PLO's Scientific Committee, first in Beirut, then in Baghdad. When Abu Nidal split from Arafat in 1974 and took over the PLO's Iraqi-based assets, Zaidan made the switch as well and was employed in Abu Nidal's Scientific Committee -- a career that, until that point, was not unlike that of Dr. Ghassan al-Ali, the British-trained chemist who was head of the Secretariat and who is widely suspected by intelligence sources throughout Europe of being the high-level link to Mossad.

In November 1989, Yusif Zaidan disappeared in Lebanon. I was told by my sources that Abu Nidal immediately suspected that he had been kidnapped by his new principal rival, the breakaway Emergency Leadership, which Atif Abu Bakr had formed that month. A man was sent from Sanduqa's Justice Committee to attempt to penetrate the Emergency Leadership and locate Zaidan.

The attempted penetration was discovered, and Sanduqa's man was arrested and interrogated in June 1990 -- by none other than our old friend Sufyan, the defector from Abu Nidal's organization, who was now representing the Emergency Leadership. The interrogation was done conscientiously, without torture or undue force, according to Atif Abu Bakr, and was videotaped, so that it could be shown in Palestinian camps in South Lebanon (as part of the Emergency Leadership's campaign against Abu Nidal).

Sanduqa's man confessed 1) to working for Mossad; 2) that his case officer was none other than Mustafa Ibrahim Sanduqa; and 3) that his mission had been to find Yusif Zaidan, to help him escape, and if he couldn't, to kill him.

The Emergency Leadership concluded that it had stumbled on a Mossad cell inside Abu Nidal's organization, the members of which included not just Zaidan and Sanduqa but the biggest fish of all, Sulaiman Samrin, otherwise known as Dr. Ghassan al-Ali.

Yusif Zaidan and Dr. Ghassan had been friends since the early 1970s, in the days of Fatah's Scientific Committee. PLO intelligence sources confirm that there had been security worries about both of them, because it was feared that they might have been contacted by the Mossad during their student years. They had, in fact, been transferred by the PLO from Beirut to Baghdad, to remove them from the center of PLO operations. But when Abu Nidal took them over in 1974, he instead promoted them. Dr. Ghassan, in particular, rose rapidly.

The Emergency Leadership concluded that when Yusif Zaidan disappeared and was presumed kidnapped, both Dr. Ghassan and Mustafa Ibrahim Sanduqa must have feared that they would be exposed if Zaidan talked. So Sanduqa's man was sent to find Zaidan, to free him or kill him. Atif Abu Bakr's assumption, which he put to me, was that the Israelis had in Dr. Ghassan al-Ali and Mustafa Ibrahim Sanduqa agents at the highest level in Abu Nidal's organization, well placed to carry out, as we shall see, the mass executions by Abu Nidal of his own fighting men in 1987-88.

The Emergency Leadership issued a communique declaring that those torturing and killing the organization's members on spying charges were themselves Mossad spies.


According to my sources Faruq Uthman was an actual link between the Mossad and Abu Nidal. His brother, Nabil Uthman, was for many years a member of Abu Nidal's Organization Directorate, at one time responsible for the Palestine/Jordan Committee. In the late 1980s, he became Abu Nidal's undercover representative in Kuwait. According to PLO intelligence sources, Nabil's brother, Faruq, has, since the early 1970s, been a Mossad agent, working in the occupied territories and abroad; he is said to have betrayed scores of Palestinian families to the Mossad.

Faruq Uthman's minder, according to Atif Abu Bakr, is a Mossad officer who is said to have helped plan the killing of Majid Abu Sharar, an important and influential Fatah official, in Rome in 1981; the raid on PLO headquarters in Tunisia at Hammam al-Shatt in 1985; and the killing of Abu Jihad, Arafat's deputy, in Tunis on April 16, 1988, by an Israeli assassination squad. In this last operation, the Mossad officer worked with Faruq Uthman.

According to Tunisian intelligence sources, Faruq was in Tunis between April 1 and April 17, 1988, traveling on a forged Egyptian passport. On April 17, the morning after the killing of Abu Jihad, he flew from Tunis to Malta, then from Malta to Libya (on a Jordanian passport, said to be the one he normally uses), to visit his brother, Nabil, Abu Nidal's man, and stay in one of Abu Nidal's safe houses in Tripoli.

Abu Nidal knew about Faruq Uthman's background from his cadres, but he did nothing. He said he did not want to embarrass Faruq's brother, Nabil, and told one of his members that offering hospitality to a Mossad agent might one day prove useful.*


Muhammad Khair was a Palestinian from Gaza, born in 1961, who had been a student in Turkey. Abu Nidal trusted him, and in 1986, when the organization was based in Syria, he was put in charge of the archives of the Political Directorate.

But Atif Abu Bakr, then head of this directorate, told me that he disliked Khair's dry manner and his habit of trapping his comrades in unguarded talk so that he could write reports about them. Abu Bakr transferred Khair to Beirut.

A short while later, the organization arrested a Mossad agent in Beirut. Muhammad Khair was told to interrogate him, but instead he killed him immediately, so that he had no chance to tell what he knew about the Mossad. This aroused the suspicions of Khair's colleagues. He was arrested and interrogated in turn -- and confessed that as a student in Turkey, he had committed some misdemeanor and been jailed. The Mossad heard about him and, upon his release, had recruited him.

Khair surprised his interrogators by admitting that one of his tasks had been to kill Atif Abu Bakr by poisoning his coffee. When Abu Bakr was told about this, he was intrigued. Why should the Mossad want to kill him? He was not a terrorist. He was against terrorism and, since 1985, had endeavored to distance the organization from criminal activities and focus it instead on political work. Spurred by the War of the Camps, he had engineered a political and military transformation in the nature of the organization, much to Abu Nidal's displeasure.

When Muhammad Khair was asked about this in Beirut, he replied: "That was just it. The organization had been a criminal gang before Atif tried to politicize it. From Israel's point of view, he had made it far more dangerous. That is why they wanted him dead."


Abu Nidal's massacres of the late 1980s, which I shall describe later, pose one of the greatest riddles of his career. How did an organization whose numbers rarely exceeded a few hundred decide to kill half its members? As we shall see, Abu Nidal in Libya gave the order for the mass liquidation and his faithful henchmen Dr. Ghassan al-Ali, of the secretariat, and Mustafa Ibrahim Sanduqa, of the Justice Committee, carried it out in Lebanon.

Some sources told me that Abu Nidal gave the order for these murders when he was drinking heavily. They said that it was then, usually late at night, that he suffered most acutely from paranoia and feared plots against himself -- fears that may have been deliberately fed by men like Dr. Ghassan. Yet the internal tensions in his organization were in fact not so fierce that he would have needed to kill these men to save himself. On the contrary, it was because of these awful killings that Atif Abu Bakr finally rebelled against him and, with others, broke away in late 1989.

However, among former members of the organization, the explanation most frequently heard for Abu Nidal's murderous behavior is that he wanted to destroy the autonomous group that had emerged in Lebanon in 1985, regain full control, and go underground in Libya.

Whichever way one looks at it, to kill several hundred young men is still an extreme solution, not wholly explicable by Abu Nidal's circumstances at the time. When Atif Abu Bakr and I discussed the killings, he said that Israel had directed Abu Nidal, either directly or through Dr. Ghassan and a few others, to exterminate the organization's best men. "The men they killed were the cream of the organization," he told me, "the best officers and the bravest fighters." Atif Abu Bakr was also amazed to discover that some of the most able agents of the Intelligence Directorate had also been killed. "Undoubtedly, the greatest service Abu Nidal rendered the Israelis was to massacre more than six hundred Palestinian fighters," he concluded.

Then, after the start of the intifada in December 1987, Abu Nidal mounted a series of operations (which I shall describe in "Foreign Affairs") that had no other apparent purpose than to undermine the uprising and damage the Palestinians' interests in countries that had always been friendly to them. A car bomb in Cyprus in 1988 killed and wounded fifteen people and alienated Cypriot opinion; bomb attacks in the Sudan eroded support for the Palestinians in a country that had long and fervently defended them; explosions in Athens and the attack on the City of Poros cruise ship dealt a heavy blow to Greek sympathy for the Palestinian cause; the killing of Saudi diplomats did nothing to win friends in Riyadh; and taking French children hostage on board the Silco did not endear the Palestinians to French opinion.

But before I examine these incidents, there is one other case that contributed to Abu Iyad's belief that Abu Nidal was working for the Israelis or being manipulated by them. This was the Argov affair, the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador in London, which provided the pretext for Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982.


All his life, Menachem Begin had wanted to absorb into the "land of Israel" the territories, conquered by Israel in 1967, that he liked to call Judea and Samaria but are are known as the West Bank. Contrary to Begin's wishes, the local Palestinian population did not want Israeli rule and looked for deliverance to Yasser Arafat's PLO, which was at that time encamped in Lebanon. Begin believed that for Israel to make the West Bank part of "greater Israel," the PLO in Lebanon had to be smashed.

Begin entrusted the destruction of the PLO to his violent defense minister, General Ariel Sharon, who had made a reputation for boldness, brutality, and even recklessness. In 1981, Sharon devised a plan whose main objectives were to invade Lebanon and destroy the PLO; boot out the Syrian expeditionary force that had been there since 1976; and put in power in Beirut the Christian militia leader Bashir Gemayel, who had been groomed as an Israeli vassal.

With Syria neutralized and Lebanon under Israeli control, Israel could integrate the West Bank into a "greater Israel" without internal or external challenge. That was Begin's vision and Sharon's plan.

The circumstances for the enterprise seemed favorable. Israel was overwhelmingly strong, its Arab neighbors weaker and more divided than usual. Egypt, the largest of the Arab states, had made peace with Israel; Syria was isolated and on bad terms with both Iraq and Jordan. Internationally, its name was mud as a result of the massacre at Hama in February 1982. After its five-year struggle against the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, Syria was in no shape to fight. As for the PLO, the main focus of Begin's obsessive hatred of the Palestinians, its quarrelsome militias were badly led, poorly armed, and deeply penetrated by Israeli agents. The PLO was an ineffective military force. Another important factor for Israel was the sympathy and support it enjoyed in Washington from President Ronald Reagan and his secretary of state, Alexander Haig, an excitable soldier-politician who had presidential ambitions and was keenly aware of Israel's muscle in American politics.

But Israel lacked a pretext to invade its defenseless northern neighbor. Haig told Sharon Israel needed "a major, internationally recognized provocation" before it attacked Lebanon.

For months, Begin and Sharon tried to provoke the Palestinians into an armed action to justify a large-scale Israeli attack. Five times between July 1981 and June 1982, Israel massed troops on the frontier -- and five times called them back because the Palestinians refused to fight: In those eleven months, not a single shot was fired by Palestinians across Israel's northern border. It was the same with the Syrians. On December 14, 1981, probably to goad Assad into action, Begin extended Israeli law to the Golan Heights, captured in 1967. Assad knew that if he made a military move, Israel would seize the pretext to hit him. So he did nothing.

What was Israel to do? Begin and Sharon were frustrated. It was at this moment -- of keen apprehension by the Arabs and furious impatience by the Israelis -- that Abu Nidal -- deliberately, Abu Iyad believed -- supplied the provocation Israel so badly needed. On June 3, 1982, one of his gunmen shot and seriously wounded Shlomo Argov, Israel's ambassador to Britain, outside the Dorchester Hotel in London. The gunman and two accomplices were arrested by the British police. They were Nawaf Rosan, an Iraqi passport holder, and Hussein Sa'id and Marwan al-Banna, who carried Jordanian passports. Banna turned out to be a distant cousin of Abu Nidal.

Certainly, Begin knew that Abu Nidal had nothing to do with the PLO, that he was Arafat's most bitter enemy. But Israel was not about to hesitate over such a detail. "Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal," scoffed Israel's chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, in a famous phrase. "We have to strike at the PLO!" On June 4 and 5, Israeli aircraft bombed West Beirut, while long-range artillery and naval guns pounded Palestinian refugee camps, causing hundreds of casualties. On June 6, Israeli ground forces surged across the frontier. Begin's Lebanon war had begun. In the first seven weeks, according to UN figures, seventeen thousand Lebanese and Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed.

Abu Nidal claimed to be a Palestinian patriot, yet how could his people possibly benefit from bringing Israeli bombs and shells raining down on their heads? It might be argued that he wanted Israel to destroy the PLO, so as to leave the Palestinian field open to him. But this theory hardly bears examination. It is true that Abu Nidal had moved his organization to Syria, intending to infiltrate from there into Lebanon, which for him was a prize because of its large Palestinian population, a constituency he hoped to capture from Arafat. But an Israeli invasion of that country, the expulsion of large numbers of Palestinians, and a Lebanon under Israeli or Maronite control certainly would not have furthered his Palestinian ambitions. At this volatile moment in Middle East affairs, it is unlikely that Abu Nidal would choose to kill Argov -- and provoke an entirely predictable Israeli response -- without strong outside encouragement. It seemed to me obvious that either he did the job for one of his sponsors -- Iraq, Syria, possibly Israel -- or that he was manipulated, wittingly or unwittingly, into doing it.

The Israeli writer and editor Uri Avnery, in his book My Friend, the Enemy, writes that Syria put him up to it to provoke the Israelis into destroying Arafat so that Syria could create a new PLO under its control. But from 1976 onward, and especially in the prelude to the war in 1981-82, Syria had done all it could to deny Israel a pretext for invading Lebanon. Syria's efforts to tame the Palestinians, including its controversial and widely condemned use of force against them, were intended to keep them from provoking Israel's attack. The cautious Assad, militarily weak and fearful of Begin's bellicose mood, would do anything to avoid a war with Israel. To suggest that Syria had orchestrated the attack on Argov ignores Syrian fears and policies at that time.

A somewhat more plausible case can be made that Iraq instigated the attack on Argov. The argument is that, ensnared in his war with Iran, Saddam Hussein was looking for an honorable excuse to declare a unilateral cease-fire. An Israeli invasion of Lebanon might provide such an excuse. In fact when Israel invaded, Saddam immediately called for a cease-fire in the Gulf. The Iranians ignored him and the war continued, but there are flaws in this argument, too. By June 1982, Abu Nidal was already on exceedingly bad terms with Saddam and would hardly have wanted to help him. He was busy moving his base out of Baghdad and trying to ingratiate himself with the Syrians -- who also happened to be Iran's allies. Abu Nidal had a fine nose for the subtleties of Arab politics. He would not have done such an explosive job for Saddam and chance outraging Assad, his prospective patron, by putting at risk Syria's national security, which is what a war in Lebanon would do.

It is also possible that the Mossad manipulated Abu Nidal into providing the pretext for the invasion that Begin and Sharon so badly wanted. Isam Sartawi, who never missed a chance to declare that Abu Nidal was an Israeli agent, was certain that Sharon had directly ordered the attack. A flaw in this argument is that Abu Nidal would not have wanted to offend Syria on Israel's behalf any more than he would have wished to do so on Iraq's behalf. And would Israel have wished to kill or wound its own London ambassador as a pretext to invade Lebanon? Such crude cynicism is hardly attributable even to the right-wing extremists who were then in power. However, one of my best Western intelligence sources says that Israeli penetration agents might have received general instructions to mobilize Abu Nidal's organization into providing Israel with the pretext it needed. The attack on Argov may have been an individual initiative resulting from some such general instruction.

That the operation seems to have been thrown together in a hurry lends some support to this view. The attack showed no sign of Abu Nidal's usual careful planning. No provision appears to have been made for the hit team to escape. And against all the organization's rules, a resident "sleeper," Marwan al-Banna, Abu Nidal's distant cousin, who was a genuine student rather than a trained terrorist, was roped in to help -- and is now, with his accomplices, two of Abu Nidal's student- members, serving a thirty-year prison sentence in Britain. The attempted assassination of his ambassador remains an unlikely expedient for Begin, but perhaps not so unlikely for someone like Dr. Ghassan al-Ali.

Although the Argov affair attracted world headlines, it was not the only such incident at the time. Basil, then one of Abu Nidal's field commanders in Lebanon, told me, when I interviewed him in a seaside hotel in Tunis in 1990, that on the eve of the Lebanon war, someone higher up in the organization had urgently ordered him to mount cross-border operations against Israel. To Basil at the time, it seemed crazy to provoke Israel, but he obeyed orders, even though ground operations against Israel were not what the organization was used to. He started training a raiding party, but the Argov affair and the Israeli invasion happened before he could act. He and his men scampered back to the Bekaa Valley, out of Israel's reach, in time to save their skins.

The Argov case was not the only occasion on which Abu Nidal, whether deliberately or not, served as agent provocateur in Israel's interest. On July 28, 1989, an Israeli helicopter-borne commando unit entered South Lebanon and kidnapped Sheikh Abd al-Karim Ubaid, a leading member of the Shi'ite organization Hizballah, greatly increasing tension in the region. Groups holding Western hostages threatened to kill them if Ubaid was not released -- and indeed, on July 31, Colonel Robert Higgins, of the U.S. Marine Corps, who had been kidnapped in South Lebanon in February 1988 when attached to the United Nations truce-supervision organization, was hanged in retaliation.

Everyone in the Bekaa was on the alert, fearing Israeli military action. At this delicate moment, orders came from Abu Nidal to mount operations against the Israelis within forty-eight hours. Isam Awdah (code-named Zakariya Ibrahim), second-in-command of Abu Nidal's People's Army, came especially from Sidon to the Bekaa to convey these orders to Basil, then Abu Nidal's military commander in the Bekaa.

"I found the request amazing," Basil told me. "Somebody was obviously trying to start a war. Abu Nidal was trying to give Israel an excuse to strike.

"Aware how tense things were, I refused to obey the orders. I then learned that the organization had approached other military groups in the area, notably the militia of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party [a pan-Syrian movement active in Lebanon] with the same request for action, but that they too had refused."

One such episode, I reflected, could perhaps be explained away, but here were two occasions, one in 1982 and the other in 1989, when Abu Nidal's organization had been used to precipitate a conflict from which Israel alone stood to gain.

In 1982. Abu Nidal may not have been aware of the instructions given to Basil. He was in Poland when these events took place, while his organization was in a sort of halfway house between Baghdad and Damascus, making it perhaps more vulnerable to manipulation, perhaps by Dr. Ghassan, the man who many Palestinians believe serves the Mossad's purposes within Abu Nidal's organization.

When, in Algiers in 1987, Abu Iyad asked Abu Nidal about the Argov operation, he answered evasively and seemed unhappy to be reminded of it. Abu Iyad's impression was that Abu Nidal had not been fully in control at the time. Argov's wife, apparently no sympathiser of Begin's Likud coalition, later, in a newspaper article expressed dismay at the use Begin had made of the attempt on her husband's life.

In any case, the provocation that Haig said was necessary had occurred and the invasion went according to Sharon's plan. Palestinian forces were routed and the refugee camps overrun. There were many deaths; Syria's air force and its air defenses in the Bekaa Valley were shattered; Israeli troops linked up with Bashir Gemayel's militiamen, and Beirut was bombed and besieged. Arafat's fighters were forced to withdraw from Lebanon, and they dispersed throughout the Arab world. Bashir Gemayel was elected president as Israel's proconsul. Though it proved nothing about why Argov was shot, no one benefited more than Israel from the ambassador's unfortunate predicament -- before, that is, things in Lebanon started to go wrong.

From the earliest days of the Israeli state, the techniques of intelligence, of both conventional and irregular warfare, have been used to consolidate the Zionist enterprise and frustrate its enemies. Ruse; deception; the penetration of the Arab environment; the disruption of Arab military programs; the diversion of Arab military force by abetting unrest among minorities such as the Kurds; the secret alliances with neighboring non-Arab powers such as Iran and Ethiopia; the massive use of reprisal and preemption as in South Lebanon; the ceaseless struggle to quash any and every manifestation of Palestinian nationalism -- these have been the staples of Israeli policy for over forty years.

Against this background, I thought it not inconceivable that Abu Iyad was right, that Abu Nidal, the archterrorist, had been subtly manipulated in what might one day come to be seen as one of Israel's greatest intelligence coups.



* More than two years after Abu Jihad's murder, the London journal Middle East International reported, on October 12, 1990, that Muhammad Ali Mahjubi, the Tunisian police commissioner at the time of the killing, had been arrested. Press reports recalled that the police patrol on permanent duty outside Abu Jihad's house was absent on the night of April 16. Mahjubi was said to have been in contact with a woman who owned a fashionable hairdressing salon, much patronized by the wives of senior Palestinian officials, who was also put under arrest at the same time as Mahjubi and for the same reason -- as a suspected Mossad agent.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:20 am


Chapter 11: Operation Terror

Abu Nidal's reputation as a terrorist rests largely on the bonfire of violence he lit in the mid-1980s. The casual wickedness of his assaults was shocking -- the grenade attack on tourists at the Cafe de Paris in Rome in September 1985; the hijack of an Egyptian airliner in November 1985, which ended in a massacre at Valletta; the attack on El Al ticket counters at the Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985; the slaughter of Pan Am passengers in Karachi and of worshipers in an Istanbul synagogue in September 1986.

Yet only a year earlier, skulking in Poland and virtually absent from the scene, he had seemed ready to retire from his terrorist career. In June 1984, Newsweek reported that he was on his deathbed, an exaggeration, but it reflected the view, held even by insiders at the time, that he was probably finished. He had broken irrevocably with Iraq, and his relations with Syria had soured. In Lebanon, he seemed in danger of losing control as new cadres, in revolt against his policies, tried to rejoin the mainstream Palestinians and give up terror. Having committed their forces to defending the Palestinian camps, these new cadres were building bridges to Fatah, the movement against which Abu Nidal had fought bitterly for a decade.

It was then that Abu Nidal, with Libyan backing, took a new lease on life with a series of eye-catching international atrocities aimed at Western rather than Arab targets. As if to lay to rest speculative reports of his demise, he gave three boastful and defiant press interviews in 1985 alone -- to a Paris news sheet called France-Pays Arabes, to the German magazine Der Spiegel, and to al-Qabas, a leading Kuwaiti daily. In them, he railed as usual against "imperialism" and "Zionism," but he also declared with outrageous bluster that he would kill several world leaders, including Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Hussein of Jordan, and Mubarak of Egypt. He claimed some of the world's most violent organizations as his allies -- the Irish Republican Army, the Basque separatist movement ETA, Germany's Red Army Faction, and France's Action Directe, a signal perhaps that Abu Nidal was going on the offensive. No doubt his new haven in Tripoli, and the wide range of favors and facilities given him by Qaddafi, his new and generous sponsor, contributed to this change of mood.

Certainly, many of his operations at this time were carried out on Qaddafi's behalf, but as defectors were later to tell me, he also had more compelling objectives in mind: to embarrass the Syrians so that they would expel him and make his defection to Libya seem plausible; to reverse the "reformist" trend that had surfaced in Lebanon; and, above all, to regain control of his organization.

Abu Nidal knew that if he hit at Western targets while he was still in Damascus, Syria would come under intense Western pressure to expel him. It had barely managed to avoid the consequences of his terrorist attacks on Jordan and on the Gulf sheikhdoms, but it would be a different matter if he set off bombs in Europe. The point was that he did not want to be seen to run away from Syria: He wanted Syria to evict him. Thus he could pose as a Palestinian hero who had been punished for not taking Syria's side in the War of the Camps. Expelled from Syria, he could then regain control of a movement that, in Lebanon, had grown too big -- and too overt -- for his liking. These were among the reasons for his murderous spectaculars of the mid-1980s.


There is hardly a player in the Middle East that has not at one time or another resorted to terror. Iraq's government under the Ba'ath was based on terror, as Samir al-Khalil detailed in Republic of Fear (1989). Armenians used terror against Turks to wring from them an admission of guilt for the genocide of their people. Shi'ites in Lebanon used terror in support of Iran during its war with Iraq, and to frustrate Israeli attempts to dominate them. Shi'ite fighters harried the Israeli army, blew up the American embassy, slaughtered American marines, took Western hostages. Syria used terror against its own inhabitants at Hama when they challenged the regime in 1982; it encouraged its proxies to use terror to drive Israel out of Lebanon; and it used terror against Jordan to draw it back from the brink of making a separate deal with Israel.

Israel has also used terror. Even before the creation of the state, Zionist terrorists killed Lord Moyne, the British resident minister in Cairo, in 1944, and very nearly killed the high commissioner in Palestine, Sir Harold MacMichael. In the middle of the Palestine war, the extremist LHI (or the Stern Gang, as it was known, after its founder) murdered the UN mediator, Count Bernadotte, who had negotiated a truce and was attempting to make it permanent -- which would have limited Israel's further expansion. In his book Bernadotte in Palestine, 1948 (1989), Amitzur Ilan shows that LHI's leaders, Nathan Yelin-Mor, Dr. Israel Eldred, and Yitzhak Shamir, were directly responsible for the assassination. As we have seen, Israeli agents bombed Jewish targets in Baghdad in 1950 to terrorize Iraqi Jews into fleeing to Israel. In 1954, an Israeli undercover unit bombed the U.S. information center in Cairo in an attempt to damage U.S.-Arab relations. This was the notorious Lavon affair, named after Israel's defense minister at the time. From 1967 to 1972, Yitzhak Shamir and Geula Cohen, both former terrorists, actively encouraged Rabbi Meir Kahane's Jewish Defense League to harass, sabotage, and bomb Soviet and other targets in the United States and Europe, including the Jewish impresario Sol Hurok, who was promoting Soviet artists in America. Hurok's secretary died in one attack. As Robert I. Friedman has related in his biography of Kahane, The False Prophet (1990), the object was to put U.S.-Soviet relations under such strain that rather than risk damaging detente, Moscow would release hundreds of thousands of Jews, many of whom would have to settle in Israel -- a strategy that was to bear fruit in due course.

For decades, Israel has armed the Kurds against Baghdad, the southern Sudanese against Khartoum, and the Maronites in Lebanon against the Palestinians, as Conor Gearty has suggested in Terror (1991). And the same charge of state terrorism must be made against its long record of assassinating scientists engaged on Arab arms programs, beginning with its attacks on German scientists working for Nasser's Egypt in the 1960s. The latest such victim was Dr. Gerald Bull, the Canadian inventor of Iraq's "supergun," who was killed by Israeli agents in Brussels in March 1990 (as described by William Lowther in his book Arms and the Man: Dr. Gerald Bull, Iraq and the Supergun [1991]). Moreover, Israel has bombed, shelled, and dynamited Lebanese towns and villages, intercepted vessels in international waters and aircraft in international airspace, launched long-range raids against Baghdad and Tunis, and kidnapped, tortured, and imprisoned many suspected opponents.

But whereas Israel's terror always served long-term political goals, Abu Nidal's was usually fitful and purposeless, although several of his attacks were aimed at securing the release of some of his men held in European jails after earlier, and often botched, operations, and his attacks on European targets in the mid-1980s were, as I suggested, intended to embarrass Syria so as to explain his departure from that country. Israel's terror was coherent, professional, and largely successful in achieving its objectives; Abu Nidal's was incoherent, incompetent, and invariably counterproductive to Palestinian interests. Israel wanted to smash the PLO, quell the Lebanese resistance, maintain its military edge, preempt potential threats to its security, and destabilize its Arab environment. Abu Nidal's terror took the form of "services rendered" to his various Arab hosts or exercises in extortion inspired by no strategic vision.

His claim that he wanted to prevent a compromise between the PLO and Israel so as to recover Palestine was not a credible objective. The vast imbalance of strength between Israel and its opponents made such a pursuit suicidal. By degrading the Palestinian liberation struggle to mere criminal violence, Abu Nidal offered Israel the pretext for refusing to negotiate and for giving the Palestinians nothing but the sword.


At this stage in my researches I decided to make another list -- this time focusing on international acts of violence that were related to Middle Eastern players -- to see if I could discern a pattern as I had been able to do from the earlier list. I began with the attack on Argov in 1982 but looked more closely at the period 1984-86, when terror in the Middle East was at its height. I marked operations attributed to Abu Nidal with an asterisk so as to set his operations against the background of violence of others.

* June 3, 1982 -- Israel's ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, is shot and seriously wounded in London by an Abu Nidal gunman.

June 6, 1982 -- Israel invades Lebanon, committing to battle 76,000 men; 1,250 tanks; and 1,500 armored personnel carriers, supported by the air force and navy.

June 9, 1982 -- Israel destroys Syria's entire SAM air defense network in the Bekaa Valley, the most prestigious symbol of Syria's presence in Lebanon.

June 13, 1982, to August 12, 1982 -- Israel bombs and shells Beirut from air, land, and sea.

September 1, 1982 -- Over ten thousand Palestinian fighters are forced to leave Beirut.

September 1, 1982 -- President Reagan announces his "Reagan Plan" for Middle East peace. He rules out permanent Israeli control of the occupied territories, calls for an immediate freeze on settlements, and pronounces in favor of Palestinian self-government "in association with Jordan." Israel's Prime Minister Begin says it is "the saddest day of his life."

September 14, 1982 -- President Bashir Gemayel, groomed by Israel to rule in Lebanon, is assassinated, almost certainly with the complicity of Syrian agents. He is succeeded by his brother Amin.

September 16-18, 1982 -- To avenge Bashir, Christian militiamen massacre over a thousand Palestinian men, women, and children in Sabra and Shatila camps, under the eyes of Israeli troops.

November 11, 1982 -- The Israeli army headquarters at Tyre is blown up, killing sixty-seven Israelis -- part of a rising tide of hit-and-run attacks by the Lebanese resistance.

December 28, 1982 -- Israel-Lebanon talks open under American auspices, with a view to concluding a bilateral peace treaty.

April 18, 1983 -- The U.S. embassy in Beirut is blown up by a suicide bomber driving a truck packed with explosives.

May 17, 1983 -- An American-brokered accord between Israel and Lebanon is signed, giving Israel a wide measure of control over its northern neighbor. Syria and its allies in Lebanon declare war on the accord.

August 29, 1983 -- Demoralized by Israel's mounting casualties in Lebanon, Menachem Begin resigns as prime minister of Israel.

September 3-25, 1983 -- Israel pulls its forces out of Lebanon's Shuf Mountains, whereupon Syrian-backed Druze and Shi'ite forces expel Israel's Maronite allies from the area and lay siege to the presidential palace. Hundreds of civilians are massacred and tens of thousands displaced from their homes.

October 16, 1983 -- In a clash with a vast crowd of Shi'ites gathered in South Lebanon for the annual Ashura ceremonies, Israeli troops kill many civilians. Shi'ite anger is directed at Israel's ally America, as well as at Israel itself.

October 23, 1983 -- A car-bomb attack on the U.S. Marine barracks near Beirut airport kills 241 men.

* October 1983-November 1985 -- Syria uses Abu Nidal to wage a terrorist war on Jordan to deter King Hussein from entering into separate negotiations with Israel. (See chapter 6 for details.)

November 1983 -- U.S. secretary of state George Shultz revives a U.S.-Israel agreement on strategic cooperation (first concluded in 1981, suspended when Israel annexed the Golan Heights, but activated in 1982 by Alexander Haig), giving Israel wide opportunities to influence U.S. Middle East policy.

December-January 1983-84 -- American war planes and the battleship New Jersey attack Syrian-backed forces in the Lebanese mountains.

December 4, 1983 -- Eight more U.S. Marines are killed in Lebanon, and two U.S. planes are shot down by Syrian gunfire.

January 26, 1984 -- In his state of the union address, Ronald Reagan declares: "We must not be driven from our objectives for peace in Lebanon by state-sponsored terrorism."

February 29, 1984 -- The Israel-Lebanon accord of May 17, 1983, is abrogated. President Amin Gemayel travels to Damascus to pay homage to President Assad.

March 1984 -- William Buckley, CIA station chief in Beirut, is kidnapped and killed in June. Several other Westerners are taken hostage in Lebanon by Shi'ite militants between 1985 and 1988.

April 3, 1984 -- President Reagan signs a directive authorizing reprisals and preemptive strikes against "terrorists." Pinpointing Syria, Libya, and Iran, George Shultz declares that "state-sponsored terrorism is in fact a form of war," a view echoed by Vice President George Bush and CIA director William Casey.

April 17, 1984 -- A British policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher, is killed when a gunman inside the Libyan People's Bureau in London opens fire on anti-Qaddafi demonstrators. Britain breaks off diplomatic relations with Libya.

May 23, 1984 -- Israel's state attorney's office indicts twenty-five Israeli settlers for involvement in a Jewish terrorist underground. They include men who car-bombed and maimed Palestinian mayors on the West Bank in June 1980.

In the summer of 1984, Israel, which had for years labeled all Palestinian fighters "terrorists" so as to deny them legitimacy, greatly expanded its exploitation of this issue, aiming to shape American attitudes. By this time, both the United States and Israel had recognized the grave setback to their policy in Lebanon. The Israelis were being driven out, while the American embassy had been blown up and American marines slaughtered in their barracks. The collapse of American diplomacy was evident in the abrogation of the Israel-Lebanon accord, which George Shultz had brokered.

The new focus was on "state-sponsored terrorism," the phrase used by Ronald Reagan and George Shultz and echoed by Vice President George Bush and CIA director William Casey. America's policy in the Arab-Israeli dispute would thereafter be limited largely to counterterrorism rather than an attempt to trace the roots of violence to the dispossession of the Palestinians, to Israel's invasion of Lebanon, or to the Shi'ites' burning sense of injustice.

President Reagan was apparently greatly influenced, at this time, by the proceedings of a conference organized in Washington in June 1984 by Israel's Jonathan Institute. Edited by Israel's UN ambassador, Benjamin Netanyahu, these proceedings were later published in a book titled Terrorism: How the West Can Win. Like Claire Sterling's The Terror Network in the early Reagan years, the conference papers became the master text of America's obsession with terrorism in Reagan's second term. Part of an elaborate campaign of psychological warfare directed against the PLO, Syria, and Libya, the book helped persuade American opinion that Israel's enemies were also America's, that Arabs in dispute with Israel were terrorists, and that brute force against them was legitimate and desirable.

In a speech at the conference on June 26, 1984, Israel's defense minister, Moshe Arens, called for the closing of all PLO offices around the world because they are "nothing more than support centers for terrorist operations." He identified Syria as the key terrorist state whose "worldwide intelligence apparatus" made use of Palestinians, Armenians, Japanese, and even Thais!

I continued my list (once again marking Abu Nidal's operations with an asterisk):

June 29, 1984 -- The same month in which it mounts its new counter-terrorism propaganda campaign, Israel intercepts a ferry boat sailing in international waters from Cyprus to Beirut and detains nine passengers.

July 18, 1984 -- Israel intercepts a Lebanese merchant ship off the port of Tripoli, escorts it to Haifa, and interrogates the crew.

*March 24, 1984 -- A bomb explodes in the forecourt of the Intercontinental Hotel in Amman two days before a planned visit to Jordan by Queen Elizabeth of Britain. Abu Nidal claims responsibility.

*March 28, 1984 -- Ken Whitty, a cultural-affairs counselor at the British embassy in Athens, is killed when a gunman opens fire on his car. In Beirut, the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims (an Abu Nidal front) claims responsibility.

*November 27, 1984 -- Percy Norris, Britain's deputy high commissioner in Bombay, is shot dead. In a phone call to a London news agency, the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims claims responsibility.

*November 29, 1984 -- The British Airways office in Beirut is bombed. The Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims again claims responsibility.

The killing of British diplomats in Athens and Bombay and the bombing of the British Airways office in Beirut, like the later kidnapping of a British journalist and the attack on British tourists at an Athens hotel, were crude attempts by Abu Nidal to put pressure on the British government to release four of his men held in British jails -- three of them in connection with the Argov affair, the fourth, Ramzi Awad, sentenced for smuggling arms into Britain.

February 12, 1985 -- In London, three Israelis believed to be Mossad agents and a Nigerian are given prison sentences ranging from ten to fourteen years for kidnapping and drugging Umaro Dikko, Nigeria's former transport minister, in July 1984. Dikko had been sought by the Nigerian authorities for embezzling millions of dollars.

February 21, 1985 -- Israeli army units raid eleven Shi'ite villages east of Tyre, killing and wounding many civilians and using bulldozers to crush cars and buildings.

March 8, 1985 -- A massive car bomb kills eighty people near the Beirut apartment of Hizballah's "spiritual guide," Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah. He escapes injury. Two years later The Washington Post reported that the explosion was the work of a CIA-trained team under a Reagan-authorized covert action program. In Veil, his book on the CIA, Bob Woodward wrote that CIA director Casey solicited $3 million from the Saudis for the operation.

March 10, 1985 -- A suicide car bomber kills at least twelve Israeli troops and wounds fourteen others in an attack on a convoy near the Lebanese border.

March 21, 1985 -- Israeli army units raid nine villages in South Lebanon, near Nabatiya and Sidon, killing and wounding scores of people and blowing up many houses.

March 24, 1985 -- The Washington Post reports that CIA-backed "counterterrorist" squads have been established in at least twelve countries, including Lebanon.

* March 28, 1985 -- Alec Collett, a British journalist working with the UN relief agency UNRWA is kidnapped by the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims, which demands the release of its members held in Britain.

* May 24, 1985 -- Egyptian police arrest an Abu Nidal agent who was planning to detonate a truckload of explosives outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo. He is said to have received his instructions from the head of Libyan intelligence in Rome.

June 14, 1985 -- A TWA airliner on a flight from Athens to Rome is hijacked by Shi'ite militants and flown back and forth across the Mediterranean between Algiers and Beirut. A U.S. navy diver on board is murdered. The hijackers demand the release of 766 detainees, mostly Lebanese Shi'ites, from Israel's Atlit detention camp.

* July 1, 1985 -- A bomb destroys the Madrid office of British Airways. In Beirut, the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Moslems claims responsibility.

* August 7, 1985 -- A bomb attack on a hotel in the resort of Glyfada, near Athens, injures thirteen, including six British citizens. The attack was claimed by the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Moslems, which alleged that the hotel had been used by British groups as a "spy center against the Arabs and Islam."

September 11, 1985 -- Israel intercepts a boat in international waters between Cyprus and Lebanon and kidnaps Faisal Abu Sharah, a senior commander in Force 17, a PLO security unit. He is taken to Israel for interrogation and imprisonment.

* September 18, 1985 -- A grenade attack on the Cafe de Paris on Rome's Via Veneto injures forty people. The Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Moslems claims responsibility, calling the cafe "a den of American-British intelligence services."

* September 18, 1985 -- Michel Nimri, a Jordanian journalist known for his support for PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, is killed in Athens by an Abu Nidal gunman.

September 25, 1985 -- To avenge the kidnapping by Israel of Faisal Abu Sharah, three Israeli civilians are murdered on a yacht in Cyprus by gunmen from the PLO's Force 17. Israel says the victims were tourists; the Palestinians say they were Mossad agents monitoring Palestinian naval traffic out of Cyprus.

October 1, 1985 -- To avenge the three Israelis murdered in Cyprus, Israeli F-16's raid PLO headquarters near Tunis, killing fifty-six Palestinians and fifteen Tunisians and wounding about one hundred others. Arafat narrowly escapes death.

October 9, 1985 -- In response to the Israeli raid on Tunis, an extremist Palestinian faction, Abu'l Abbas's Popular Liberation Front, hijacks an Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, and murders Leon Klinghoffer, a crippled American Jew on board.

November 7, 1985 -- After a meeting with Egypt's President Mubarak, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat publishes the "Cairo Declaration," in which he condemns all forms of terrorism.

November 9, 1985 -- Israel shoots down two Syrian MiG-23s over Syrian territory as they make for home after approaching an Israeli surveillance aircraft flying over Lebanon.

November 21, 1985 -- Jonathan Jay Pollard, a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, is arrested in Washington on charges of spying for Israel.

* November 23, 1985 -- An Egyptian airliner is hijacked by four Abu Nidal gunmen on a flight from Athens to Cairo and is forced to land in Malta. Six passengers are killed before Egyptian commandos storm the plane the following day. Of the ninety-seven passengers who embarked in Athens, sixty die in the ensuing fire and confusion.

December 1985-February 1987 -- Encouraged by Britain's prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, Israel's Shimon Peres tries to draw King Hussein into bilateral peace talks free from Syrian "interference."

* December 24, 1985 -- Abu Nidal gunmen open fire and hurl grenades at El Al ticket counters at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Rome and Schwechat Airport in Vienna. The seven gunmen, four in Rome and three in Vienna, kill eighteen persons and wound at least 110 others before four of their number are killed by security guards and the other three are wounded and captured.

January 7, 1986 -- President Ronald Reagan says there is "irrefutable evidence" of Colonel Qaddafi's support for Abu Nidal. He calls the Rome and Vienna attacks "only the latest in a series of brutal terrorist acts committed with Qaddafi's backing."

He signs an executive order declaring that the Libyan government's actions "constitute a threat to the national security and foreign policy" of the United States. The order ends "virtually all economic activities" between the U.S. and Libya.

On January 8, a second executive order freezes all Libyan government assets in the U.S. and in branches of U.S. banks abroad. "If these steps do not end Qaddafi's terrorism, I promise you that further steps will be taken," the president declares.

January 11, 1986 -- Brig. Gen. Gideon Machanaimi, an adviser on counterterrorism to Israel's prime minister, Shimon Peres, says the best way to combat terrorism is to kill terrorist leaders. He declares that Abu Nidal is living in Libya. But Israel takes no action against him.

January 12, 1986 -- Italian prosecutors issue an international arrest warrant for Abu Nidal on charges of mass murder, and on February 12, 1988, he is sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for the Rome airport attack.

January 12, 1986 -- PLO chairman Yasser Arafat again condemns all forms of terrorism directed at innocent people. He adds that some Arab secret services recruit Palestinians for terrorist operations.

January 5, 1986 -- Colonel Qaddafi denies that Abu Nidal is in Libya. He warns President Reagan against attacking his country and threatens to send suicide squads to attack targets inside the United States.

February 4, 1986 -- In Tripoli, Qaddafi chairs an urgently convened conference of the "National Command of Revolutionary Forces in the Arab World," which undertakes to strike at American interests if the U.S. attacks Libya.

February 4, 1986 -- In an attempt to capture Palestinian leaders, Israeli fighters intercept and divert to Israel a Libyan executive jet carrying home to Damascus a Syrian delegation led by Abdallah al-Ahmar, assistant secretary-general of the Ba'ath party. In the Security Council, the U.S. vetoes condemnation of Israel's "act of piracy."

March 13, 1986 -- A massive car-bomb explosion in central Damascus is variously blamed on Israeli agents, the CIA, Iraq, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

March 23, 1986 -- A U.S. Navy task force off Libya begins "freedom of navigation" exercises in the disputed waters of the Gulf of Sidra. When Libya fires missiles at American war planes, the U.S. responds by attacking Libyan ships and missile installations on the Libyan mainland.

April 2, 1986 -- A bomb on board a TWA jet flying from Rome to Athens tears a hole in the fuselage. Four Americans are sucked out of the plane, which manages to land in Athens.

April 5, 1986 -- A bomb at La Belle discotheque in West Berlin, popular with U.S. troops, kills two people, including an American serviceman, and injures about two hundred others, including more than sixty Americans. U.S. officials say there is "strong circumstantial evidence" linking Libya to the bombing.

April 15, 1986 -- U.S. aircraft, some carrier-based, others flying from Britain, bomb Colonel Qaddafi's home compound in Tripoli and other Libyan targets. Qaddafi escapes unharmed but dozens of Libyan civilians, including his adopted baby daughter, are killed.

April 16, 1986 -- Bombs on trucks and trains in different parts of Syria kill 144 people and wound many more. Some observers blame the attacks on a dirty-tricks outfit set up by Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council and Amiram Nir, Shimon Peres's counterterrorist expert, to strike back at the alleged sponsors of Middle East terrorism.

April 17, 1986 -- In response to the U.S. attack on Libya, two Britons and an American -- Leigh Douglas, Philip Padfield, and Peter Kilburn -- who had earlier been kidnapped in Lebanon are shot dead by their captors.

* April 17, 1986 -- An Israeli security guard at London's Heathrow Airport discovers Semtex explosives in the false bottom of a bag that Nizar Hindawi, a Jordanian recruited by Syrian intelligence, gave to his pregnant Irish girlfriend to take on board an El Al flight to Tel Aviv. Hindawi is arrested after implicating the Syrian embassy. As we shall see, Abu Nidal was involved.

* April 23, 1986 -- In retaliation for Britain's role in the U.S. attack on Libya, the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Moslems releases a videotape in Lebanon purporting to show the "execution" of Alec Collett, the British journalist kidnapped in March 1985.

May 14, 1986 -- Colonel Qaddafi calls on Cyprus to close down British bases on the island which he says helped the U.S. to launch "its vile, barbaric, vicious, Crusader aggression against us."

May 17, 1986 -- In an interview with The Washington Post, President Assad of Syria denies any connection between Syria and terrorism. In a speech in Athens on May 28, he calls for an "international forum" to distinguish between terrorism and legitimate acts of national resistance.

* August 3, 1986 -- Rocket and mortar shells are fired at a British military base at Akrotiri, Cyprus, injuring two British women and a Cypriot. In Lebanon, the "Nasserite Unified Organization-Cairo" (an Abu Nidal front) claims responsibility.

* September 5, 1986 -- Gunmen seize a Pan Am jumbo jet at Karachi airport with 358 passengers and crew on board. When Pakistani troops storm the plane, a score of passengers are killed. The hijackers surrender. On September 10, U.S. defense secretary Caspar Weinberger accuses the Abu Nidal organization of responsibility.

* September 6, 1986 -- Two Abu Nidal gunmen kill twenty-one Jewish worshipers in an attack on the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul during the morning Sabbath service. Though Abu Nidal claims responsibility, the Israelis do not retaliate.

September 30, 1986 -- Mordechai Vanunu, a Moroccan-born Israeli nuclear technician who sold secrets of Israel's Dimona bomb-making plant to the Sunday Times of London, is lured by a female Mossad agent from London to Rome, where he is kidnapped and taken to Israel. He is put on trial and given an eighteen- year prison sentence.

* October 12, 1986 -- The British Home Office confirms that six persons suspected of being members of Abu Nidal's organization have been asked to leave the country.

October 24, 1986 -- Nizar Hindawi, convicted of attempting to blow up an El Al airliner in April, is sentenced to forty-five years' imprisonment, the longest sentence in British criminal history. Within hours of the verdict, Britain breaks off relations with Syria.

November 3, 1986 -- A Beirut newspaper, al-Shira, publishes the first report of the covert U.S. arms-for- hostages trade with Iran. The subsequent Irangate scandal shows how Israel drew the U.S. into covert dealings with Iran in order to provide cover for its own secret arms sales to Iran, designed to keep the Gulf war going, tie down Iraq, and so prevent the emergence of an Iraqi-Syrian "eastern front."

The first conclusion to emerge from this list is that Abu Nidal was hardly the only or even the most dangerous terrorist at large in the mid-1980s. But what distinguished him from most of the others -- the individual as well as the state terrorists -- was that none of his attacks seemed to be in the Palestinian cause. His motives appeared to be either self-serving or mercenary, and to be so reckless as to guarantee a hostile backlash. Abu Nidal had come a long way from his early commitment to the Palestine cause. He had become a gun for hire, a nihilist.

The attempt to blow up a truckload of explosives outside the American embassy in Cairo in May 1985 and the hijacking of the Egypt Air Boeing to Malta that November were both anti-Egyptian mercenary operations carried out on Libya's behalf. They should be seen in the context of the quarrel raging at that time between Cairo and Tripoli: Egypt had accused Libya of sending saboteurs to kill its citizens as well as Libyan exiles, and destabilize its government, while Libya retorted by expelling Egyptian workers and denouncing Egypt's "treaty of submission" with Israel.

Defectors from Abu Nidal's organization later told me that Abu Nidal simply lent his services to Libya in the hijacking of the Egyptian plane. Using diplomatic passports to avoid controls, members of Libya's People's Bureau in Greece delivered the weapons to Abu Nidal's team in the transit lounge of Athens airport. The team then carried the weapons on board and took control of the plane when in flight.

The original plan was to fly the plane to Libya, but fearing adverse publicity, the Libyans decided at the last minute not to let it land and diverted it to Malta. An enraged Mubarak deployed troops on the Libyan frontier and sent commandos to Valletta to storm the plane, with great loss of life.

To divert attention from himself, Abu Nidal claimed responsibility in the name of the Organization of Egyptian Revolutionaries, saying that the aim of the operation had been to free the group's prisoners from Egyptian jails. In fact this radical Egyptian group, connected in the Arab mind with Khalid Abd al-Nasser, son of the late Egyptian president, had nothing to do with the hijacking. But Abu Nidal wanted to cash in on the support it had gained for its attacks on Israeli and American officials in Cairo between 1984 and 1987, in which two Israelis were killed. (In 1991, an Egyptian court acquitted Khalid Abd al-Nasser of channeling funds to Egypt's Revolution, but sentenced the organization's leader, Mahmud Nur al-Din, to life imprisonment with hard labor.)

As for the rocket-and-mortar attack on Britain's Akrotiri, Cyprus, base in August 1986, this too was a mercenary operation on Libya's behalf, and followed closely on Qaddafi's speech calling on the Cypriots to close down the British bases. Sources inside Abu Nidal's organization told me that the weapons were brought into Cyprus by Libyan diplomatic bag and that the small boat used by the team to land on the island and then escape from it was also Libyan. Hani Sammur, a well-trained officer of Abu Nidal's organization, led the attack, which was directed from Lebanon by the then head of the Intelligence Directorate, Abd al-Rahman Isa, whose taped recollections were given to me by Abu Iyad. One member of the team, Hisham Sa'id, was arrested. Once again, Abu Nidal claimed responsibility in the name of a nationalist-sounding Egyptian group, the Nasserite Unified Organization-Cairo. But the Egyptian connection was wholly bogus.


The most spectacular of Abu Nidal's operations at this time -- and the most destructive to the Palestinian cause -- were the attacks in late December 1985 on the El Al ticket counters at Rome and Vienna airports. Their random cruelty marked them as typical Abu Nidal operations.

Austria and Italy were the two European countries with which the PLO had had the closest relations, and with their encouragement, a European-Palestinian dialogue had been developing satisfactorily. Behind the scenes, leaders of these countries were attempting to bring together Palestinians and Israelis interested in reaching a peaceful understanding. The blow fell at precisely this moment, and it was inevitable that the PLO would assume that the object of the attack had been to force Italy and Austria, under pressure from their own public opinion, to sever their ties with the PLO.

The gunmen were Palestinian youngsters, the bitter products of refugee camps, who had been brainwashed into throwing away their lives in what they supposed to be a worthwhile cause. The only gunman to survive the Rome attack had lost his father, a taxi driver, in the Sabra and Shatila camp massacres. Another, who died in the attack, was a certain Muhammad Nazzal who, I was told, was actually in possession of a valid Lebanese passport and a visa for the United States, where he hoped to start a new life. Before setting out, he had asked the organization to give him some military training, which he thought might come in handy. It was during a brief course in the Bekaa Valley that he was persuaded to take part in the senseless operation that cost him his life.

Doped on amphetamines, the young killers had been instructed to throw their grenades and open fire blindly at the check-in counters. They had been told, I later learned, that the people they saw standing at the counters were Israeli pilots in civilian clothes, returning home from a training mission -- the same pilots who had bombed their families in South Lebanon. This is what Abu Nidal later claimed to believe when his associates demanded an explanation for the operations. Fatah sent its own intelligence officers to Italy and Austria to investigate his claim but, of course, found that it did not stand up.

To this day, no one in the Palestinian movement knows why these operations were mounted, but a former close aide of Abu Nidal told me that the original plan was to hit not just Rome and Vienna but the Frankfurt airport as well -- with the help of Ahmad Jibril, head of the PFLP-General Command and one of the most effective military officers in the whole guerrilla movement, who had a long record of anti-Israeli operations. The Frankfurt job had been assigned to Jibril, who at the time was competing with Abu Nidal for Qaddafi's favors, perhaps hoping to escape his dependence on Syria.

But shortly before the agreed date for the attack, Abu Nidal changed his mind. Jealous of Jibril, or perhaps fearing that Jibril's group had been penetrated and might expose him, Abu Nidal decided to go ahead on his own. Angrily, Jibril complained that Abu Nidal had gone back on their agreement and criticized the way the Rome and Vienna operations had been conducted: Since the weapons had been smuggled into the transit area at the airports, the strikes could have been made with greater precision and inflicted more damage on the Israelis.

When I discussed these operations with Abu Iyad in Tunis in the summer of 1990, he told me that after Rome and Vienna he had given perhaps twenty press interviews to explain that the PLO had nothing to do with these atrocities. But it was not easy. "When such horrible things take place, ordinary people are left thinking that all Palestinians are criminals," he said. The damage to the PLO was immense.

He told me that most people in the West, and even many Arabs, could hardly distinguish between Abu Nidal's Fatah and Arafat's. When Abu Nidal perpetrated a massacre, all anyone remembered was that Palestinians had done it -- and that the PLO was a liar. Its claim to have renounced terror was obviously a fraud. "Abu Nidal, and all those who plot with him, want people to doubt our word -- and I fear they have succeeded," Abu Iyad said.

"How can we convince Europeans of the justice of our cause?" he added. "How can we convince Gulf Arabs that the murder of Ghubash [the UAE minister of state killed by Abu Nidal in October 1977] had nothing to do with us? How can we convince the family of the UAE ambassador murdered in Paris that we don't have blood on our hands? I saw their faces when I went to pay my condolences. How do we convince Kuwaitis that the bombs in their cafes were not thrown by us? In their minds, all Palestinians are guilty."

Former members of Abu Nidal's organization told me that Libyan intelligence took part in the planning and supplied the weapons, which, in traditional fashion, were given to the gunmen by a contact man at the very last moment. The Tunisian passports used by the gunmen were passports that Libya had confiscated from Tunisian workers expelled from Libya in 1985. The Libyan news agency, JANA, hailed the attacks as "heroic operations carried out by the sons of the martyrs of Sabra and Shatila." Qaddafi himself was too crafty to discuss such operations with Abu Nidal, but his intelligence officers, according to my informants, certainly did -- men who specialized in assassination and terror, like Sayyid Qaddaf al-Damm, Abdallah Hijazi, and Salih al-Druqi.

On Abu Nidal's side, the chief planner of both the Rome and Vienna operations was Dr. Ghassan al-Ali, head of the Intelligence Directorate's Committee for Special Missions. His colleague Alaa directed the operations on the ground and was in Vienna at the time, watching things from afar. These men were, of course, on my short list of possible Israeli penetration agents.

Abu Iyad was convinced that in the case of Rome and Vienna, Abu Nidal's organization had been manipulated by Israeli agents. Only Israel stood to gain from such outrages, he said. He didn't know whether Abu Nidal himself had been recruited by Mossad, but he believed that his criminal and embittered character made him exceptionally vulnerable to external manipulation.

When Abu Iyad told me this, I could not believe -- and still cannot believe -- that the Israelis would deliberately attack El Al ticket counters and kill their own people. Israel would not massacre Jews, whatever political or propaganda advantages could be derived from such an operation.

Quote taken from above: "As we have seen, Israeli agents bombed Jewish targets in Baghdad in 1950 to terrorize Iraqi Jews into fleeing to Israel. ... From 1967 to 1972, Yitzhak Shamir and Geula Cohen, both former terrorists, actively encouraged Rabbi Meir Kahane's Jewish Defense League to harass, sabotage, and bomb Soviet and other targets in the United States and Europe, including the Jewish impresario Sol Hurok, who was promoting Soviet artists in America."

Yet the puzzling and inexplicable fact was that although everyone knew Rome and Vienna were Abu Nidal's operations and that he had moved his headquarters to Libya, which was perfectly accessible to an Israeli strike, Israel did not retaliate -- not against Libya or against Abu Nidal or against the men directly involved, Dr. Ghassan and Alaa. If, as Abu Iyad suspected, these men were the Mossad link, it was hard to explain why they had attacked Israeli targets. But they had, and Israel, uniquely in this case, had done nothing to punish them. But whoever ordered the attacks, the intended political effect was clear: to stop short the developing contacts between Italy and Austria and the PLO for an accommodation with Israel.

As the principal victims of Abu Nidal's terror, both in the number of men killed and in the loss of reputation, the PLO was particularly concerned to discover who had penetrated and manipulated Abu Nidal's organization. The Rome and Vienna operations had created violent anti-Arab feeling in the West; they had enabled Israel to make political capital out of the terrorist issue; and -- together with the bomb at La Belle discotheque in Berlin, in which Abu Nidal had no part -- they had prepared the ground for the American attack on Libya of April 1986.

Abu Iyad told me: "When I met Abu Nidal in 1987, I asked him about Rome and Vienna, but he couldn't tell the story straight. He floundered and kept contradicting himself. He couldn't justify the operations at all.

"I then told him the following story. On a visit to Austria in 1988, I attended a party given by the Friends of Palestine and was struck by a handsome woman who spoke with enthusiasm about the Palestine cause. A former foreign minister of Austria, who was present, turned to me and said that the lady had actually been one of the passengers at Vienna airport. A grenade had landed at her feet but had failed to explode. Yet she had remained a friend of the Palestinians! 'They do these things out of despair,' she cried. 'I now support them more than ever!'"

When Abu Iyad finished this story, Abu Nidal could say only, "If twenty more had been killed, it wouldn't have mattered. They're all Zionists!"

According to Abu Iyad, the American raid on Libya that hit Qaddafi's residence and other sensitive installations could have found the targets for their smart bombs only with the help of someone inside Libya. On April 17, 1986, The Washington Post reported that Israeli intelligence had provided continuous updates on Qaddafi's whereabouts, the last at 11:15 P.M. Libyan time, just two hours and forty-five minutes before the U.S. attack began. Abu Nidal's organization, working closely with Libyan intelligence, could easily have given this information to the Israelis.

In Abu Iyad's admittedly obsessive view, Libya and other sponsors of Abu Nidal put themselves at grave risk by allowing such a suspect organization to operate freely on their territory, to use their facilities and enjoy access to their intelligence services. The implication he drew -- and in view of his hatred of Abu Nidal, it was a self-serving one -- was that Abu Nidal's organization provided Israel with a means to penetrate not just the Palestinian movement but Arab society as a whole. Libya's involvement with Abu Nidal, he believed, had undermined its security and exposed it to physical attack.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:20 am



At London's Heathrow Airport on April 17, 1986, an Israeli security guard discovered 1.5 kilograms of Semtex, a powerful plastic explosive of Czechoslovak manufacture, in the false bottom of a bag that an Irishwoman, Ann Murphy, was about to carry onto an El Al flight to Tel Aviv. The bomb's detonator was disguised as a pocket calculator. Ann Murphy, a chambermaid at a London hotel, had been given the bag by her Jordanian boyfriend, Nizar Hindawi, by whom she was five months pregnant. He had promised to join her in Israel, where they were to be married. The thirty-two-year- old Hindawi had taken his fiancee to the airport in a taxi, priming the bomb on the way by inserting a battery in the calculator. It was timed to go off while the aircraft was in flight.

Leaving his fiancee at Heathrow at about 8 A.M. on April 17, Hindawi traveled back into London and later that morning boarded a Syrian Arab Airlines bus to return to the airport to catch a 2 P.M. flight to Damascus. But before the bus set off, news broke that a bomb had been discovered at Heathrow. Hindawi left the bus hurriedly and went to the Syrian embassy, where he asked the ambassador, Dr. Lutfallah Haidar, for assistance.

I had investigated this terrorist incident, which implicated the Syrians, when I was researching my biography of President Assad. Could Assad have known about it? Given his anxiousness to avoid war with Israel, I could hardly believe that he would sanction the Heathrow bomb. Had the destruction of an Israeli civilian aircraft been traced to Syria, Assad's country and regime would have been at immense and immediate risk.

What I did not know then, but what I learned in 1990 from a well-placed defector in Tunis, was that Abu Nidal's Technical Committee had manufactured the suitcase bomb and had delivered it to Syrian air force intelligence, the outfit that sponsored Abu Nidal in Syria. Air force intelligence then sent the bomb by Syrian diplomatic bag to London, where it was handed over to Hindawi. Apart from Hindawi, the only people thought to be in the know were two or three officers in Syrian air force intelligence, including its chief, General Muhammad al-Khuly, and two or three of Abu Nidal's members.

It was widely supposed that Khuly's motive was revenge for an incident two months earlier, when Israel, hoping to capture Palestinian guerrilla leaders, had intercepted and forced down in Israel the executive jet returning Syrian officials to Damascus. On this interpretation, the Heathrow affair seemed to be a bungled rogue operation by an uncontrolled branch of Syrian intelligence. However, Abu Nidal's involvement gave it another dimension.

Hindawi was known to Dr. Haidar, the Syrian ambassador in London. In 1985, some months before the Heathrow incident, Haidar had recommended Hindawi to Syrian intelligence as a London-based free-lance writer and opponent of the Jordanian regime who might come in useful in the campaign Syria was then waging against Jordan. (What Haidar did not know was that his radio message to Damascus about Hindawi was intercepted by British intelligence -- and most likely circulated to a number of countries, including Israel, cooperating with Britain on counterterrorism.) So when Hindawi showed up at the Syrian embassy asking for help, the ambassador, presuming him to be a Syrian agent in some sort of trouble, passed him on to his security men, who took him to their lodgings, where they attempted to alter his appearance by cutting and dyeing his hair.

But early the next morning, April 18, for reasons that are unclear, Hindawi fled the Syrians and, after contacting his brother, a clerk at the Qatar embassy in London, gave himself up to the British police.

He was interrogated intensively for a number of days, during which his sleep was interrupted. He then confessed that he had met General Khuly in Damascus in January 1986 and that a month later one of Khuly's officers, Colonel Haitham Sa'id, had given him a Syrian service passport in a false name and instructed him to place a bomb on an El Al aircraft in London. He was sent to Britain on a practice run. On his return to Damascus, Sa'id had shown him the suitcase bomb and told him how to prime it. On April 5 he was sent back to London and was given the bomb and detonator by a man he thought was an employee of Syrian Arab Airlines.

This confession was to be the basis of the prosecution's case at Hindawi's trial at the Old Bailey in October 1986. However, in court, Hindawi retracted his confession and claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy, probably by Israeli agents. He alleged that the British detective sergeant who had arrested him and taken part in his interrogation had threatened to turn him over to the Mossad and had told him that his father and mother, who lived in London, were also under arrest. He complained that the police had invented statements attributed to him and had forced him to sign them unread.

Unimpressed, a British jury found him guilty, and he was sent to jail for forty-five years, the longest sentence in British criminal history. Within hours of the verdict, Britain broke off relations with Syria, and urged its allies to do the same.

However, to Mrs. Thatcher's anger, the French prime minister, Jacques Chirac, said in an interview with the Washington Times on November 10, 1986, that West German chancellor Kohl and foreign minister Genscher both believed, as he said he tended to do himself, that "the Hindawi plot was a provocation designed to embarrass Syria and destabilize the Assad regime." Behind it were "probably people connected with the Israeli Mossad."

In interviews with senior Jordanian officials in Amman, I learned that the Hindawi family were originally Palestinians who had settled in the East Jordan village of Baqura and they had a history of involvement with the Mossad. The father had worked as a cook in the Jordanian embassy in London before being revealed as an Israeli agent. He was tried in Jordan and sentenced to death in absentia, but he escaped sentence by staying in Britain. It was in his father's apartment in a London suburb that Hindawi stored the suitcase bomb for ten days in April 1986. Hindawi himself had a record as a petty free-lance agent, courier, and contact man with no ideological commitment. A senior Jordanian official told me that he had worked in various small capacities for Syria against Jordan, for Jordan against the Palestinians, for the clandestine Jordanian Communist party -- and for the Mossad, "and been paid for it."

For some years he had been a pawn in the shadowy middle ground between hostile Middle East intelligence services. Because of his background, Jordan had refused to renew his passport in 1985, and he had offered his services to Syria. In the Heathrow incident, there were several odd aspects to Hindawi's behavior: He had rushed to the Syrian embassy once the bomb was discovered to ask the ambassador for help (their conversation was monitored by British intelligence); he had then run away from the Syrian security men; and he had not attempted to go underground or flee the country. Instead he had given himself up. It was as if he had gone out of his way to implicate the Syrians.

There was, of course, no doubt about the involvement of Syrian air force intelligence in the Heathrow incident: It had recruited Hindawi, given him an official Syrian government passport in a false name, and sent him to London, where it supplied him with the suitcase bomb. But could Hindawi, who is said to have worked for several intelligence services, including the Mossad, have been a double agent, working for Syria but controlled by Israel? Could he have been deliberately planted on the Syrians or spotted as a potential double once Syria had recruited him? On this theory, he was the instrument for an Israeli penetration of Syrian intelligence, an agent provocateur whose mission was to smear Syria as a terrorist state. If this was true, then the Heathrow bomb was never intended to go off and its discovery by an Israeli security guard was a charade, rather than the result of exceptional vigilance. Hindawi himself may have been persuaded that he would get only a short sentence, since nobody had been hurt.

The political background to the affair lends some support to this interpretation. On March 13, 1986, there was a massive car-bomb explosion in central Damascus, the opening shot in a campaign apparently designed to destabilize Assad's regime. On April 15, the United States attacked Libya; on April 16, bombs on trucks and trains in different parts of Syria killed no fewer than 144 people and wounded many more; on April 17, Hindawi's bomb was discovered at Heathrow, bringing instant worldwide condemnation of Syria.

In the months preceding these events, Israel's prime minister, Shimon Peres, had launched a vast diplomatic offensive aimed at drawing King Hussein of Jordan into direct talks with Israel. Drumming up support in Europe and the United States, he had called on the king to come forward. He made plain that the PLO was unacceptable at any price, that the Soviet Union was ineligible, unless it restored diplomatic relations with Israel -- and that Syria was the main obstacle. Blackening Syria as a "terrorist state" would be a way of elbowing it out of the way.

Peres was strongly supported by Margaret Thatcher, whose close relations with King Hussein made her well placed to promote the Israel-Jordan accord Perez wanted. She seemed unable to grasp why Syria objected to Jordan's doing a separate deal with Israel. She believed that Assad was against peace in general.

In the wake of the Hindawi verdict, condemnation of Syria reached its climax, while Israel redoubled its efforts to draw Jordan into separate talks, the high point being the so-called London Agreement of February 1987. It was reached at a secret meeting of Peres and Hussein at which they approved American terms for a bilateral negotiation. (To Peres's great disappointment, the London Agreement was not followed up, because Shamir's obstruction paralyzed the Israeli government.)

On hearing of the Heathrow incident, Assad believed it was the prelude to a physical attack on Syria, either by Israel alone or in conjunction with the United States. He suspected his enemies wanted to bring him down to allow the Israel-Jordan deal to go forward and give Israel regional supremacy. In an interview with Time magazine on October 20, 1986, he claimed that Israeli intelligence had planned the Hindawi operation. Senior Syrian officials told me, after conducting their own postmortem of the affair, that their intelligence had fallen into an Israeli trap. Some parts of their service had been penetrated and manipulated in order to smear Syria with terrorism and isolate it internationally. Colonel Mufid Akkur, an officer of air force intelligence whom Hindawi named in court, was arrested in Damascus on suspicion of working for Israel. His chief, Colonel Haitham Sa'id, disappeared from view for a while. The head of the service, General Khuly, Abu Nidal's former protector, lost his powerful job and was transferred to another air force post.

But if Syrian intelligence had been penetrated, what role had Abu Nidal played in it? He had supplied the suitcase bomb. But had he -- or perhaps Dr. Ghassan al-Ali -- also sold the Syrians the idea of an attack on El Al in the first place? Had his organization been the main channel for an Israeli penetration?

Senior Syrian officials told me they were convinced that their country's security had been compromised by Abu Nidal's relationship with General Khuly's air force intelligence, and they recalled an earlier incident of lesser importance, in which one of Abu Nidal's men, a certain Adnan al-Faris (code-named Sami Abu Haitham) had been arrested at the Damascus airport in 1985, carrying an intelligence report about various internal matters in Syria, the second time something like this had happened. Abu Nidal's organization had apparently been collecting information about the Syrian army, scandals involving leading Syrians, even the workings of the black market and the price of bread. The Syrians now suspected that Abu Nidal had been trading this information for facilities elsewhere, and some of their intelligence analysts believed that Israel was involved. In late 1986, the Syrians finally put the organization under surveillance and tightened their controls over it.

In 1986, Radi was involved in another slush-fund black operation -- the well-documented attempt to blow up an El Al plane. Or at least what was publicly perceived to be an attempt. In fact, it was a cold, calculated plan conceived by Rafi Eitan to discredit the Syrians. At a secret meeting in Paris, Eitan told Radi that he wanted to implicate the Syrian Embassy in London in terrorism and have all the Syrian diplomats thrown out of England. Radi had a 35-year-old cousin, Nezar Hindawi, living in London, who had two things going for him -- he was friendly with the Syrian Air Force intelligence attache in London, and he had a problem with an Irish girlfriend who told him she was pregnant.

Radi went to his cousin and offered him $50,000. At the same time he told Hindawi that he wanted him to do some work on behalf of Palestine that would also rid him of his troublesome girlfriend.

"This money I'm offering you," Radi told Hindawi, "is from our Syrian brothers on behalf of the Palestinians. We want to blow up a Zionist plane. All you have to do is make sure the girl gets onto an El Al plane with explosives in her bag."

Radi arranged for his cousin to meet the Syrian intelligence officer, and Hindawi later came away with the clear impression that what he was doing was for the Arab cause. In accordance with his briefing, Hindawi told his 32-year-old girlfriend, Ann-Marie Murphy, a chambermaid at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, that he loved her and wanted to marry her. He was eager to introduce her, his future bride, to his old Palestinian parents who lived in an Arab village in Israel. He told her to go and visit them and receive their blessing. Then, when she arrived back in England, they would get married. Overjoyed, she agreed to go, not realizing that the address he gave her in Israel was bogus.

As far as Hindawi knew, the woman was going to be sacrificed. All he had to do was tell her that he wanted her to take a bag of gifts to his parents. But because he didn't want to risk her being stopped for having too much carry-on luggage, he would arrange for a "friend" who worked at the airport to pass her the bag when she entered the El Al departure lounge. She would pass through the regular Heathrow security checks and then be given the package containing the bomb.

Hindawi had been told that a Palestinian cleaner would pass the deadly package to Ann-Marie. In mid-April 1986, he kissed her goodbye and watched her walk through passport control to what he expected would be her death, along with that of all the other 400-plus passengers on board the El Al jumbo jet.

In the El Al departure lounge, an Israeli security man dressed in casual clothes -- the "Palestinian cleaner" -- passed the girl the parcel. She took it. But within seconds she was asked to submit to a search. The security people, who were in on Rafi Eitan's plan, could not afford any accidents. When the bag was opened, plastic explosives were found in a false bottom.

Ann-Marie was rushed off to be interrogated by British security. Sobbing, she told the story of the rat of a boyfriend. Police arrested Hindawi at the London Visitors Hotel, between Notting Hill and Earl's Court, after his brother convinced him to give himself up. He spilled the beans and told them that a Syrian intelligence officer had asked him to carry out the task. But Radi was not implicated. He was under MI-5 protection. As a result, Margaret Thatcher closed down the Syrian Embassy in London. Rafi Eitan had had his way, Hindawi was jailed for 45 years, and Ann-Marie went home to Ireland where she gave birth to a daughter.

-- "Profits of War," by Ari Ben-Menashe


The Hindawi affair strained Syria's relations with Abu Nidal severely, but the incident that finally ended the relationship was the hijacking of a Pan Am jumbo jet, with 358 passengers on board, at the Karachi airport on September 5, 1986.

Technically, it was well done, at least in its opening stages. Four gunmen, dressed as Pakistani security personnel and riding in a passable imitation of a police van, managed to enter the airport and board the Boeing 747 when it stopped for refueling early in the morning, on its way from Bombay to New York. The passengers and crew were soon overpowered. But a few hours later things started to go wrong. The captain managed to leap from the cockpit and immobilize the plane. The hijackers lost their nerve and started firing. As Pakistani forces stormed the plane, someone opened an emergency exit and screaming passengers came tumbling out. Over twenty people were killed in the confusion before the hijackers surrendered.

From defectors, I learned that the strategist of the operation was one of Abu Nidal's most cunning men, Samih Muhammad Khudr, whose first important assignment, eight years earlier, had been to lead the team that assassinated a friend of President Sadat, Egyptian editor Yusuf a-Siba'i, in Nicosia in February 1978. By the mid-1980s Khudr was based in Lebanon, the proud holder of three genuine Lebanese passports and the husband of three foreign wives -- a Swede, a Finn, and a Dane -- whom he had married for cover and whom he visited in their respective countries whenever his work allowed. As the real dynamo behind Abu Nidal's foreign operations, he was in Karachi at the time of the hijack but escaped capture (although his assistant, Muhammad Harb al-Turk, also known as Salman Ali al-Turki, was arrested).

The team had been trained on a model of the plane at a camp in the Bekaa Valley run by Abu Nidal's Intelligence Directorate. To persuade them to volunteer, its members were told that the aircraft would be flown to Israel and blown up over an important military installation. The team was prepared to die. But the team leader, code-named Abbas, who was to carry the explosives in a belt around his waist, was secretly instructed to destroy the plane as soon as it was airborne. On completing their training, the men were taken to Syria and told to prepare for departure from the Damascus airport.

In Damascus, Abbas had second thoughts about his mission, which he confided to his maternal uncle, Fu'ad al-Suffarini, a high official in the organization. But Suffarini, who had served as the director of Abu Nidal's office in the 1970s and had planned several early operations, was himself contemplating defection (and later fled to Jordan). He persuaded his nephew not to throw his young life away on a senseless enterprise.

At a crucial moment in the hijackers' negotiations with the control tower, Abbas pushed one of the American stewardesses into the lavatory and began to fondle her -- evidently, an attempt to abort the operation. With Abbas occupied with the stewardess, the plane's captain escaped. Other members of the team, who may also have had their doubts about suicide, lowered their guard. The plane was then stormed.

As with so many Abu Nidal operations, the Karachi hijack was a criminal act that served no conceivable Palestinian purpose and was probably meant to avenge the U.S. attack on Libya the previous April.

A spokesman for Abu Nidal's organization denied all involvement in the fiasco. But when photographs of the hijackers appeared in the press and were recognized by members of the organization, they realized that the operation had indeed been one of theirs.

Usually, if an operation failed or aroused great hostility or if Abu Nidal was uncertain of the approval of his sponsor, he would claim responsibility for it in the name of some fictitious organization. His anti-British operations, for example, were carried out in the name of the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Moslems; the Rome and Vienna operations were claimed by the Cells of the Arab Fedayeen; the bomb attacks on Kuwaiti cafes were ostensibly the work of the Arab Revolutionary Brigades; and the hijack of the Egyptian airliner was the work of the Organization of Egyptian Revolutionaries. On each occasion, the communique was couched in language to fit the made-up name.

But Abu Nidal also took credit for operations in which he had played no part. When Zafir al-Masri, the Israeli-appointed mayor of the West Bank city of Nablus, was assassinated in March 1986, Abu Nidal issued a long communique claiming credit in the name of his organization, whereas everyone in the Palestinian movement knew that it was George Habash's PFLP that had been responsible.

Among Abu Nidal's more outrageous lies was his claim to have mounted the IRA attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher at Brighton in November 1984 and to have been behind the devastating fire at Bradford City's soccer ground in England in May 1985. When the American spaceship Challenger exploded in flight, he published a congratulatory note in his magazine and ordered sweets to be distributed to his members, leading the small fry to imagine that their organization was capable of such exploits. When Pan Am 103 was downed over Lockerbie, Scotland -- an act of terrorism with which he had no connection -- he said with an air of mystery, according to one of his associates, "We do have some involvement in this matter, but if anyone so much as mentions it, I will kill him with my own hands!" If an American soldier tripped in some corner of the globe, Abu Nidal would instantly claim it as his own work, his associate added.


From the summer of 1986, Abu Nidal started quietly moving his organization out of Syria. Though he had engineered the situation so as to become persona non grata in Syria, he nevertheless wanted to leave on his own schedule, not be caught unawares by an expulsion. His first move, following the Karachi raid, was to instruct his intelligence chief, Abd al-Rahman Isa, to remove the organization's archives and other important documentary material to Libya. (Two copies of the archives were made: one for the organization, which Isa hand-carried to Tripoli, the other for Abu Nidal's personal use.) Gradually, whole directorates and their staffs were transferred to Lebanon and Libya. Cadres who were blindly faithful to him were sent to Lebanon; others, like the ideologue Atif Abu Bakr, the voice of the new, more liberal trend that Abu Nidal detested, were sent to Libya, where he could control them.

At the same time, a number of offices and apartments were disposed of. The Syrians had thought that he operated out of about a dozen buildings, but they were later surprised to discover that his organization had occupied more than two hundred locations. Not a single document or piece of paper was found in any of them.

But as efficiently as the move was planned, an arms cache was mistakenly left behind. Over the years, Abd al-Rahman Isa and others had, on Abu Nidal's instructions, smuggled arms into Syria. Suitcases full of pistols and submachine guns had been brought in on Libyan diplomatic passports. "If the Syrians find a single gun, we'll be in real trouble," Isa had warned. "Today's ally is tomorrow's enemy. We may need the guns inside Syria," Abu Nidal replied. In any event, a large cache of weapons, some seventy submachine guns, mainly Polish Scorpions and Israeli Uzis, had been walled in and plastered over in the basement of a house owned by the Intelligence Directorate. Abu Nidal must have forgotten they were there because, in the months when he was planning to leave Syria, he asked his financial people to sell the house, which was bought by a Syrian officer.

Some three years later, in 1989, someone dug the arms cache out of its hiding place in the basement wall and gave it to the Syrians as a gift. (When Assad heard about it, he is said to have exclaimed: "With such an arsenal, the opposition could have killed me and the whole government!") In the organization there was consternation when the news got out. Who had blundered? Who had betrayed them?

One of the few people who knew about the weapons was the man who had walled them in -- Nidal Hamadi (code name Bajis Abu Atwan), known in the organization as the Executive. He was the minute-taker of the Intelligence Directorate, which meant that he kept the archives and the secret maps of overseas arms caches. Bajis had joined the organization in Iraq when he was very young and had worked in intelligence almost since childhood. He had a detailed knowledge of the organization's foreign operations and its clandestine relationships with foreign groups and states.

Now, at the very time when the weapons were dug out and handed over to the Syrians, Bajis decided to defect to Syria -- with his father, brother (both also members of the organization), and no fewer than fifteen other members of his family. Some sources say it was Bajis who gave the guns to the Syrians. Others say that on hearing of the gift, he decided to run for his life because he knew that he would be in danger once Abu Nidal heard of the affair. In February 1990, he was reported to have left Syria for Jordan, where the authorities are believed to have offered him safe haven. Abu Nidal is said to have made several attempts to kill him there.

The Syrian authorities neither knew nor approved the Egypt Air hijacking of November 1985, the Rome and Vienna operations a month later, or the Karachi hijacking in September 1986, though the Pakistanis sent Syria a dossier showing that Abu Nidal's gunmen had made use of the Damascus airport and other Syrian facilities. Despite these embarrassments and repeated protests from the United States and other countries, the Syrian authorities had been slow to act against Abu Nidal.

But the Hindawi affair gave them a serious jolt: Syria was publicly implicated and its international reputation severely damaged. Perhaps more to the point, the internal power structure was shaken because the culprit appeared to be the powerful General Khuly. For several months, the Syrian government investigated the complicated affair, trying to establish responsibilities. Only then were the Syrians convinced that Abu Nidal was a dangerous associate and that it was time to be rid of him.

But the Syrian system works slowly, and matters did not come to a head until March 1987, when ex-President Jimmy Carter made a private visit to Damascus, having been briefed by the State Department to raise the Karachi incident with President Assad. Assad called for the dossier the Pakistanis had sent to Syria and privately read it for the first time. On June 1, 1987, all members of Abu Nidal's organization, together with their wives and children, were expelled from Syria and their offices closed.

But Abu Nidal did not wait for the expulsion order. Two months earlier, on March 28, 1987, Abu Nidal had left Syria for good. Accompanied by his intelligence chief, Abd al-Rahman Isa, he had first gone to Poland before flying on to Libya three days later, on March 31. Libya was to become his permanent place of residence. His wife, Hiyam, and their three children, Nidal, Badia, and Bissam, stayed on in Damascus until August to pack up the big house in Zabadani.

Whether or not Abu Nidal or his senior colleagues had worked for Israel, inside his organization Abu Nidal had achieved what he wanted: The dangerously reformist, aboveground trend in Lebanon had been contained; the organization would soon be purged, and split between Lebanon and Libya. So far as he was concerned the attacks at Rome, Vienna, Heathrow, and Karachi had served their purpose.

According to his testimony in the taped debriefing I listened to, March 31, 1987, was a memorable date in Abd al-Rahman Isa's diary.

"Why do you keep going on about that date?" Abu Nidal asked him more than once.

"Because it marks the end of our wretched life in Syria and the prelude to real joy in Libya!" Isa replied.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:22 am

Chapter 12: Foreign Affairs

In Libya in the late 1980s, Abu Nidal's twisted soul seemed at last fulfilled. His wealth gave him a sense of omnipotence; he had found in Qaddafi a congenial sponsor who shared his own pleasure in violence. He was eliminating potential rivals, especially Atif Abu Bakr, and had regained absolute control over his organization by extricating it from Syria, splitting it between Libya and Lebanon, and making it clandestine once more.


Abu Nidal's former colleagues told me that Libya brought out the worst in him. He had always been dictatorial; now he was a tyrant. He would not allow his members to socialize with each other, not even to make contact outside their official duties. This prohibition applied even to the most senior members, such as Abu Nizar, for many years his deputy, and Abd al-Rahman Isa, his former intelligence chief. If, occasionally, Abu Nizar broke the rules and called on Isa at home, he would take the precaution of telephoning Abu Nidal to say, "Look, I spent the evening with Abd al-Rahman Isa." And Isa would do the same. Abu Nidal's obsessive fear of plots was such that an unreported meeting could mean death.

Abu Nidal imposed his discipline in a thousand petty ways. He ordered that all passports, genuine or forged, be handed over to him. Even heads of directorates had to comply: No one could think of taking a trip without his personal approval. Ordinary cadres were not allowed a telephone. If one of them rented a house that had a telephone, Abu Nidal would have it removed. Members of the leadership were allowed telephones but for local calls only.

Cadres sent abroad on foreign missions were warned not to venture into duty-free shops. Even the purchase at an airport of a bar of chocolate or a carton of cigarettes could, if discovered, raise a storm. On Abu Nidal's part, this was less a way to save money than to humiliate and control his members. He had a genius for ferreting out his members' trivial lapses and using them to assert his authority. He insisted on personally approving any expenditure, however small, over and above the budgets of the directorates, which he reviewed monthly. On one occasion, Atif Abu Bakr challenged the system: In Tripoli, he bought a coffee table and two easy chairs for his living room and sent the receipt for reimbursement to Atif Hammuda, head of the Finance Directorate. The timid Hammuda asked whether Abu Nidal had approved the purchase. Abu Bakr complained to Abu Nidal, who, in a characteristic switch, gave Hammuda a scolding in front of Abu Bakr. "You donkey!" he cried. "Of course Atif Abu Bakr can sign chits."

All contacts between cadres in Libya and their colleagues in Lebanon went through Abu Nidal, and he was not above suppressing letters and rewriting minutes of meetings to ensure that one wing of the organization was kept in ignorance of the other. By splitting the leadership between Libya and Lebanon, he weakened it and made himself all-powerful. Half the Secretariat, half the Political Bureau, and much of the People's Army, the overt military wing of the organization, remained in Lebanon, but these bodies could do nothing without permission from Abu Nidal, in Tripoli. He personally ran the Intelligence Directorate, the Finance Directorate, and the Libyan end of the Political Relations Committee. He personally supervised the management of the desert camp, where, apart from fighters and trainee terrorists, he kept twenty-three families in air-conditioned isolation, away from their men-folk in Tripoli. He even took over the editorship of al-Tariq, the organization's in-house bulletin.

Abu Nidal sought to instill in his members a solemn approach to work. Jokes were forbidden. At meetings, any attempt to discuss matters unconnected with work would be met with astonishment, even alarm, by anxious members.

Yet for all this, there was something ambivalent about him. His colleagues noticed that although he was addicted to power, he seemed unable to exercise it with ease or confidence. He was nervous when forced to address more than half a dozen people at a time. In front of a larger audience, he became stilted and tongue-tied. He was unkempt and rarely slept two nights running in the same house. His wife and children were often abroad. (It was rumored that they often went to Austria to stay with the eldest daughter, Badia, whose husband, Khalid Abd al-Qadir, was Abu Nidal's secret representative in that country.) He lost weight because of the diet prescribed by his doctors for his heart complaint. His arms and legs grew thin, but his chest had an unnaturally robust look because of the bulletproof vest he wore under his jacket. He now wore a full wig of dark hair.

Because of his long years underground, he no longer seemed to know how to live normally. In Libya, he went to great pains to conceal the facts of his daily life, even from his own members. They knew nothing about where he lived, where he held his secret meetings, where his weapons were stored, and where his archives were kept. For security reasons, he never entertained in his own residence. If he had a visitor for the evening, he would commandeer the house of one of his aides, whose wife would be expected to cook and serve a meal at short notice.

On such occasions, he usually arrived after his guest, accompanied only by a male secretary. His bodyguards would remain outside. He tended to greet his visitors formally, waving to his secretary to take notes of the conversation. Yet he also managed to give the impression of being shy and self-conscious, speaking in a soft voice and looking down at the carpet. But he could move to the attack without warning, suddenly becoming verbally aggressive, as if to show who was in charge. And, though he seemed to live very much alone, Abu Nidal struck his visitors as clever and well informed. He read widely in Arabic and, for foreign books and articles, employed a small team of translators to produce digests for him.


In the years 1987-1990, Abu Nidal concentrated his forces in Libya -- in the camps, farms, and numerous offices and residences that Qaddafi had turned over to him. The organization operated two radio stations, one linking the Secretariat to the desert camp, the other linking the Secretariat to both Lebanon and Algeria.

Libya became the organization's nerve center for its foreign operations. As has been mentioned, Libyan intelligence provided facilities of all kinds -- from training to travel documents to the transport of arms to the import of equipment and supplies. There was mutual benefit in it, and much exchange of intelligence. The Libyans introduced the organization to its contacts, and vice versa. In Libya, Abu Nidal's people met representatives of the Japanese Red Army and the New People's Army of the Philippines and were encouraged to invite to Libya any foreign armed group or political party with which they hoped to establish a working relationship.

Abu Nidal's relations with the Libyans were conducted through two channels: Libyan intelligence and Qaddafi himself. He had no relations with other Libyan government departments, most of which had never even seen him. No one in the organization was allowed to know the exact nature of his relationship with Libya: All communications with the Libyans passed through him.

The Libyan leader treated Abu Nidal more generously than he did other Palestinians, paying him a monthly stipend to cover his expenses in Ubya and allowing him to bring in dollars and change them on the black market at something like three and a half times the official rate. Qaddafi also gave Abu Nidal lump sums to invest in Europe and elsewhere so as to generate income to meet his expenses in Lebanon, a form of support Abu Nidal preferred because it gave him independence and protection against sudden cuts.

Preoccupied with his personal security, Abu Nidal instinctively clung to the intelligence and security services of his host country. He did everything possible to ingratiate himself with Abdallah al-Sanussi, Qaddafi's key man in internal security, calling him sir, like a soldier addressing his superior officer. Qaddafi, he addressed as the Leader (privately taking his members to task if they dared call him Brother Muammar), describing him with cloying hyperbole as "a latter-day Saladin." No hint of criticism of Libya was allowed to appear in any of the organization's internal reports, for fear that these might fall into Libyan hands.

It would enrage Abu Nidal if anyone in the Political Bureau protested that the organization was becoming a creature of Libyan policy. He claimed that such loose talk risked destroying them all. "You keep your pride," he would say. "I have to protect you and the organization!" He would also boast that he had his hands gripped tight round the Libyans' throat and that he knew so much about them that they could never get rid of him. As if to demonstrate his sense of immunity, he would regale his colleagues with scurrilous stories about Qaddafi's love life.

Members of the Libyan end of the Political Bureau and Central Committee would occasionally live for a while in Algeria, which Abu Nidal saw as a possible alternative haven should Qaddafi turn hostile. He even thought at one time of moving his wife and children there and wanted to expand relations with Algerian intelligence, which had begun in 1986. The Algerians, in turn, liked to keep in touch with all Palestinian factions and, whenever possible, help patch up their quarrels.


A few months after the start of the intifada in December 1987, Abu Nidal mounted three operations that would gravely damage the Palestinian cause -- consistent with the pattern of anti-Palestinian activity evident from the start of his career.

Cyprus, in the eastern Mediterranean just off the Syrian coast, had long been sympathetic to the Palestinians, having supported them during Israel's siege of Beirut in 1982 and given them a haven when Arab states expelled them. Cyprus sometimes seemed more committed to the Palestinian cause than many Arab countries -- much to Israel's annoyance.

On May 11, 1988, Abu Nidal's organization detonated a car bomb in Nicosia, killing and wounding fifteen people, including a Cypriot woman who was in a car behind the booby-trapped vehicle and a retired Cypriot diplomat, Andreas Frangos, who was walking nearby. To his own people, Abu Nidal claimed that the plan had been to blow up the Israeli embassy, but the car exploded two hundred yards from the embassy building, which was undamaged. In the wake of this, Cypriot opinion turned against the Palestinians, the island authorities tightened their controls over Palestinians coming in and out, and several resident Palestinians were thrown out.

Four days after the Nicosia bomb, Abu Nidal's gunmen struck again, this time in the Sudan, a country even more consistently pro-Palestinian than Cyprus. In simultaneous attacks at 8 P.M. local time on May 15, 1988, a five-man hit team attacked two "soft" targets in Khartoum -- the Sudan Club, reserved for British and Commonwealth citizens, which they machine-gunned, and the Akropole Hotel, an old Greek-run establishment, where they hurled a rucksack full of grenades into the restaurant, killing a Sudanese waiter, a Sudanese general, and five Britons: Sally Rockett, a thirty-two-year-old teacher, and a family of four, Christopher and Clare Rolfe, both in their mid-thirties, and their two children, aged three and one. One of the children was beheaded by the blast. The Rolfes were Quaker aid workers who had arrived in the Sudan two months earlier, after spending three years with Somali refugees. About seventeen other people were wounded, among them an American, a Swiss, a Pole, and a Frenchman.

Abu Nidal tried to justify the attacks to his colleagues by claiming they were directed at places from which Falasha Jews, escaping from Ethiopia, were taken to Israel. But anyone familiar with the area would know at once that this was absurd.

The operation, which was strongly condemned by both the Sudanese government and the opposition, embarrassed the Palestinians in the Sudan, robbed the intifada of Sudanese popular support, and caused considerable problems with the authorities for Palestinian fighters who had taken refuge in the Sudan after their expulsion from Lebanon in 1982. A couple of weeks after the attacks, Abu Nidal issued a communique in the name of the Cells of the Arab Fedayeen, yet another fictitious organization, in which he claimed that the targets had been "nests of foreign spies." But the communique, several pages long, went on to discuss political and economic conditions in the Sudan as if to imply that the Sudanese opposition had been involved in the attacks. In fact, the Sudanese opposition had no interest in seeing a foreign group that resorted to contemptible terrorist methods assume the mantle of Sudanese nationalism in its name and was incensed at Abu Nidal's attempt to exploit its struggle.

Five of Abu Nidal's young fanatics, aged twenty-two to thirty, were arrested and sentenced to death, but the sentences were not carried out. Sudanese public opinion, in spite of its revulsion at the outrage, could not tolerate the execution of men who called themselves Palestinian guerrillas. The Sudanese Lawyers' Association condemned the terrorists but, in lingering sympathy with the Palestinian cause, undertook their defense. On January 7, 1991, to the dismay of the British and American governments, all five Abu Nidal terrorists were released, after "blood money" was paid to the families of the Sudanese victims and a pardon allegedly secured from the families of the British victims. If, as some of Abu Nidal's former colleagues believe, the operation was inspired by the Mossad, it was a spectacular success, for it cast the Palestinians as heartless murderers and destabilized the Sudan -- which may also have been one of Abu Nidal's aims in staging it.

Some of his former colleagues told me that he had "sold" the operation to Qaddafi as a means to embarrass, and perhaps even overthrow, the new government that Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi had formed a few days earlier, on May 11, 1988. This "national unity" government brought together the main political forces in the country -- al-Mahdi's own Ummah party, the Democratic Unionist Party (friendly to Egypt), and the National Islamic Front (the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, campaigning for the application of Islamic Sharia law). John Garang's southern rebels, who had for years been waging war against the Khartoum government and against the extension of Sharia law, were excluded. Qaddafi, in neighboring Libya, did not like these developments. Not only did he support John Garang, but he wished to increase his own influence in the Sudan at the expense of Egypt's and put pressure on Chad. He therefore welcomed Abu Nidal's bid to destabilize Khartoum.

Abu Nidal had scores of his own to settle with the Sudan. Two years earlier, in 1986, he had sent a secret representative to Khartoum, traveling on a Libyan passport in the name of Ibrahim Hussein al-Mughrabi and posing as a businessman. His real name was Abd al-Karim Muhammad and he was a member of Abu Nidal's Political Directorate. But the contacts he made in Khartoum attracted complaints from Egypt, the PLO, and the United States, and Sudan eventually expelled him (but not before he had taken delivery of and hidden some weapons that Abu Nidal had sent him, probably through the Libyan diplomatic bag, which, my sources believe, were later used in the attacks). In a series of memos to Prime Minister al-Mahdi, Abu Nidal tried to get his man reinstated, but he was not successful, and this left him with a grievance. He had started his career as Fatah representative in the Sudan, and he was particularly sensitive to snubs from countries where he had lived and pretended to have influence. No doubt revenge helped dictate his choice of targets in the Khartoum bombings.

So Abu Nidal and Qaddafi had reasons of their own to destabilize the Sudan, reasons that provided an alternative explanation for the attacks, whose main impact was to discredit the Palestinians at a time when they needed all the support they could get. At the very least, Abu Nidal had allowed other considerations to supersede his loyalty to Palestine, but it is more likely that his organization had once again been manipulated. The alternative explanation looked very much like a cover story.

There was a further twist to the story. Once his five terrorists were in jail, Abu Nidal sought to bribe the Sudanese government to release them. He approached the Sudanese embassy in Algiers with an offer of $250,000 for flood victims in Sudan and dispatched two of his members to Khartoum with the money, which was accepted by a government minister and mentioned in the media. But when the envoys tactlessly raised the question of the five prisoners, an indignant Sudanese government realized that Abu Nidal's gift had strings attached and expelled the envoys. From the Palestinian point of view, Abu Nidal had managed to worsen an already bad situation.

Another grave blow to the Palestinians was the grenade-and-machine-gun attack on July 11, 1988, on the City of Poros, a Greek cruise ship with hundreds of tourists on board. A five-man Abu Nidal hit team killed nine passengers and wounded another eighty. No conceivable Palestinian or Arab interest was served by such random savagery. Greece was the European country most sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and its prime minister, Andreas Papandreou, was the European leader who had most effectively defended the Arabs against Israel's charge of terrorism. For example, at the height of the Hindawi affair in 1986, when Syria believed it had been victimized by an Israeli "dirty tricks" campaign, Papandreou welcomed Hafez al-Assad to Athens and gave him a platform from which to defend himself.

Now Abu Nidal had attacked Greece and predictably, the Greeks were furious that the Palestinians had damaged Greece's all-important tourist trade and hastened the fall of the Papandreou government. Several intelligence sources I consulted were convinced that the attack on the City of Poros was a typical Mossad-inspired operation.

The attack overshadowed another incident on the same day in Athens, in which a car blew up as it was heading for a ferry, killing its driver, the same Samih Muhammad Khudr who had worked in Abu Nidal's Intelligence Directorate. His fingerprints were found to match those of the terrorist who, ten years earlier in Cyprus, on February 18, 1978, had led the team that assassinated Egyptian editor Yusif al-Siba'i, and had then tried to escape by plane after taking hostages, only to be forced back to Cyprus when no airport would allow them to land. This was the incident that ended in a gun battle between Egyptian commandos and the Cyprus National Guard.

At the time of his death in the Athens car bomb, Khudr was head of the Intelligence Directorate's Foreign Intelligence Committee and a veteran of several operations, including the Karachi hijacking and the bombing of cafes in Kuwait. He had also masterminded the City of Poros operation. Keys found in his car turned out to be those of his flat in Sweden, where one of his three foreign wives lived and where, according to sources in the organization, he was due to go to ground after the operation.

Several of his former colleagues did not think his death was accidental. Abd al-Rahman Isa, after his defection, told Abu Iyad (as I learned from the tape of his debriefing) that Samih Muhammad Khudr's death had been engineered by Abu Nidal. He explained that the attack on the City of Poros had been planned as a suicide mission: The hit team was to have been followed on board by a car laden with dynamite timed to explode within sixty minutes. The plan was for Khudr to drive the car to the ferry, ready for loading, and then hand it over to a member of the team. But Khudr did not know that Abu Nidal had given orders to one of his men, Hisham Harb, to prime the bomb to go off within fifteen minutes -- thus ensuring it would explode when Khudr was at the wheel of the car rather than on board the ship as planned.

Some sources inside the organization say that Abu Nidal killed Khudr because he had become too powerful; others say that his death was a gesture to placate Western governments that were putting pressure on Libya to stop harboring terrorists; others still, such as Abd al-Rahman Isa, claimed that Khudr had had an argument with Abu Nidal over the City of Poros operation. Khudr could not see the point of it. "What good will it do?" he kept asking. And indeed the operation can have had no purpose except to disrupt relations between Greece and the Palestinians. Khudr, apparently unaware of Abu Nidal's possible Mossad connection, was beginning to ask awkward questions, which is probably the real reason for his murder.


In the late summer of 1986, a Libyan patrol boat sailing between the Libyan coast and Malta stopped and searched a converted sardine-fishing boat, the Silco. Two couples and four children were found on board. Some of them spoke Flemish, which the Libyans mistook for Hebrew, and one of the adults had a passport with an Israeli stamp. The ship was towed into Tripoli and its crew taken prisoner. Having been attacked by the United States a few months earlier, and in constant fear of hostile penetration along their two thousand kilometers of exposed Mediterranean coastline, the Libyans were more than jumpy. The seizure of the Silco was a serious mistake.

So began one of the more extraordinary Middle East hostage sagas. Qaddafi, embarrassed and fearful of French opinion, did not dare announce the capture of the Silco. So he asked Abu Nidal to provide a cover story, and the latter was glad to oblige. On November 8, 1987, Abu Nidal's organization announced in Beirut that a Palestinian gunboat had captured the Silco off the coast of Gaza and that its crew of suspected Israeli spies was being held prisoner in southern Lebanon. Qaddafi didn't want the French to think ill of him, but Abu Nidal did not mind embarrassing Palestinians.

By this time, the two couples and their children had settled into reasonably comfortable captivity in a Libyan seaside villa that Qaddafi had put at their disposal. They were two Belgian brothers, Emmanuel and Fernand Houtekins; Emmanuel's wife, Godelieve, and their teenage children, Laurent and Valerie; and Fernand's French girlfriend, Jacqueline Valente, and her two young daughters by another man, Marie-Laure and Virginie, whom, it later emerged, she had abducted from her former husband, Pascal Betille, just before going on the cruise. In the first year of their Libyan stay, Jacqueline Valente gave birth to a third daughter, Sophie-Liberte, this time by Fernand Houtekins.

This motley group of hostages was eventually freed -- but only in installments. First to be released, on December 27, 1988, were Jacqueline's two older children, Marie-Laure and Virginie, thanks to the "intervention" of Colonel Qaddafi.

Then, on April 10, 1990, Fernand Houtekins, Jacqueline, and Sophie-Liberte were released in Beirut and allowed to fly to France after an "appeal" by Qaddafi to all Muslims to free hostages and political prisoners on the occasion of Ramadan. In an obvious trade-off, and in defiance of a European Community embargo, France returned to Libya three Mirage jets that had been impounded in 1986 and President Mitterrand sent Qaddafi a personal message of thanks. His foreign minister, Roland Dumas, went so far as to praise the colonel's "noble and humanitarian gesture" -- a remark that caused some irritation in London and Washington, where it was known by this time that Qaddafi had been the kidnapper. Suppression of the truth about the Silco may have been part of the price Abu Nidal had extracted from the French in return for his cooperation.

It was not until January 8, 1991, that the last four hostages, Emmanuel Houtekins, his wife, and two daughters, were released in Beirut -- having been flown from Libya to Syria and then driven to southern Lebanon, to sustain the fiction that they had been held not by Qaddafi but by Abu Nidal. In their case, too, a price was paid. President Mitterrand spoke warmly of "the major role" Qaddafi had played in securing their release, while the Belgian government agreed to free an Abu Nidal terrorist, Nasir al-Sa'id, who had served ten years of a life sentence for hurling grenades at Jewish youngsters on the Agudat Israel school bus in Antwerp in 1980. David Kohane, fifteen, had died in that attack and sixteen other young people had been wounded.

There was a curious postscript to the Silco affair. On January 15, some days after the Houtekins family had been exchanged for Nasir al-Sa'id, Abu Nidal's Beirut-based spokesman, Walid Khalid, was spotted in central Brussels by a passerby, who alerted the police. Desert Storm was only days away, and the Belgian police, like other European police forces, were on full alert for fear of Iraqi-sponsored terrorism. And here was a live terrorist in their midst. Khalid was arrested. But he was swiftly released when it was discovered that he had actually been given a visa by the authorities to come to Belgium for talks with Jan Hollants Van Loocke, director of political affairs at the foreign ministry. In the embarrassing furor that followed, Van Loocke and a senior colleague resigned, the foreign minister, Mark Eyskens, narrowly survived a confidence vote in parliament, and Prime Minister Wilfried Martens, anxious to avoid a government crisis, ordered Khalid to be deported.

Abu Nidal had sent Khalid to Brussels to see what more could be extracted from the Belgians, an incident typical of his dealings with foreign governments. He would mount an attack on their territory, use it to establish a relationship with their intelligence service, and then exploit the channel to press for concessions and facilities. Such blackmail, as we have seen, had made Abu Nidal rich.

Apart from the abduction of Belgian citizens aboard the Silco, he had "softened up" the Belgians with four other contemptible assaults: one in 1980 on Jewish children at Antwerp; the 1981 killing of Na'im Khudr, the PLO representative in Brussels; the May 1988 kidnapping of a Belgian doctor in the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiya in Lebanon; and the killing in 1989 of the imam of the Brussels mosque and his assistant. The Belgians were more than anxious to buy him off.

It later emerged that Abu Nidal had demanded from Belgian intelligence not only the release from jail of Nasir al-Sa'id but also a "bonus" of $30 million. It took weeks of bargaining to get this figure down to $6.6 million, paid over two years and disguised as aid for needy Palestinians, and for the package to include two scholarships for Abu Nidal's candidates. Abu Nidal was keen on student scholarships, the backbone of his foreign networks. Whether this deal has survived the political storm in Belgium over the Walid Khalid affair, I have not been able to discover.

The families on board the Silco were not Mossad agents; they were kidnapped far from the Israeli or Lebanese coast, and Abu Nidal's role in the affair was only as Qaddafi's front man. When he negotiated the release of the captives, he sought nothing for the Palestinians. He wanted only benefits for himself and his Libyan paymaster. Just when world sympathy was aroused for the Palestinian children of the intifada, he managed to fill the pages of the world's press with the ordeal of French, Belgian, and Jewish children at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.

Abu Nidal has had a long clandestine relationship with France. After the killing of Izz al-Din Qalaq, the PLO representative in Paris in 1978, and the discovery of a number of arms caches, the DST, France's internal security service, decided that the best way to neutralize Abu Nidal was to strike a deal with him. Several meetings took place between Abu Nidal's members and DST officers in the early 1980s, first in countries bordering on France, then in France itself.

An agreement was reached in 1984 (though some sources say it was in 1985) for a secret representative of Abu Nidal to live in France to keep open a channel of communications with the DST. This representative was changed fairly often. The last one known to be there, in 1990, was Emile Saab, a Lebanese, who reported to Ali al-Farra (Dr. Kamal), Abu Nidal's Libya-based intelligence chief, who was a frequent visitor to France. In addition, the French authorities gave occasional visas to Abu Nidal's members; allowed him to set up commercial ventures; treated some of his patients in French hospitals; gave him a gift of ambulances and Peugeot cars in Lebanon; and awarded scholarships to three or four of his members for study in France.

In return, Abu Nidal pledged that he would not bring arms into France, mount attacks on targets in France, or use French territory as a springboard for operations elsewhere. Of course, the French knew the truth about the Silco and other Abu Nidal operations, but they went along with the lie. It was cheaper to pay him off than to fight him. Details of Abu Nidal's agreement with the French were reported to me by former senior members of his organization who had been party to the negotiations. No French official has been willing to confirm it.

Switzerland is important to Abu Nidal because much of his money is deposited there and he is anxious to protect it. He needs privileges in Switzerland: residence permits, visas, the freedom to move in and out for himself and for key members of his organization. He does his utmost to conciliate the Swiss authorities, frequently sending his representatives, Atif Hammuda, of the Finance Directorate, and Ali al-Farra, of the Intelligence Directorate, to negotiate with the Swiss. But when he feels the dialogue is flagging, he does not hesitate to use forceful measures. In 1988-89, when some of his international financial dealings were revealed (following the defection to the West of Dirar Abd al-Fattah al-Silwani, manager of his trading enterprise in East Berlin), he feared that Switzerland might be persuaded to freeze his accounts there. He immediately sent a message to Swiss intelligence threatening havoc at the Zurich airport and, in a characteristic preemptive strike, kidnapped two Swiss delegates of the International Red Cross at Sidon in October 1989. When the crisis passed, the delegates were released. His cynical tactic on such occasions is to offer to mediate with the "kidnappers," who are, of course, his own men.

Abu Nidal has tried to establish more of a presence in Western Europe, but with only partial success -- and with many setbacks. For instance, after Swedish police discovered an arms cache near the Stockholm airport in 1988, they traced two Palestinian brothers, members of his organization, to the small town of Umeaa, 540 kilometers north of the capital, and expelled them in December 1990. The Italians have refused all contact with Abu Nidal and have passed harsh sentences on some of his members. He himself is under sentence of death in Italy for the attack on the El Al ticket counter at the Rome airport. Spain is still holding some of his men in jail. The French arranged a meeting in Paris between his representatives and Spanish intelligence, but the Spaniards ignored his crude efforts at blackmail. They decided that opening even the smallest window to him would merely whet his appetite for more.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Abu Nidal made Istanbul the main secret headquarters for several of his committees. He used Turkey as a place in which to store arms and move them into Western Europe. But his killing of a Jordanian diplomat in Ankara and his attack on the Istanbul synagogue roused the Turks against him. Turkey is today among his principal antagonists.

Another is Britain. Its intelligence and security services have been extremely hostile and confrontational ever since his attempt to assassinate Ambassador Argov in 1982. Sources close to Abu Nidal report that he made several attempts to force the British to deal with him -- killing British diplomats in Athens and Bombay; kidnapping the British journalist Alec Collett in Lebanon; bombing British airline offices; and also offering to trade information that he had gleaned in Libya on the Irish Republican Army -- but the British rejected his approaches. Abu Nidal is said to believe that Britain heads a concerted European intelligence effort against him. But my impression is that there is little pooling of information among European states about Abu Nidal. Each country keeps to itself what it knows about him, often reluctant or embarrassed to tell others of its contacts with him.

According to Abu Iyad, the PLO would dearly like to work closely with all Western governments in defeating Abu Nidal and in clearing the Palestinians from the charge of terrorism. But despite the PLO's overtures, some European intelligence services (and particularly the British) continue to ignore it. Several killers of PLO representatives in Europe have been released after serving just a few years in jail. For example, Kayid Hussein and his accomplice, Husni Hatem, the killers of Izz al-Din Qalaq, were released by the French in February 1986, after serving only half of their fifteen-year sentence. In Portugal, Muhammad Hussein Rashid, a member of the hit team sent to kill Isam Sartawi in Portugal, guffawed in court when he heard that he had been sentenced to only three years. From the PLO's standpoint, Europe has either bowed to Abu Nidal's blackmail or has chosen to rid itself of prisoners whose presence in European jails might provoke Abu Nidal into further terrorist acts to secure their release.


Abu Nidal has repeatedly boasted of alliances with other international terrorist organizations, but there appears to be little substance to his claims. According to his former colleagues, Abu Nidal had no link whatsoever with the IRA, although Libya did. His alleged relationship with the Basque separatist movement ETA was pure fantasy, limited to a single meeting in Algeria with some of its representatives. Equally, his ties with the Japanese Red Army and the French Action Directe were minimal. In Belgrade, his members paid courtesy calls on Khalid Abd al-Nasser, son of the former Egyptian president and the figurehead of Egypt's Revolution, a terrorist group that attacked Israeli and American targets in Cairo. But in making such visits, they were merely paying homage to the son of an Arab national hero rather than forging an operational connection with the son. Abu Nidal was in touch with some of the Baader-Meinhof splinter groups, but there was no collaboration or structural link. With the Mafia, he had had some small dealings over arms and forged passports, but little else. Western media reports of a closely integrated terrorist underground are greatly exaggerated.

Abu Nidal did have a relationship with ASALA, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, a small extremist group, of anti-Western, third worldist, and anti-Zionist tendencies, founded in Lebanon in the mid-1970s and further radicalized by the revolutionary militancy of the Palestinian factions it encountered there. ASALA militants hoped that killing Turks would force the Ankara government to admit Turkey's earlier responsibility for the massacre of Armenians and could lead to the creation of an independent Armenia in eastern Anatolia.

Inspiration for the movement had come from an elderly Armenian, Gourgen Yanikian, who, taking belated revenge for Turkish brutalities against his family in 1915, murdered two Turkish diplomats in a hotel room in Santa Barbara in 1973. The crime stirred many diaspora Armenians into a sharper consciousness of the misfortunes that had befallen their nation. ASALA set itself up in opposition to the establishment party of the diaspora, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which it accused of ineffectiveness. Instead, it rallied young radicals to the cause of Armenian nationalism, giving them a reason, if often a violent one, for staying within the fold of the Armenian community. By the mid-1980s, at least twenty-eight Turkish diplomats or their dependents had been killed in over twenty countries.

Sharing a history of exile and dispersal, Armenians and Palestinians were natural allies. Between 1977 and 1982, ASALA and such radical Palestinian groups as the PFLP shared training facilities in South Lebanon. But the Israeli invasion of 1982 drove them out of the south, and most PLO fighters out of Lebanon altogether. Left stranded by the PFLP's departure, ASALA was then taken up by Abu Nidal's organization, with offers of financial aid and the use of its base camps in the Bekaa Valley.

The relationship can be illustrated by the short career of an ASALA hit man, code-named Hagop Hagopian (the Armenian equivalent of John Smith). To some he was a dedicated patriot, to others a professional terrorist committed, like Abu Nidal, to violence and blackmail. In Palestinian circles he was known as Mujahid. He was an Armenian from Iraq who could pass as an Arab. Many Palestinians did not know he was an Armenian.

Before the foundation of ASALA, Hagopian had been a member of Wadi Haddad's militant wing of the PFLP and had in fact been shot and very nearly killed in Beirut in 1976 by another PFLP member, whom he had denounced as a KGB agent. In 1982-83, Abu Nidal's top men, Abu Nizar and Abd al-Rahman Isa, introduced Hagopian to officers of Syrian air force intelligence, notably to Colonel Haitham Sa'id (who was later to be involved in the Hindawi affair), with whom they ingratiated themselves. As a result, Hagopian was given facilities in Syria and was allowed to set up a secret center for forging passports and other documents, using the well-known printing skills of Lebanese Armenians.

ASALA's partnership with Abu Nidal encouraged it to undertake large-scale terrorist operations that attracted much hostile attention, not least from Armenians, and that were eventually to destroy it. In September 1982, two Armenian terrorists attacked the Ankara international airport, killing ten people and wounding eighty. One of the terrorists was captured and sentenced to death. He revealed that Hagop Hagopian had told him that Abu Nidal had supplied the weapons used in the attack. The following year, in July 1983, a time bomb exploded at Orly Airport, outside Paris, killing eight people and wounding over sixty others, most of them Turks checking in for a Turkish airlines flight to Ankara, an operation for which Abu Nidal may again have supplied the logistics. In the manhunt that followed, the French arrested Varoujan Garbidjan, the leader of the ASALA hit team, and sentenced him to long-term imprisonment.

To strike back at France, a gunman believed to be Hagopian killed Colonel Christian Goutierre, a French military attache, in East Beirut in September 1986. Hagopian was rash enough to boast about the killing in an interview with an Arabic- language magazine. Some months later, in 1988, Hagop Hagopian was shot dead in Athens (which he had made his headquarters after the Syrians expelled him in 1987, at the same time that they expelled Abu Nidal). He was on his way to the airport to fly to Belgrade for a meeting with members of Abu Nidal's organization. According to the terrorist underground, Abu Nidal, anxious to demonstrate his usefulness to the French, betrayed Hagopian to them. It is said that he put the French in touch with a rival group in ASALA, which they then encouraged to finish off Hagopian.

By this time ASALA had suffered a number of severe blows: the loss of its South Lebanon training facilities; splits and defections inside the organization caused by widespread revulsion at the Orly massacre; the arrest of many of its members in France; rivalry with other Armenian groups, such as the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide, very probably an unavowed offshoot of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation; the expulsion from Syria; the death of Hagopian; and finally, the diversion of Armenian attention to the struggle for Nagorni Karabakh, the beleaguered Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.

In the late 1980s, Abu Nidal and Fatah fought over the remnants of ASALA, for what could be salvaged. Hagopian's widow still lives in Greece and is said to be the only person who knows where his funds are located.


The familiar charge that communist Eastern Europe helped Abu Nidal and other Palestinian terrorists mount attacks in the West is overstated. The evidence from Palestinian and Western intelligence sources suggests a more ambivalent relationship, though Abu Nidal made Poland his home for several years in the early 1980s and professed great admiration for Erich Honecker's East Germany. He often went on holiday to Hungary and appears to have had three main reasons for cultivating the Eastern Europeans:

First, needing secure places of residence for himself and some key members, he was anxious to conclude security agreements with Eastern European intelligence services. The argument he habitually used was that a relationship with him would give a state immunity from his operations, a form of blackmail he used against Western European states as well.

Second, trading in East-bloc arms was an important source of revenue for him.

Third, he wanted to undermine the close relations that the PLO had established with most Eastern European countries.

Several Eastern European states concluded agreements with Abu Nidal in order to neutralize him, but there is no evidence that they cooperated with him in joint terrorist operations. Much like their opposite numbers in the West, they had state interests to defend. A committee of Czechs, Hungarians, and East Germans met monthly to pool information on terrorism, and a larger committee, on which all Warsaw Pact members were represented, also met at intervals to review the security situation throughout the bloc. To intelligence and security officers from the East, like their Western counterparts, Abu Nidal was a terrorist who had to be contained.

There was hardly any ideological content in Abu Nidal's relations with Eastern Europe, or indeed much coherence in his political stance. He liked to portray himself as a Palestinian nationalist who had been influenced by the theories of Marx, but he detested the Soviet Union and frequently attacked it in his publications. He declared himself a Maoist and expressed admiration for the Chinese experiment, but he never returned to China after his brief visit there in 1972 (when he was still in Fatah) and never developed any sort of relationship with the Chinese. He sometimes used to say that Albanians were the only true Marxists left in the world, but he had no relations with them either.

Abu Nidal tended to take on the political coloring of whichever group he happened to be with. With Marxists, he was one of them; with Arab nationalists, he claimed to be a nationalist; with Islamic fundamentalists, he would profess himself a strict Muslim; with Shi'ites, he swore by the Imam Ali and in South Lebanon even went so far as to alter the code names of his cadres so as to make them sound more attractive to the local Shi'ite population. When in Libya, he would endeavor to work into his communiques the name of Umar al-Mukhtar, the hero of Libya's struggle against the Italians in the 1920s. But in Eastern Europe, he found the best way to make friends was less by professing Marxism than by distributing "gifts" -- an expensive watch here, a present for someone's wife there, or simply quantities of cash all around (in dollar bills). In Poland, in particular, he found it easy to bribe his way into the centers of power.

Abu Nidal's oldest relationship in Eastern Europe was with Yugoslavia, where Palestinians had been going to study in large numbers since the 1960s. When Abu Nidal broke from Fatah in 1974, he managed to poach some of Fatah's students in Yugoslavia and used them to start recruiting in earnest, causing violent clashes between his supporters and Fatah's. In April 1980, his men in Belgrade threw a bomb at a car in which Abu Iyad was thought to be traveling. Not wanting further headaches of this sort, Yugoslav intelligence decided to open a line to Abu Nidal.

The Yugoslavs considered Abu Nidal a terrorist and did not approve of him. But they ignored his activities in the hope of persuading him not to forge links with separatist movements inside Yugoslavia and not to conduct his bloody feud with Fatah on their territory. He, of course, exploited such tolerance for all it was worth. From 1980 onward, he kept a secret representative in Belgrade: first Ali al-Farra (Dr. Kamal), then Iyad Muhammad (the husband of one of his nieces), then Ali Afifi, followed by others. As a result, from 1980 to 1985, Yugoslavia became the organizational center for Abu Nidal's European operations. Weapons were stored there; his teams of assassins coming in from Libya or Lebanon used Yugoslavia as a staging post on their way to other destinations; and weapons were moved from there into the rest of Europe. Inside the organization, Yugoslavia was considered "semisecure" in the sense that if its members got into trouble, the organization could usually strike an under-the-table deal with the Yugoslavs to get them out of it.

Abu Nidal's relationship with East Germany began almost by accident when one of his cadres, Adnan Faris, an official in the Political Relations Committee, was spotted at the Berlin airport in 1984 and stopped for questioning. Boldly, he suggested some form of cooperation, a proposal he reported to his superiors on his return to Syria. Members of the Intelligence Directorate then visited East Germany, and the relationship commenced.

At least four major contacts were made in the second half of the 1980s:

In 1985, Abu Nidal paid a visit to Berlin and had a long talk with Erich Mielke, the veteran head of East Germany's all-powerful state security service, the Stasi.

Not long afterward, a twenty-six-man delegation from the organization, led by Isam Maraqa (who was shortly to become Abu Nidal's deputy), attended a three-month training course in East Germany at the invitation of the Stasi.

Later in 1985, another political delegation, headed this time by Fu'ad al-Suffarini, of the Organization Directorate (who was to defect to Jordan), visited East Germany.

In early 1986, a twenty-man military delegation, headed by a cadre code-named Jamil, attended a weapons-and-explosives course at the 12,000-acre Stasi training camp at Mossow, south of Berlin. One of the men at the course recalled that Abu Nidal paid them a visit at that time and, addressing their hosts, spoke in fulsome terms of the East Germans as "the bravest socialists in the world."

The Stasi, however, did not help Abu Nidal in any of his foreign operations, nor did East Germany ever publicly acknowledge its links with Abu Nidal. In fact it made him promise not to store weapons in East Germany or transport them across its territory or mount operations in West Berlin. It did, however, allow him to set up his East Berlin trading company, Zibado, a sort of joint venture. But when its manager, Dirar Abd al-Fattah al-Silwani, defected, information about its activities was leaked to the press and the company was closed down.

To his chagrin, East Germany did not allow Abu Nidal to disrupt its close relations with Arafat's PLO. When in 1983 Arafat was besieged in the North Lebanon port of Tripoli by Fatah rebels backed by Syria, Erich Honecker sent him boatloads of arms, medicines, clothes, and foodstuffs -- all free of charge. Not only did the PLO have its own extensive contacts with the Stasi, but it also dealt directly with the East German Foreign Ministry through its embassies abroad and it had a channel to institutions of the Communist party, which supplied the PLO with some three hundred medical grants a year and one hundred scholarships. The collapse of the communist regime was therefore a blow both to the PLO and to its archenemy, Abu Nidal.

In Poland, Abu Nidal had a residence and was given a score of scholarships for his students. But his relations with the Poles were ambivalent. He claimed to have high-level political contacts with them, but this was a fabrication. His only real contacts were with the intelligence and security services. Political leaders would not meet him, and half the time even the security people did not know he was there. His practice was to conceal his true identity and travel incognito. Like other Eastern Europeans, the Poles gave him safe haven in order to earn hard currency by exporting their weapons, and to prevent him from mounting operations against them or from their territory.

The Hungarians became interested in Abu Nidal when one of the terrorists who took part in the Vienna airport attack of December 1985 revealed that he had flown to Budapest and then driven to Vienna by car. To prevent future trouble, the Hungarians concluded a security agreement with Abu Nidal, which was negotiated by Atif Abu Bakr, who, before defecting to Abu Nidal's organization, had been the PLO "ambassador" in Budapest, in 1983-84. As others had done, the Hungarians submitted to blackmail by allowing a dozen of Abu Nidal's students to take courses in their country and by ignoring movements of his men in and out of the country. By 1986, Budapest had replaced Belgrade as a key center for Abu Nidal's European operations.

The Czechs considered Abu Nidal a terrorist and had no relations with him, although they were on good terms with Atif Abu Bakr, who had been PLO "ambassador" in Prague.

Bulgaria, which Abu Nidal visited often and where he liked to hold meetings, allowed him to establish a small student presence, sold him some weapons, let his men use Sofia as a staging post, and gave him a villa near the Hotel Vitusha, where he sometimes spent part of the summer. But they were not happy when they discovered that he was smuggling weapons from Turkey through their country to European destinations. Some consignments were seized and some of his men landed in jail.

The Romanians were the most hostile of all Eastern Europeans to Abu Nidal and had been ever since the killing of a Jordanian diplomat, Azmi al-Mufti, and the wounding of another in Bucharest in December 1984. Abu Nidal tried blackmailing the Romanians in every way he could, including placing bombs in their embassy in Beirut, but they refused to be cowed and arrested his members whenever possible.

Abu Nidal never went to the Soviet Union in an official capacity or met with any Soviet leaders (although for added safety, or so he thought, he sometimes chose to transit through Moscow on his way, say, from Geneva to Damascus). Members of his organization used to call at Soviet embassies in Baghdad and Damascus, but these contacts ceased when the organization moved to Libya. Stung by Western accusations that Moscow supported international terrorists, Soviet diplomats were distant and cautious in their contacts with Abu Nidal, and on Palestinian issues, they made it clear that they supported Arafat's moderate line and opposed terrorism.


On March 29, 1989, a Saudi cleric, Sheikh Abdallah al-Ahbal, spiritual head of the Muslim community in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, was shot dead at his mosque in Brussels, together with his Tunisian librarian. The killing was immediately associated in the public mind with the death sentence passed six weeks earlier, on February 14, 1989, by Iran's leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, on the British writer Salman Rushdie for his irreverent treatment of the Prophet Muhammad in his novel The Satanic Verses. The Brussels imam, a moderate, had apparently not endorsed the Ayatollah's death sentence and it was supposed that this had cost him his life, presumably at the hands of Muslim fanatics. Responsibility for the murder was claimed by the Organization of the Soldiers of Justice, in a communique couched in language such as that used by Hizballah, Islamic Jihad, and other pro-Iranian Islamic groups.

These were false trails: It was Abu Nidal who had ordered the killing. The assassination was part of the campaign of blackmail and extortion he was waging against Saudi Arabia, which was to earn him some millions of dollars in "protection money." He also wanted to sell Iran his services.

From the moment he was evicted from Iraq in 1983, Abu Nidal wanted a link with Iran. He offered Tehran intelligence about Iraq's military dispositions; he tried to lure it with arms deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars; his men in Damascus paid regular visits to the Iranian embassy, then headed by the hard-liner Ali Akbar Mohtashemi (later to become Iran's minister of interior and later still a leader of the radical camp opposed to President Hashemi Rafsanjani), in the hope of a relationship with Iran's Revolutionary Guards; he was lavish in his praise for Iran's war effort and denounced Saddam Hussein's "fascist regime." And whenever the press reported that Iran was secretly buying arms from Israel, Abu Nidal's magazine rushed to refute the charge, as if he himself had stood accused.

But the Iranians would not swallow the bait, and the invitation to Tehran Abu Nidal kept hoping for never came. Despite his efforts to court them, the Iranians believed that he was still tied to Iraqi intelligence, which had helped set him up in the first place. They did not need his help in mounting foreign operations; they did not wish to burden themselves with someone of his reputation; and they preferred to deal with groups that shared their Islamic ideology, which he did not.

However, on the ground in South Lebanon, Abu Nidal's men did make some limited contact with Hizballah, and he himself claimed to be on good terms with Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, Hizballah's spiritual guide. But contrary to reports in the press, this did not lead to significant operational cooperation.

There is no evidence that Abu Nidal played any part in Hizballah's numerous operations against Israel's self-styled "security zone" in southern Lebanon. Nor did Hizballah play any part in Abu Nidal's attack on the Greek cruise ship City of Poros as is sometimes alleged. Because that attack, on July 11, 1988, took place in the final stages of the Iraq-Iran war, only a few days after the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Gulf with the loss of 290 lives, many jumped to the conclusion it was an act of revenge in which Hizballah and Abu Nidal had joined forces. But this was another false trail. Iran and its friends had no hand in the City of Poros affair, and indeed Tehran was one of the first capitals to denounce the operation.

By the time Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Abu Nidal had given up wooing Iran and was seeking to benefit from the crisis by ingratiating himself with members of the anti-Iraq coalition. But Desert Storm came and went without his entering the fray or drawing attention to himself -- save to kill Abu Iyad in Tunis on the eve of battle, a murder that many in the intelligence world believed was inspired by the Mossad, though Abu Nidal had, as usual, his own reasons for murdering his former patron.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:24 am

Chapter 13: The Great Purge

Abu Nidal started to kill early in his career in Baghdad -- first in his struggle with Fatah, a parent he rejected and for whom he developed a lifelong hatred.

Fatah's sentence of death on him, passed in absentia in 1974, and its murder that same year of his friend Ahmad Abd al- Ghaffur, unleashed a torrent of violence in him. If Fatah could behave like this, so could he. It was Fatah that had taught him to kill, he said, and it was fear of Fatah, of its revenge, of its penetration of his organization, of its enveloping powers, that would become his obsessive preoccupation. If one of his members so much as telephoned a Fatah office, Abu Nidal considered it treachery.


From the early 1970s, Abu Nidal built his organization on brutality and fear. Scores of his members disappeared on his orders during the Baghdad years, ending up in pits at the Hit training camp or buried in cement at Center 85 in Baghdad. When the intended victim was too prominent to be murdered in Iraq, Abu Nidal would arrange to send him "traveling" on a foreign mission and have him killed abroad. Abd al-Rahman Isa, his intelligence chief at the time, recalled that Abu Nidal asked him about the location of a certain arms cache in Europe. Isa had replied that the man who knew about it was so-and-so. Pensively, Abu Nidal looked into the distance. "Wasn't he one of the members we sent traveling?" he asked. The man who had buried the weapons had himself been buried. In such cases it was usual for the organization to claim the missing man as a "martyr" and mourn his passing with an obituary notice in its magazine.

No doubt Abu Nidal was influenced by the ferocious system Saddam Hussein was then putting in place in Iraq. But his casual resort to murder owed much to his own brutal paranoia. It was also a deliberate strategy: Ruthlessness, he believed, would make his enemies fear and respect him. That the victims were often innocent did not concern him. Their deaths would keep others in line. Once he began prowling in the darkness beyond the campfire of society, legal and moral restraints had no further hold on him, nor did a sense of common humanity.

In the late 1970s, a well-known Palestinian engineer, Ahmad Jum'a, and his bride of a month, shopping in a Baghdad supermarket with one of Abu Nidal's cadres, were kidnapped on the street, bundled into a car, and taken to Center 85, where they were tortured and killed. Jum'a had been a founder member of Fatah's Iraqi branch but had left it in 1974 to join Abu Nidal's organization, where he had risen to some prominence. His kidnapping and death seemed motiveless: No evidence was produced against him or his wife. But the cadre with whom they had been rash enough to go shopping had recently been to Beirut, where he had met some Fatah people -- enough to arouse Abu Nidal's suspicions. For this, all three had to die. In an obscene twist, the men who kidnapped them in Baghdad took home to their own children the groceries Jum'a and his bride had bought at the supermarket.

Another notorious case was that of Nabil Abd al-Fattah, whom Abu Nidal had entrusted with the key job of running his counterespionage unit in Iraq, a position from which he had sent many men to their death. Abu Nidal told his members that Abd al-Fattah hailed from Nablus, a major West Bank city, but in fact little was known about him as he had had no background in Fatah or in any other Palestinian organization. Eventually, Abd al-Fattah fell out with his chief and fled to Jordan, whereupon Abu Nidal screamed that he was not a Palestinian at all but a Jordanian, that he was in the pay of Jordanian intelligence, and that he had been planted on him. But no one dared ask Abu Nidal where he had found this man and why he had promoted him.

In the early eighties, when the organization moved to Syria, Abu Nidal managed to lure Abd al-Fattah to Damascus on the pretext of renewing contact with him. He and his wife were then taken to Lebanon and killed. (His wife was Nuha al-Turk, sister of Muhammad Harb al-Turk, now serving a prison sentence in Pakistan for his part in the hijacking of the Pan Am airplane in Karachi of September 1986.)

Was Abd al-Fattah innocent or was he a plant? Somewhere between the two "identities" Abu Nidal had given him, the truth was lost. And what of the dozens of people who had passed through his hands to be tortured and executed? One of Abu Nidal's more disturbing habits was to get people to do his dirty work for him and then kill them once they had served his purpose.

In 1983, when the organization was expelled from Iraq, it was still holding in its prisons some twenty members who had fallen under suspicion but whose interrogation was not yet complete. What was to be done with them? If the Iraqis attempted to release them, Abu Nidal gave orders that grenades were to be thrown at once into the prison cells. Eventually, Abu Nidal moved the prisoners to Syria and then to Lebanon, where he murdered many of them.

Basil, the bluff, straightforward soldier with fair hair and pink cheeks, who would not have been out of place in a British officers' mess, was a Palestinian born in 1950. He had joined Abu Nidal in the early 1970s but had refused to have anything to do with his foreign operations. Instead, he had spearheaded the organization's entry into Lebanon and, in the mid-1980s, had risen to be chief of military operations for Abu Nidal's militia, the People's Army. However, sickened by the brutalities he had witnessed, he defected to the breakaway Emergency Leadership, which we will soon learn about, that Atif Abu Bakr established in November 1989, and agreed to be interviewed by me in Tunis in 1990. We met furtively a number of times in small seaside hotels.

Basil told me he had spent sixteen years with the organization, but only when he left did he grasp its real nature. Inside the organization it was considered treachery even to ask a question. Each member lived in isolation and was subject to Abu Nidal's total control. But an incident in 1985 had made Basil uneasy. Fatah had captured five of Abu Nidal's men in the Bekaa Valley and killed them. To avenge them, a Fatah office was raided and two of its men were captured and shot at once. It turned out, however, that one of them was not a member of Fatah at all but a student whose brother worked in the Fatah office and whom he had come to visit. Finding him absent from his desk, the student had sat down to wait for his brother -- only to be kidnapped and killed. "They didn't even ask the poor fellow his name before shooting him!" Basil told me.

Another case of which Basil had firsthand knowledge was that of a Palestinian student from the occupied West Bank who had come to study at Damascus University. On the way, he stopped off in Jordan to see his aunt, who gave him a bag of food for her son, Faruq, who worked for Abu Nidal in Syria. The student came to the organization's office at the Yarmuk refugee camp, in Damascus, and asked to see his cousin.

"He's in Lebanon," they told him. "We've got a car going there and can give you a lift."

The student was arrested on arrival, given a severe beating, and accused of being a Jordanian agent. For eighteen months he was held in prison in appalling conditions. By the time they released him, his passport had expired and the Jordanians would not renew it. The Israeli stamp allowing him to reenter the occupied territories had also expired, so he could not return home. He had become a refugee.

Basil was told to speak to him. "I had to explain to him that the harsh treatment he had received was only to be expected, as the organization was itself under constant threat. Forced to mouth cliches about Zionism and imperialism, I suddenly realized how little I actually believed in them!

"I tried to buy him some clothes and make sure he had something decent to eat. But he was a broken man. In the end, I was left speechless at the spectacle of such needless suffering." It was cases such as this that led Basil to defect.


Based in the village of Bqasta in the hills above Sidon in South Lebanon, some twenty miles north of the Israeli border, the Committee for Revolutionary Justice oversees the cruel charade of interrogation, torture, and execution that in the organization passes for due process of law. This is the committee headed by Mustafa Ibrahim Sanduqa (code name Salim Ahmad), who is married to one of Abu Nidal's nieces and, as such, is a member of his extended family. It will be recalled that I had put him on my list of suspected Mossad agents, together with Dr. Ghassan al-Ali and Alaa.

Several prisoners held by the committee in 1990 were guilty of nothing more serious than minor offenses against the organization. But in an outfit gripped by permanent spy mania, the most common accusation is that of treachery -- of working for a hostile service. Under torture, most prisoners confess their crime. Often, they beg to be killed, to bring their ordeal to an end. Some of Abu Nidal's stronger victims have survived imprisonment and torture, though, and have later been found innocent of the charges against them. They are usually executed anyway, to make sure word of such methods doesn't leak -- but enough has leaked for a sordid picture to emerge.

In his taped debriefing, Abd al-Rahman Isa said, "Abu Nidal would summon me to his office and say very sternly, 'Information has reached me that so-and-so in our organization is a suspect!' He would then place a file on the table in front of him -- but he would neither open it nor read out anything from it. Nor would I. I would take his word for it. I believed him!"

When he defected from the organization in 1989, Abd al Rahman Isa published a statement in which he declared that he had been lied to for seventeen years. He had been made to kill on the basis of an empty file on a table. However, by acquiescing in such methods, men like Isa were also signing their own death warrant. As we shall see, Isa himself would soon become a target.

Methods of torture used by the committee were exceptionally barbarous, even in a region known for its disregard for human rights. They included hanging a man naked for hours and whipping him until he lost consciousness; reviving him with cold water; and rubbing salt or chili powder into his wounds. Or forcing a naked prisoner into an automobile tire with his legs and butt in the air; then whipping, wounding, salting, and reviving him with cold water; then repeating the process. On occasion, plastic melted under a flame was allowed to drip onto a prisoner's bare skin. Another method was to heat oil in a frying pan and then, while holding the prisoner steady, fry his male member.

In the committee's prisons, each man was confined alone in a tiny cell, built on two levels like a step. Bound hand and foot, the prisoner could move his hands only enough to take and eat food thrown in to him from an opening in the cell wall. He could urinate and defecate only with great difficulty.

(Such prisons are not unique in the area. On June 26, 1990, Israel's human rights organization, B'tselem, reported on detention centers for underage Palestinians in Jerusalem. "Almost every minor we interviewed testified that he had been beaten, usually severely -- slaps, punches, kicks, hair pulling, blows with clubs and iron bars ... " the report said. Others reported that their manacled hands were bound behind them to a pipe in an open courtyard, where they were left in awkward positions for hours in the sun and rain, and during the night. Other young prisoners reported being held for days in a dark and smelly isolation cell measuring 1.5 square meters, and containing a toilet seat. Some said they were held for hours in what they called "the closet," a very narrow cell one meter long in which the inmate can stand but cannot move. Other testimony described the "grave," a sunken boxlike cell covered by an iron door in which handcuffed inmates must sit bent over. The cell is soiled, since prisoners are not allowed out to the bathroom and excrement accumulates under them. The iron door keeps in the noisome smells.)

If Abu Nidal's prisons happened to be full, and while the committee waited for its leader in Libya to confirm a death sentence, a prisoner might be placed in a freshly dug grave and have earth shoveled over him. A steel pipe in his mouth sticking out of the ground would allow him to breathe. Water would be poured in from time to time to keep him alive. When word came from Libya, a bullet would be shot through the tube, which was then removed and the hole filled up.


With the passage of years, the blood shed by Abu Nidal swelled into a torrent. Dozens of men were murdered in the 1970s, when the organization was based in Iraq. Two-score and more, including women and university students, were kidnapped in Syria in the 1980s, smuggled out to Lebanon, and butchered in the Badawi refugee camp, in the north of the country. Another forty-seven prisoners being held in a jail at Aita, in the Bekaa Valley, could not be transported when the organization moved from there to South Lebanon, so they were killed en masse in 1987, without even having been interrogated. By 1986-87, beatings and torture in the organization's prisons had become routine. According to eyewitnesses, interrogators seemed hardly concerned to discover the truth about detainees or to investigate their background. Sentences were passed on the basis of confessions, and condemned men would be shot at night and buried in the woods.

These killings were merely the prelude to the orgy of murder in both Lebanon and Libya that started in November 1987 and continued more or less unabated until the end of 1988, when Abu Nidal, encountering opposition from his colleagues, found it prudent to pause. In a little over a year, it is estimated that Abu Nidal murdered some six hundred of his own people, between a third and a half of his total membership, mostly young men in their early twenties -- almost as many Palestinians as Israel killed in the first three years of the intifada.

These mass killings were mainly the work of the four-man team in charge of Abu Nidal's operations in Lebanon: Mustafa Ibrahim Sanduqa, of the Justice Committee, with its prisons and interrogation centers, torturers, and executioners; Isam Maraqa, Abu Nidal's thirty-five-year-old deputy, who was married to Umm Nidal's niece; Sulaiman Samrin, the powerful first secretary, better known as Dr. Ghassan al-Ali; and Mustafa Awad, known as Alaa, the violent and unscrupulous head of the Intelligence Directorate.

Over three hundred men were killed in South Lebanon by these four, 171 of them on a single night in November 1987 -- on the fabricated charge of being Jordanian agents. According to a defector, a bulldozer was brought in to dig a deep trench. Blindfolded, roped together, and with their hands tied behind their backs, the men were then lined up, sprayed with machine-gun fire, and immediately pushed in for burial, some of them struggling and still alive.

About 120 men then fled the People's Army and sought refuge in the Bekaa Valley with Abu Ahmad Fu'ad, the military commander of George Habash's PFLP. In an angry communique, Abu Nidal accused Fu'ad of being a Jordanian agent as well -- and, for good measure, of being in league with Yasser Arafat and the Americans.

Those Abu Nidal was unable to liquidate in Lebanon he transferred to Libya and exterminated there. In the mass killings at the desert camp where Jorde was held, 165 men died in 1987-88 and were buried in communal graves. Most of these were Palestinian youngsters who had been sent from Lebanon on the pretext that they were on their way to Chad to fight alongside Libyan forces in the struggle for the contested Aouzou strip. Abu Nidal's was one of several Palestinian and Lebanese factions, friendly to Qaddafi or funded by him, that had contributed men to Libya's war effort. But Abu Nidal believed these youngsters were conspiring against him, and they never got further than the Libyan camp. According to a friend of Jorde who had also been at the camp and who later escaped, one of their executioners was driven to suicide by what he had done.

Al-Hajj Abu Musa was a veteran instructor in his late fifties who had been with Abu Nidal since the Iraq days and was now with him in Libya. Over the years, Abu Musa had trained many of his recruits. He was a soldier, a killer, but in the circumstances more benign than most, and his personal following among the fighters appears to have aroused Abu Nidal's jealousy. "You know, Abu Musa," he would say to him at meetings, "there are many traitors to be found among the Palestinians -- but the highest percentage is among the over-fifties!"

Abu Nidal sent Abu Musa to Libya and put him in charge of the training camp, where he had him arrested and killed -- on grounds of sexual perversion. In a sadistic afterthought, he told the Hajji's anxious wife, Umm Musa, an old peasant woman who dressed in traditional embroidered Palestinian clothes like the rural women of her generation, that her husband had been posted to Libya to prevent him from taking another wife. Abu Nidal then arrested Umm Musa, who had been like a mother to many of his young recruits, and had her thrown into jail and killed on a charge of lesbianism. Husam Yusif, the Hajji's successor as commander of the Libyan camp -- the man in charge there when Jorde passed through -- was also purged.

"What people don't understand," Abu Dawud once said to me, "is that Abu Nidal takes his decisions to kill in the middle of the night, after he has knocked back a whole bottle of whiskey." But this was not an adequate explanation. For Isa, who had worked closely with Abu Nidal for twenty years, there could be no question that Abu Nidal was now insane. Abu Iyad and Atif Abu Bakr believed, as we have seen, that Abu Nidal was acting in Israel's interest -- destroying one of the best Palestinian fighting forces in South Lebanon. But whether the source of his behavior was alcoholism, madness, or the Mossad, or all three, Abu Nidal so terrorized his organization that no one could stop him.


In Lebanon, among the first to die in November 1987 were the organization's two best officers, Jasir al-Disi (known as Abu Ma'mun) and Ayish Badran (Abu Umar), both seasoned soldiers who had begun with Fatah, attended military courses in India and the Soviet Union, and joined the organization after the Fatah mutiny of 1983. Disi had been elected a member of Abu Nidal's Central Committee, while Badran, who had commanded the organization's forces during the War of the Camps, was appointed deputy head of the People's Army Directorate. Their death destroyed the military effectiveness of the People's Army.

Basil had been Jasir al-Disi's deputy. In Tunis in the summer of 1990, at one of our meetings by the sea, he told me what had happened, his broad pink face sweating. First Disi and then Badran had disappeared, suddenly and without warning, leaving him in charge. He supposed they had been sent abroad on short notice. Then Wasfi Hannun, the head of the People's Army Directorate, came one day to his headquarters to take him to an important meeting with Isam Maraqa, Abu Nidal's deputy, and Dr. Ghassan.

Hannun drove Basil into the hills above Sidon to a building that belonged to the Intelligence Directorate. As they approached, Basil saw a large contingent of guards outside, men he recognized as the personal bodyguards of Isam Maraqa and Dr. Ghassan. He greeted them warmly, but they seemed puzzled by his presence.

"It was only when I got inside," Basil told me, "that I saw that I was in an interrogation center. There were electric cables for torture and a cement block for the accused to sit on, facing his interrogators. Five men, who looked as if they had been there for days, sat behind a table laden with files, thermos flasks of coffee, dirty cups, and overflowing ashtrays. The atmosphere was dense and smoky.

"Isam Maraqa said they wanted to ask me some questions about Disi and Badran. What did I think of them? I answered that they were capable and experienced officers who had had good careers with Fatah before joining us and had played a full part in the War of the Camps.

"Maraqa then said bluntly that they had confessed to plotting and were both in detention. They had named me as someone on whose help they hoped to count. Had they approached me about their plot?"

Basil replied angrily that he considered himself one of the builders of the organization and that he was not proposing to tear down his own work. Did they imagine that he would keep quiet if he had heard even a whisper of sedition? After about half an hour's questioning they let him go.

Many men then started disappearing from the units. At first Basil thought they had been transferred to Libya or sent to fight in Chad, but he was amazed to discover they were held prisoner in Sidon and brutally interrogated in the name of a supposed conspiracy. It was soon learned that Disi and Badran had been executed -- as Jordanian spies -- and that dozens of others had been shot and were buried in a mass grave near Bqasta.

Badran left a widow and nine children in the village of Dummar, on the outskirts of Damascus.


In my interviews with ex-members of the organization whom I was able to track down in Tunis, Malta, Cyprus, and Marseilles, I learned of several other cases of sudden and violent death.

-- Ibrahim al-Abd, an able cadre of the Finance Directorate who had headed the organization's Zurich-based trading company, was arrested in 1987, accused of being a spy for the Mossad and the CIA, and executed. At the time, Abu Nidal was reorganizing his Swiss bank accounts to bring them more tightly under his family's control. Abd may have known too much about these funds, as did another cadre from the Finance Directorate, killed at about the same time, named Musa Rashid, who had run a finance company in Kuwait belonging to the organization. He was summoned to Libya and shot as a Jordanian spy.

-- Muhammad Khair (code name Nur Muharib), a member of the Political Directorate's Political Relations Committee, was another victim of Abu Nidal's paranoia. Before joining the organization in the late 1970s, he had spent a year or two studying in Turkey, which convinced Abu Nidal that he had been enlisted by Turkish intelligence. From there, it was only a step to suppose that the Turks had introduced him to the Mossad, which encouraged him to offer his services to Jordanian and Syrian intelligence. So Nur Muharib was charged with being an agent of four intelligence services.

In 1987, Muharib had met and married Fatima Skaf, a young Syrian schoolteacher from a Shi'ite family, who taught in a primary school in Damascus. Four months after their marriage, they were both arrested and, in 1988, executed. That she was a new bride, who had not known her husband for long and knew nothing of the organization and no one in it, did not spare her. When her parents made inquiries, they were told that she had been sent abroad on a mission with her husband. To this day, they are uncertain of her fate.

Nur Muharib had an uncle called Mustafa Umran, a Palestinian writer and poet from Gaza, with an M.A. in Arabic literature from Cairo University. He had been a follower of the Fatah rebel Abu Musa, but in 1987 joined Abu Nidal's organization and, because of his writing skills, was given a job in the Political Directorate's Publications Committee. It was while he was working there that he came across his nephew, Nur Muharib, whom he had not seen for twenty years.

When Nur was arrested, his uncle was taken as well and tortured terribly until he confessed that he was the head of a Mossad network whose special role was to indoctrinate Arabs in the subversive view that normal relations with Israel were possible.

These two men, respectively in the Political Relations Committee and the Publications Committee, had climbed to well- placed jobs. They were considered comrades and revolutionaries. But from one day to the next they were accused of being spies and traitors and were exterminated. As usual, no evidence against them was ever produced. They were nonpersons. No one could say a word in their favor. Colleagues of such dead men would learn of their fate from the organization's magazine or from an internal memorandum.

-- Mujahid al-Bayyari (code name Zuhair Khalid), another victim, was one of the terrorist stars of the Intelligence Directorate, a prominent cadre in foreign operations who had spent two years in a Spanish jail for traveling on a forged Moroccan passport. He had been involved, among other outrages, in the bombing of the open-air cafes in Kuwait in 1985.

One day in 1986, when the organization was still in Syria, Syrian air force intelligence asked its contact man in the organization, Abd al-Karim al-Banna (Abu Nidal's nephew), if he knew of a member called Mujahid al-Bayyari; they wished to interview him. When Abu Nidal heard of these inquiries, he seemed deeply disturbed. He blustered that the Syrians probably wanted to hand Bayyari over to the Kuwaitis -- because of the bombings of the cafes -- and get paid handsomely for it. He refused to allow Bayyari to be interviewed.

The fact was that in July 1979, at Nice, on the French Riviera, Bayyari had been part of an Abu Nidal hit team that, on Iraq's instigation, had assassinated Zuhair Muhsin, the head of Syria's own Palestinian faction, al-Sa'iqa. When the Syrians asked to interview Bayyari, Abu Nidal immediately suspected that they had learned of his role and were bent on revenge. He instructed Bayyari to set off a car bomb (one of his specialties) in Israel's security zone in southern Lebanon but, by chance or premeditation, the bomb went off prematurely in Sidon and Bayyari was killed.

Abu Nidal then sent the Syrians a message: Would they like him to kill the leader of the Arab Liberation Front, Iraq's Palestinian faction? As one of Abu Nidal's ex-members explained to me: "Abu Nidal was telling the Syrians, 'Look, I killed Zuhair Muhsin at Iraq's behest; I'm ready to kill their man at your behest.'" The Syrians refused the trade.


How was the great butchery of 1987-88 to be explained? If Abu Iyad and others are correct, the Mossad may have instigated the purge. But as usual with such riddles, there was also an explanation to be found within Abu Nidal's own organization. For, as we have seen, Abu Nidal sensed that the organization was slipping out of his control. The one explanation, however, does not necessarily exclude the other.

For years, Abu Nidal, Abu Nizar, and Abd al-Rahman Isa had been inseparable and had together built up the organization. But by 1981, Abu Nidal had gone to Poland and had spent the next few years in Europe, between Warsaw and Vienna, Zurich and Berlin, trading arms, setting up finance companies, accumulating assets, and keeping out of the Middle East. He tried to run his organization from afar with his weekly stream of peremptory memos, chiding his hard-pressed associates, criticizing them, setting them against one another. But his absence and his dictatorial methods were resented by his colleagues, who shouldered the daily burden.

These early years of the 1980s were the time when, from its Syrian base, the organization developed rapidly, expanding almost tenfold into Lebanon. The men who actually ran the organization were proud of this expansion, but as we have seen, Abu Nidal was alarmed by it. For him, the new recruits were an indigestible body of men who were subverting his organization and who might even pose a serious threat to him personally. Drifting from one master to another in search of security and political direction, rough and untutored, politically inexperienced, prone to mutiny, they had had a checkered history. They had not been drilled in the organization's ten principles. They had none of the tortured loyalty to the organization of Abu Nidal's older cadres.

To judge these developments for himself, Abu Nidal came secretly to Syria for a week in October 1984, and then for two weeks in January 1985, during which he held long meetings with his command. Then, on October 22, 1985, he came to Syria again and stayed there on and off for a year and five months, until his final departure for Libya on March 28, 1987.

It was in this period that the internal dispute came to a head and that Abu Nidal made the brutal moves with which he eventually defeated his colleagues and regained full control.

These steps included:

• in 1985, replacing Abu Nizar and Abd al-Rahman Isa by members of his own family as signatories of the organization's bank accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere;
• in August 1986, ousting Abu Nizar from his position as deputy chief and replacing him with the young, slavishly loyal Isam Maraqa (Abu Nizar, as we have seen, was given the much less powerful job of head of the Organization Directorate);
• engineering the organization's expulsion from Syria in June 1987 by mounting terrorist attacks in Rome, Vienna, Karachi, and Istanbul without the Syrians' knowledge or approval;
• splitting the organization between Lebanon and Libya, the better to control it;
• demoting Abd al-Rahman Isa in 1987 from head of the Intelligence Directorate to junior cadre and replacing him by Mustafa Awad (Alaa) in Lebanon and Ali al-Farra (Dr. Kamal) in Libya;
• then, beginning in November 1987 and as a climax to these moves, ordering the large-scale massacre of officers and men of the People's Army.

Slow to grasp the cumulative significance of these moves, his colleagues, with few exceptions, fell victim to Abu Nidal's superior strategy.

Was there any truth to Abu Nidal's charge that his once loyal colleagues were plotting to overthrow him in the autumn of 1987? What is certain is that from 1985 onward, he met more resistance from them. Men who had run the show during his long absence in Poland, who had established the organization in Syria, taken it into Lebanon, expanded it, fought in the War of the Camps and found their nationalist bearings, now resented his attempts to reverse the current and return the organization to its old molelike existence.

These colleagues did not like being forced out of Syria, nor did they appreciate the split between Libya and Lebanon, which weakened their position. They also felt the time had come to distance themselves from terrorism and demanded more of a say in policy making. Like Habash's PFLP or Jibril's PFLP-General Command or the myriad Lebanese resistance groups, they wanted to join the struggle against Israel, which, apart from its repression of Palestinians in the occupied territories, still occupied a substantial slice of South Lebanon, from which it regularly mounted raids northward.

Abu Nidal blamed the problems he was facing on the new men who had entered his high command from Fatah in 1985 -- and chief among them Atif Abu Bakr, the ideologue of the new "nationalist" trend. Strikingly cadaverous in face and body, with a stern, inward-looking expression, at times didactic and at times cutting, Abu Bakr was brighter than the others, a formidable opponent, as Abu Nidal recognized. Men of his caliber wanted the Political Bureau and the Central Committee to engage in real debate, and they had an altogether different vision of the organization's future than did Abu Nidal.

So the dispute smoldering in 1985-87 touched on power, money, operations, ideological orientation, relations with other groups, and decision making. The challenge never surfaced, but it was probably enough to make Abu Nidal fear that his colleagues might one day use their troops to oust him and, perhaps with Syrian help, take over the organization. Abu Nizar and Abd al-Rahman Isa had lived and worked in Syria and were on close terms with General Muhammad al-Khuly, of air force intelligence. For the paranoid Abu Nidal, this was reason enough to strike first. He was determined to "have his enemies for lunch before they had him for dinner."

This could have been why he placed in key posts men who shared his vision of a wholly clandestine outfit, living by its own savage laws, and then, with their help, massacred the officers and men who alone could have given his opponents the muscle they needed to mount a serious challenge.


The mass killings Abu Nidal ordered in Lebanon and Libya brought these tensions into the open. Abu Nidal was clearly capable of condemning to death anyone he chose and was strong enough to ensure that the sentence was carried out. Atif Abu Bakr was determined to expose the whole macabre setup. It was imperative, he felt, to tell all the members what was going on. To remain silent was to be an accomplice to Abu Nidal's crimes.

In May and June 1988, Atif Abu Bakr began addressing memoranda to members of the Political Bureau and Central Committee demanding the appointment of a committee of inquiry into the killings, an open challenge to Abu Nidal, which he was bound to resist. Abu Bakr did more than write memos: He tried to win over Abu Nizar, a founding member of the organization, a former deputy leader who was still powerful and popular enough to change the direction of the movement.

Abu Nidal responded by setting a masterly trap. When they left Syria in 1987, Abu Nizar's wife and children had moved to Algeria, where Abu Nizar was posted, but they were lonely there. Abu Nizar was often away on missions. The family debated whether to move to Cyprus or even to Czechoslovakia. With feigned innocence, Abu Nidal quietly suggested to Abu Nizar that his family might be better off if they returned to Damascus, where they had lived happily for several years. Abu Nizar accepted the suggestion in good faith, managed to get Libyan passports for his family, and at the end of August 1988, sent them back to Syria. Abu Nidal then accused Abu Nizar of being a Syrian agent. For his family to return to Syria after the organization had been expelled from there meant that Abu Nizar had contacted Syrian intelligence, which approved the move.

Abu Nizar and Atif Abu Bakr then made another tactical error, this time a fatal one. Not only did they have long private talks -- a seditious breach of the organization's rules -- but far worse, Atif arranged for Abu Nizar to meet secretly with Abu Iyad, the PLO's intelligence chief, in Algiers in early October 1988.

In Tunis in 1990, Abu Iyad gave me an account of this meeting with Abu Nizar. It was, he said, a long, sometimes stormy, sometimes extraordinarily candid talk that began at nine o'clock one evening and continued until three the next morning. For the first two hours, Abu Nizar had sounded like Abu Nidal's official mouthpiece. Listening to him, Abu Iyad reflected that this was the man who had been Abu Nidal's closest colleague for fifteen years, his partner in terrorism and crime.

"Then suddenly, as if his conscience had been aroused, his tune changed. He started telling me stories I could hardly believe. How Abu Nidal humiliated and insulted them. How he tried to dictate what their wives wore. How he meddled in absolutely everything. It was worse, he said, than living in a Chinese commune. And now, he went on, Abu Nidal had become a psychopath!

"What was he to do now? How could he escape? Would I guarantee his safety? Should he defect and take as many men as he could with him? I replied that this was exactly what Abu Nidal no doubt wanted him to do. Every dictator in history liked to get rid of the strong men around him -- and then weep crocodile tears over them!

"I told him he should stay on and fight. He should do something drastic to break Abu Nidal's hold. Perhaps even take him prisoner. I didn't want to say bluntly that they should kill him, but we both knew very well that so long as Abu Nidal remained alive, he would be dangerous."

Somehow or other, perhaps by monitoring telephone calls, Abu Nidal heard about Abu Nizar's meeting with Abu Iyad: Direct evidence of the conspiracy he most feared and which could be punishable only by death.

A few weeks after the meeting, on the morning of October 18, 1988, Abu Nidal murdered his old comrade Abu Nizar on the outskirts of Tripoli, in a spacious house in the Suq al-Jum'a district, one of three villas in a large compound that Qaddafi had put at Abu Nidal's disposal. The main bedroom, the size of a whole apartment, had its own private bathroom and kitchen. This was a room Abu Nidal sometimes slept in, and it was here, according to several inside sources, that Abu Nizar was tortured and killed.

Abd al-Rahman Isa had been on a mission to the Sudan. According to what he said in his taped debriefing, he had flown back to Libya on the evening of October 17.

"It was my habit when I returned from a mission abroad to go straight to Abu Nidal's office to report to him before going home, especially if I had something sensitive to communicate.

"This time something strange occurred. I headed for my office and, still breathless, lifted the receiver to speak to Abu Nidal, believing he would want to see me immediately. My office was only a few minutes away from his by car.

"'Hello! We're back!' I cried.

"'Welcome back,' he replied in a deadly calm manner. 'We'll meet tomorrow evening.'"

So Isa made for home, where his wife told him that Abu Nizar had tried repeatedly to get hold of him. This openness on Abu Nizar's part surprised Isa, because members of the organization were not allowed to contact each other -- and when he and Abu Nizar met, as they usually did when Nizar was in Libya, it was done quietly.

Abd al-Rahman Isa and Atif Abu Bakr later tried to reconstruct the events of October 17-18. On the afternoon of October 17, Abu Nidal had taken Abu Nizar and Atif Abu Bakr to call on Qaddafi at home. Then they had driven out to the house of Ahmad Jibril, head of the PFLP-General Command, in a village near Tripoli.

After these social calls, Abu Nidal had dropped off Abu Nizar at his hotel -- he stayed at a hotel on his visits to Libya from Algeria -- and then drove Atif to his home. They had all agreed that Amjad Ata, deputy head of the Secretariat, would come for Abu Nizar at eight-thirty in the morning to take him to a meeting and that Atif would be collected a little later, at around 10 A.M. But the next morning, no one came to take Atif Abu Bakr to the meeting. He telephoned Abu Nidal, who said he was busy and asked to postpone their meeting until the following day.

All that day, October 18, Atif expected Abu Nizar to ring or drop by, as he usually did on his visits to Libya, but there was no sign or word from him. And the next morning, when Atif went to a meeting with Abu Nidal, Abu Nizar was not present. When Atif asked about him, Abu Nidal said he had returned to Algeria.

At lunchtime that day, Atif telephoned Abu Nizar's house in Algeria and learned that he had not arrived there. That afternoon, he asked Abu Nidal about this, only to be told that Abu Nizar was on his way to Lebanon.

"I sensed that something was up," Atif Abu Bakr told me in Tunis in 1990, "and I grew even more anxious when I discovered that Abu Nizar's things were still in his hotel room -- he had been. staying on the eighth floor of the Bab al-Bahr Hotel. They remained there until Atif Hammuda of the Finance Directorate collected them on October 25, eight days after his disappearance.

"A few days later, a telegram arrived from Lebanon to say that Abu Nizar had arrived there. Abu Nidal sent me a copy, which was in itself unusual, since he was not in the habit of sending me copies of telegrams he received. This convinced me that something was amiss."

Atif Abu Bakr had to go to Aden at this time and returned to Libya only some two months later, in early 1989. Abu Nizar had still not reappeared. Abu Nidal was evading questions about him, but he was beginning to make gross accusations against his former deputy, telling everyone that Abu Nizar had embezzled the organization's funds to buy property for himself and his family and that $40,000 was missing from his accounts.

As there was still no proof that Abu Nizar was dead, his friends hoped he was being held in one of Abu Nidal's prisons. In April 1989, Atif Abu Bakr confronted Abu Nidal. It was now six months since Abu Nizar's disappearance, and he wanted to know if there was still some way of rescuing him.

The meeting took place at night in the Andalus quarter of Tripoli, in one of the safe houses Abu Nidal sometimes used. Another villa across the road housed his bodyguards, and as they talked in the large, well-furnished reception room, four of his armed men hovered between the kitchen and the hall, occasionally looking in to see if they were needed.

"I was alone," Atif told me, "and felt I had walked into a trap. There was no way out. Even supposing I managed to reach the street alive, I would not be able to get very far.

"I asked Abu Nidal how he could justify the detention, perhaps even the execution, of a senior member of the organization without the knowledge or consent of the leadership. A member of the command was missing, and none of his comrades knew whether he was alive or dead!

"'Are you accusing your own deputy of being an agent?' I asked. 'How will you explain that to the organization? If Abu Nizar is guilty of treachery, then so is my nine-year-old daughter!'"

Atif told me he had made an effort to talk in the calm yet forthright manner he knew Abu Nidal would expect of him. Abu Nidal seemed nervous. He kept getting up and then sitting down. Atif thought he was planning to kill him. He started to argue that Abu Nizar was a Syrian agent. "But he was your deputy," Atif cried. "In charge of everything in your absence --- the weapons, the buildings, the cadres. Why should he betray you now? How could he possibly have become a Syrian agent suddenly in Algeria? It just doesn't make sense."

Finally, Abu Nidal asked him point-blank if he thought Abu Nizar and Abd al-Rahman Isa were conspiring against him. Atif replied that he believed them to be as innocent as his own daughter. Abu Nidal glowered at him as if he wanted to have him killed there and then, but could not quite bring himself to do it.

"At last, he let me go at midnight," Atif told me. "To placate him, I agreed to see him the next day, but I came away absolutely convinced that he had murdered Abu Nizar."

A short while later, in May 1989, Atif Abu Bakr learned that Umm Nizar had written a long letter to the organization about her husband. Atif demanded to know its contents. So Abu Nidal and other members of the Central Committee came to his house and Amjad Ata agreed to read the letter aloud to the assembled company.

Atif described the scene to me. "Abu Nidal sat down opposite me and watched my face throughout the reading. 'You will see that this is not Umm Nizar's language,' he said. 'It must have been written for her by an intelligence agency!'

"In fact the letter was brave and to the point and was written in Umm Nizar's own hand. At one point she described how, in the search for her husband, she had gone to see Dr. Ghassan and Isam Maraqa in Sidon and how badly they had treated her and how humiliated she had felt."

Atif told me: "I became very upset and tears streamed down my face. Abu Nidal got Amjad Ata to stop reading and asked me what was the matter. I said it was nothing and asked them to read on. But I was not really listening any longer. I was thinking, Is this the right moment, or should I wait a little longer? I decided it was now or never.

"When Ata had finished, Abu Nidal asked me for my opinion. I then spoke clearly and simply:

"'The fate of Umm Nizar is what is in store for every one of our wives! This is where we part company. You are a bunch of criminals!'

"After I had had my say, Abu Nidal tried to patch things up. He said he would get in touch with me when I was less upset. But his looks were murderous."
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:25 am

Chapter 14: Duel to the Death

In April 1987, Abu Iyad and Abu Nidal, two men who had tried to kill each other for a decade, met face-to-face in Algiers. Both were veterans of the world of intelligence, the former as the PLO's intelligence chief, the latter running his own large and well-funded service, with secret assets in many countries and an international network of hit men. They had fought many battles, but neither had scored a decisive win. They had once been friends, but their love turned to hate was a paradigm for the destructive quarrels that have plagued the Palestinian resistance movement from the beginning.

The protection Abu Nidal enjoyed at different times from various Arab states made it difficult for Abu Iyad to get at him. These were countries in which the PLO had vested interests: It could not simply hit and run without offending the local powers. Abu Iyad, too, was not an easy target. He was popular in the Palestinian movement and inspired loyalty. He was also well protected. It was difficult for Abu Nidal to find an assassin to gun him down. So each sought to neutralize the other by complicated diplomacy with Arab and European states and by penetration and manipulation, the traditional crafts of intelligence.

Abu Nidal's terrorism was Abu Iyad's greatest problem. His operations were so damaging to the Palestinian cause that Abu Iyad was forced to devote much time and energy to trying to stop them. He told me that since 1980, out of Abu Nidal's total of two hundred or so operations, the PLO had managed to foil about 120. "I feel we have spared the world a lot of horror. I don't particularly like mentioning these things because we don't want to be seen in the role of policing Europe!"

However; events in Lebanon in 1985-86 imposed a de facto truce on the two adversaries. As we have seen, during the War of the Camps, Abu Nidal's men sided with Fatah against Amal, the Syrian-backed Shi'ite militia. It was a healing experience. With Palestinian fighters joining forces on the ground, it made no sense for their leaders to go on trying to kill each other.


What had made the Algiers meeting possible was the eighteenth session of the Palestine National Council, the Palestinians' "parliament-in-exile," which met from April 20-26, 1987, at the Residence des Pins, a conference center some fifteen kilometers west of Algiers. This PNC session was billed as the "Session of Unity," and the mood among the Palestinian factions was conciliatory. Arafat was now under less pressure and therefore more inclined to be flexible: The Palestinian National Salvation Front, set up by his Syrian-backed opponents, was in decline. Abu Nidal had fallen out with the Syrians. His new friends Libya and, to a lesser extent, Algeria, the conference host, were both active behind the scenes trying to patch up intra-Palestinian quarrels.

Could the historic split in Fatah be mended? Could Abu Nidal and Fatah put an end to the war that had raged between them since 1974? The mediators worked hard. But each adversary feared the other's hidden agenda: Abu Nidal suspected that Abu Iyad was scheming to split his organization; Abu Iyad was convinced that Abu Nidal was plotting, with encouragement from Israel, to penetrate the PLO, brand it as a terrorist organization, and destroy it.

In Tripoli before the PNC session, Arafat and Abu Iyad were due to see Abu Nidal together, but at the last moment word came that Abu Nidal would not agree to meet with Abu Iyad. He was said to be enraged by an article in the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur in which Abu Iyad was quoted as saying (erroneously, he later told me) that Abu Nidal's mother had been an Alawi servant girl. So Arafat went to the meeting alone, returning at 2 A.M. to the villa he was sharing with Abu Iyad.

"He knocked on my door," Abu Iyad later told me, "and seemed upset. 'I wish I'd not gone,' he said." It seemed that Abu Nidal had demanded to appoint representatives to the PLO's two key bodies, the Executive Committee and the Palestine National Council. When Arafat demurred, Abu Nidal had used coarse language and had raised his voice, in ways Arafat found unacceptable.

It took some deft mediation by the then head of Algerian intelligence, Lakhal Ayyat, and a senior Algerian diplomat, Lakhdar Brahimi (now Algeria's foreign minister), for a meeting to be arranged between Abu Iyad and Abu Nidal in a villa close to the Residence des Pins. Tactfully, the Algerians suggested that the two adversaries be accompanied only by Algerian bodyguards, to avoid the danger of a clash between their men.

Abu Iyad took up the story:

"I entered and saw him there -- for the first time in fourteen years. He looked pale and ill and had a mustache. Although we were both tense and cold, we shook hands and embraced. We were alone. He was modest, humble, and overly polite. We couldn't decide how to start on the painful subjects we had come to discuss."

Abu Iyad said that he wanted to ask Abu Nidal about many things -- about their attacks on each other, about why he had mounted certain operations, about his hopes for the future -- and about why he had behaved so badly with Arafat.

Abu Nidal replied that he had been offended by a huge guard Arafat had brought with him, who had remained in the room during their entire meeting. The man made him uncomfortable, but Arafat had not dismissed him. His main complaint was, of course, that Arafat had refused to let him join the PLO.

They sparred for a long while, reviewing the history of their mutual assassination attempts. "You taught me how to kill!" Abu Nidal exclaimed. "You killed my friend Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur. I'm only following your example." Abu Iyad took him through the list of PLO representatives shot in cold blood -- Hammami, Yassin, Qalaq, Khudr, Sartawi. Abu Nidal would admit only to having killed Hammami -- because of his secret contacts with Israelis. He deserved to die, Abu Nidal declared, as an example to others. "What about the others?" Abu Iyad inquired, and when he taxed him with being penetrated and manipulated by Israel, Abu Nidal calmly admitted it. Yes, he said, Israeli agents were present in his organization. They sometimes fed him information, but he was trying to liquidate them one by one.

His conversation, Abu Iyad told me, was full of wild and empty boasts. He claimed to have captured four hundred Jordanian intelligence agents and said he was going to kill them all in a single day. He had told the Algerians that he would kill five thousand Europeans if any harm befell the delegates to the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers. He had men awaiting his orders in over thirty countries, including agents in the White House and at the Saudi royal court. He needed his vast wealth, which he put at hundreds of millions of dollars, to buy such well-placed agents. Grandly, he offered to share these assets if Fatah chose to cooperate.

Bravado soon gave way to bathos. "You are the only one who really understands me," he confided. And he unbuttoned his shirt to show Abu Iyad the scars from his heart surgery. ''I'm a sick man," he said. "Months pass without my being able to leave the house. I will probably die within the year. But before I die, I want to be recognized. I want to tell the world that I've abandoned the secret life in order to enter politics." He said he considered his organization second only to Fatah in the Palestinian movement. It should therefore be represented on all Palestinian bodies, like other factions. "You have to help me achieve this," he pleaded.

Now, Abu Iyad thought, the strategy was clear. Abu Nidal wanted to be let into the core institutions so as to be able to discredit the whole PLO and ensure that it never escaped the terrorist label.

"But you've hated the PLO all your life," Abu Iyad countered. "You know very well that we can't have you represented inside the PLO as Fatah: The Revolutionary Council. We're not in the business of selling varieties of watermelons! We can't have dozens of Fatahs on display -- Arafat's and yours and Abu Musa's and so on. It's absurd!"

Abu Nidal became angry. When he calmed down, he asked whether there was to be any concession to him at all. Abu Iyad suggested a six-month truce, during which Abu Nidal's intentions and behavior would be put to the test.

"'What sort of an agreement do you want?' Abu Nidal asked me. 'Here, write it down.' He was reluctant to write himself, because he was conscious of having a very childish hand, so I took pen and paper and wrote the following:

"1. a halt to all propaganda wars between us;

"2. cooperation on all matters to do with the occupied territories;

"3. a complete ban on all terrorist operations -- against Arabs, Westerners, and Israelis."

Abu Nidal said he had to consult his members before agreeing. They set up a time to meet again. At the second meeting, at a seaside villa closely guarded by Algerian intelligence, Abu Nidal put on a great show of anger: "What sort of an agreement is this?" he asked querulously. "You want me to stop killing and mounting operations. You want me to shut up and not meddle in anything. If I agreed to all this, what would I have left to do?

"Look," he argued with Abu Iyad. "You're an overt organization and I'm an underground one. Why don't we work together and complement each other?"

"Fine," Abu Iyad replied, "but on condition that we give the orders."

Abu Nidal seemed to consider the suggestion seriously. He proposed one last discussion session, at which his senior colleagues would join them. But no sooner had they all gathered than Abu Iyad realized he had been wasting his time. With his men in the room, Abu Nidal became abusive, mocking, and aggressive.

"Let me tell you a little story about Abu Iyad," he told the meeting. "On the day of Karameh [the battle in 1968 when Israel attacked a Fatah camp in Jordan] people were frantically looking for Abu Iyad, worried that he'd been killed. 'Don't you worry,' I said to them. 'He's safe, all right! In fact, he's at my house, shivering with fear!'"

Abu Iyad could hardly believe his ears. "You liar!" he cried. "You shameless liar! It was you whom no one could find." It was the last time they ever saw each other.


The Algiers negotiations of April 1987 proved no more than another round in the duel between Abu Nidal and Abu Iyad. Convinced more than ever that the Mossad was directing Abu Nidal's moves, Abu Iyad sought to penetrate his organization and encourage defections. He knew that an unstable internal situation would worry Abu Nidal, force him to switch his energies from foreign operations and protect himself.

Some Palestinians later came to believe that Abu Iyad had planted Atif Abu Bakr, an old and crafty Fatah loyalist, on Abu Nidal as an agent provocateur as early as 1985, to provoke an internal explosion in his ranks. Abu Nidal certainly thought so when Abu Bakr broke away. I have talked at length to both Abu Iyad and Atif Abu Bakr, and I doubt this theory. Abu Bakr seemed too principled and prominent a revolutionary to lend himself to such a scheme.

Abu Nidal carried out few terrorist operations in the remaining months of 1987, the period in which he destroyed his own forces in Lebanon, killings that may have been inspired in part by fear that Abu Iyad was stirring up his comrades against him. These internal massacres reached their bloody culmination in October 1988 with the murder of Abu Nizar, by which time Abu Nidal had resumed his terrorist career with the attacks in Cyprus, the Sudan, and Greece.

By 1989, the brief moment of intra-Palestinian reconciliation had passed, and Abu Nidal's organization, more vicious and dangerous than ever, had returned underground. By May of that year, Atif Abu Bakr had had enough. The murder of Abu Nizar, the massacre of hundreds of fighters, and Abu Nidal's persistent resort to senseless terrorism, which greatly damaged the Palestinian cause, drove him into open rebellion.

News of the mass killings could not be hidden for long, and when the men in Libya learned of the horrific happenings in South Lebanon and the Lebanon group heard of the torture and killings in Libya, Abu Nidal's members scrambled to save their skins. Dozens of fighters sought refuge with other Palestinian factions in Lebanon; dozens more fled to Syria. Some cadres escaped to Jordan, others to the Gulf, to Europe, and to Canada. From Libya, where the organization trembled under Abu Nidal's iron command, some men managed to flee to Tunisia. Among those who remained, morale was low.

Abu Bakr remained for a while in Tripoli, but after hearing the letter from Abu Nizar's wife and having called Abu Nidal and his men a bunch of criminals, he broke from the organization. Like Abu Iyad, he was now convinced that Abu Nidal was an instrument of Israeli policy. He doubled the locks on his doors; recruited friends in Ahmad Jibril's organization to serve as his bodyguards; and warned Abu Nidal not to try to kill him. He let it be known that he was thinking of leaving for Moscow, Aden, or Budapest, only to learn that Abu Nidal had said he hoped it would be Budapest, because there he could kill him easily.

Abu Bakr's main anxiety was for his wife and nine-year-old daughter. He feared that if he were kidnapped and his house keys taken from him, Abu Nidal's thugs might abduct his family. Whenever he left the house, he hid his keys under a stone in a garden across the road. One day, watching him from an upstairs window, his wife saw him hide the keys. She went down to recover them and that evening asked him for an explanation.

"You're obviously in some danger," she said. "It would be better if you told me." Her first question was about Abu Nizar. She wanted to know what had happened to him. When Atif told her that Abu Nidal had killed him the previous October, she said she had guessed as much when she heard him talking on the telephone to Abu Nizar's wife in Damascus.

Atif Abu Bakr told his wife about the secret trials, the torture and the killings, the children who had disappeared or been given to strangers to bring up. Although she had had some knowledge of her husband's work, she was profoundly shocked by what she heard. Horror at the details, or panic for her own child, affected her eyesight: She could hardly see. An eye doctor found that her pupils had become unusually enlarged.

On August 28, 1989, Atif Abu Bakr managed to escape by air to Algeria and immediately made arrangements for his wife and daughter to join him there. He had procured two joint diplomatic passports for his wife and daughter, one Algerian, the other Yemeni. Speaking to her in Czech on the telephone -- a language they had learned in Prague when he was the PLO representative there -- he instructed her to take the next day's plane to Algiers, using her Algerian passport. For safety's sake, she was to arrange to be accompanied to the airport by their Libyan neighbors and by Ahmad Jibril's local representative.

But a disappointment awaited her. Airport officials, probably in Abu Nidal's pay, kept her waiting for five hours as they examined her papers, until the plane finally left without her. She knew she was trapped. Defiantly, she ripped up her air tickets in front of Abu Nidal's man at the airport. "Tell Abu Nidal," she said, "that if he's spoiling for a fight, he should go fight Israel and not a woman!" Not daring to return home, she asked Ahmad Jibril's representative to take her and her daughter in for the night.

Meanwhile, in Algiers, Atif Abu Bakr decided not to meet the plane from Libya for fear Abu Nidal would attempt to kill him there. So he sent someone else, who reported to him that his wife was not on the plane. He rang Ahmad Jibril's representative in Tripoli and learned to his relief that his wife and child were with him.

"Speaking in Czech, I said to her, 'Follow my instructions carefully. I'm going to ring Abu Nidal's people and ask why there was a problem at the airport. I'll seem very normal. I'll tell them you are planning to leave on Sunday and ask them to make the necessary arrangements.

"'In the meantime, you must leave tonight by road for Tunisia. Travel on your Yemeni passport and ask our Libyan neighbors to go with you.'"

So Abu Bakr's wife left by car with her daughter and their Libyan friends, arriving safely in Tunis after a twelve-hour journey. It was only then that her eyesight returned to normal. Abu Bakr flew in from Algiers, and they were reunited there.


Abu Bakr was a commanding figure in Palestinian circles, and his defection was a serious blow to Abu Nidal. Anxious to limit the damage, he sent a delegation to Algiers in October 1989 to offer Abu Bakr Swiss visas for himself and his family, full expenses, and a cash bonus of half a million dollars if he would agree to end their quarrel. Led by a member of the Political Bureau, Shawki Muhammad Yusif (code-named Munir Ahmad), the delegation included the demoted intelligence chief Abd al-Rahman Isa. But Abu Bakr refused. Instead, he met Isa secretly and, with the agreement of Algerian intelligence, talked him into defecting as well, which Isa did in late October 1989, joining Abu Bakr in Algiers.

On October 27, Abd al-Rahman Isa issued a lengthy communique devoted almost entirely to denouncing the "blind executions" of members of the organization, and especially the assassination of Abu Nizar. He called for the facts to be put before an international tribunal.

On November 1, 1989, Abd al-Rahman Isa and Atif Abu Bakr issued a joint communique, which was in effect a declaration of war -- a war that at the time of writing is still raging. They announced the formation of an Emergency Leadership, with the declared aim of taking control of the organization and punishing the criminal Abu Nidal. "Our martyrs fell in the wrong wars," they declared. "The operations of Rome, Vienna, Sudan, Athens, Paris, and Karachi were senseless and did us immense harm. Our martyrs should have fought in Palestine, but Abu Nidal turned his back on the just struggle. We will never compromise with a butcher whose hands are stained with the blood of our brothers." Their agenda stated: no to intra-Palestinian killings; no to the language of blood and to futile foreign operations; yes to the PLO, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians; yes to full support for the intifada.

Disgusted by Abu Nidal's methods, Abu Bakr, poet, thinker, and sharp-tongued radical, returned with relief to Fatah, the movement to which he had made a lifelong commitment. Abd al-Rahman Isa was a practical man, not a theoretician. He was reluctant to renounce terror unconditionally, because for twenty years he had been Abu Nidal's closest associate, the planner of many of his operations. Isa knew the real identity of the cadres; the location of the secret arms caches and bank accounts; the contents of letters Abu Nidal had exchanged with foreign governments and intelligence services. Unlike Abu Bakr, he had no nostalgia for Fatah and, as an old-style rejectionist, he could not easily rid himself of the notion that Fatah was a treacherous organization.

If there was a Mossad link with Abu Nidal, Abd al-Rahman Isa apparently knew nothing about it. He was not close to Dr. Ghassan or to his own replacement, Alaa, and he may have lost his job because he was beginning to ask awkward questions. In any case, he was a loser in the internal power struggle. After Abu Nizar's murder, Isa had begun to think about his own safety. Abu Nidal had killed his right-hand man. Might he not soon turn against his left hand? Fearing Abu Nidal's vengeance, he fled to Algiers.

As he had done with Abu Bakr, Abu Nidal sent several emissaries to urge Isa to return to Libya for talks. These included a prominent Egyptian soldier, General Sa'd al-Din Shazli, who had been President Sadat's chief of staff during the 1973 October War but, having fallen out with him, had taken refuge in Algeria. Isa knew enough to say no. "Let them send me Abu Nizar as an emissary," he told the general. "They claim he is still alive. If so, let me shake his hand. If I see that he is well, I'll go back!" He knew, of course, that Abu Nizar was by then long since in his grave, buried in cement under Abu Nidal's Libyan villa.

On the morning of April 25, 1990, when Isa was standing alone outside his seafront villa on the outskirts of Algiers, he was attacked by three men wearing stocking masks, who tried to bundle him into a car. He put up some resistance, but they attacked him with an ax, shot him twice, and made their escape, leaving him for dead. He was severely wounded, but he lived. Surgeons at the. Algiers military hospital managed to save his sight, but they had to remove one of his kidneys. He identified his assailants: Hamdan Abu Asba, Abu Nidal's chief representative in Algiers, and his deputy, Hisham Muhammad Saqr; the third man was believed to be one of Abu Nidal's radio operators.

Once Atif Abu Bakr and Abd al-Rahman Isa had published their communique setting up the Emergency Leadership, messages of support flowed in from other disgruntled members in Lebanon, Syria, and Algeria. An early recruit was Basil (or, by his real name, Ziad Sahmud), commander of the People's Army in the Bekaa region of Lebanon, who had become sickened by the mass killings of his own men. He brought other cadres with him. These were men who had escaped the purges by the skin of their teeth. They had seen their comrades slaughtered and were desperate to avoid the same fate.

Armed and financed by Fatah, protected by Abu Iyad, the Emergency Leadership was soon battling it out with Abu Nidal in the refugee camps of southern Lebanon. In mid-June 1990, tit-for-tat assassinations in Rashidiyeh, a camp near Tyre housing some fifteen thousand Palestinian refugees, escalated into a gun battle in which Abu Nidal's men were routed. A fiercer engagement followed in September further up the coast, near Sidon, at Ain al-Hilweh, the biggest of Lebanon's camps, which housed 150,000 refugees. In a three-day battle, eighty guerrillas were killed and another 250 wounded as Abu Nidal's fortified headquarters were overrun.

However, Abu Nidal still retained a number of strongholds, notably in the hill villages of Bqasta and Karkha, near Sidon, where some of his most sensitive committees are housed in territory controlled by the Druze leader Walid Jumblat; and in Sidon itself, where his computer center is located and several of his top cadres live under the protection of Sidon's "strongman," the Nasserist leader Mustafa Sa'd. Abu Nidal pays his "hosts" tens of thousands of dollars a month.

In the summer of 1991, as this book went to press, the two sides were still skirmishing in and around Lebanon's camps, but by this time Abu Nidal had won an important round -- perhaps the biggest coup of his career -- with the murder of his old adversary Abu Iyad, in Tunis on January 14, 1991.


There is no doubt that Abu Nidal killed Abu Iyad, using Hamza Abu Zaid as his instrument. So much is agreed by everyone I interviewed in connection with the case. This view rests in the first place on Hamza's own confession: He told his interrogators that he had been ordered to kill Abu Iyad by a man in Abu Nidal's organization. Moreover, the terms in which he denounced his victim -- traitor, corrupter of the Palestinian revolution, "enemy within" -- are those that Abu Nidal has used to denounce Fatah over the years. At the very moment of gunning down Abu Iyad, Hamza cried out: "Let Atif Abu Bakr help you now!" -- a clear indication that Abu Nidal wanted vengeance on the man he believed Abu Iyad had planted on him to destroy his organization. During the siege in the villa, Hamza, as we have seen, repeatedly demanded that Atif Abu Bakr be brought to him, presumably so that he could kill him, too.

Abu Iyad often said to me with a wry smile that Abu Nidal hated him not only because of their many attempts to kill each other, not just because Abu Iyad had kept him out of the PLO and had engineered splits and defections in his organization, but because Abu Nidal could not bear to acknowledge his debt to Abu Iyad for the help and protection he had given him in his early years. The murder of Abu Iyad must therefore be seen as a final settlement of old scores.

Abu Nidal had plenty of reasons to kill Abu Iyad, but Western and Arab intelligence officers I talked to speculated about a possible "hidden hand" behind the killing -- with Libya, Iraq, and Israel among the suspects.

PLO sources concede that Abu Iyad had been on poor terms with Qaddafi for several years. It was partly a matter of personal dislike, they said, and partly Qaddafi's knowledge that Abu Iyad was friendly with Abd al-Mun'im al-Huni, a former head of Libyan intelligence who had escaped to Cairo and who Qaddafi suspected was conspiring to topple him. Qaddafi had also been angered by Abu Iyad's efforts to destabilize Abu Nidal's organization, which was under his protection and which he considered an arm of his own intelligence.

According to these sources, the Libyan leader would probably have given Abu Nidal his permission to kill Abu Iyad if Abu Nidal had asked for it, but they doubted that he had initiated the suggestion. Qaddafi would have feared PLO reprisals, or rousing the hostility of the Palestinian community at large. Just as Shi'ites had not forgiven Qaddafi for the disappearance in Libya, and presumed murder, of the charismatic Lebanese Shi'ite cleric Imam Musa al-Sadr in 1978, so Palestinians would not easily forgive him the death of so prestigious a Palestinian leader as Abu Iyad. While Qaddafi might not have intervened to stop the murder, his own motives would probably not have been strong enough to order it.

Some press comment has suggested that Saddam Hussein, rather than Qaddafi, was behind the killing of Abu Iyad. The argument states that Abu Iyad, unlike Arafat, was not happy with the PLO's alliance with Baghdad and, for the alliance to survive, had to be eliminated. Furthermore, there have also been allegations that Abu Nidal left Libya for Iraq just before the outbreak of the 1991 Gulf war, transferring his allegiance back to his first sponsor.

It is true that Arafat was much more vocal in support of Iraq during the crisis than was Abu Iyad. But there was no divergence between them on the fundamental PLO position: to uphold the principle of an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait; at the same time to reject American intervention and avoid war; to find a settlement within an Arab framework; to demand "linkage" between Kuwait and Palestine as the basis for a peaceful solution -- that is, to put Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and Israel's occupation of Arab territories on the same footing.

This was the formula Saddam Hussein had proposed for a negotiated settlement of the crisis. He, too, had demanded linkage. He wanted Palestinian support, indeed whatever Arab support he could muster. In order to give his quarrel with Kuwait a pan-Arab dimension, he had posed as the Palestinians' champion from the early days of the crisis. It therefore makes little sense to suppose that he would have chosen that critical moment, with war only hours away, to kill Arafat's closest colleague.

I found no confirmation of the rumor that Abu Nidal had moved back to Baghdad. According to my best informants, he spent the war in Libya, where Qaddafi, afraid of allied retaliation, kept him under tight control. According to Western intelligence sources, Qaddafi would not even allow Abu Nidal to use his radio station during the conflict, for fear that Libya would be accused of sponsoring international terrorism. Not a single act of terrorism attributable to Abu Nidal was reported throughout the 1990-1991 Gulf crisis anywhere in the world -- except for the killing of Abu Iyad. If Saddam had controlled Abu Nidal, as some have alleged, he would undoubtedly have used him against Iraq's many enemies.

Of the four founding fathers of Fatah, only Arafat remains. Muhammad Yusif al-Najjar was killed by an Israeli assassination squad in Beirut in 1973; Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) was killed by Israeli commandos in Tunis in 1988. It is not inconceivable that Abu Iyad's murder, too, and that of his colleague Abu al-Hoi, might be part of this pattern.

Abu Iyad's killing took place in January 1991, on the eve of the allied attack on Iraq. Ever since Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Israel had urged the use of force against Saddam Hussein. In public statements and private advocacy, in contacts with the U.S. and other governments, in comments and reports and urgings by its friends in the media, Israel pressed resolutely for war. It opposed any concession to Saddam and any negotiation with him. It secured two crucial undertakings from President Bush: that the U.S. would accept no linkage between Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and South Lebanon; and that the U.S. would destroy Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons -- otherwise Israel would do the job itself.

In 1967, Nasser's mistake of closing the Tiran straits gave Israel the occasion to smash him. In 1990, Saddam Hussein in turn presented the world with a casus belli, and Israel was determined in this case to make the most of it. During Iraq's eight-year war with Iran, Iraq had acquired and developed ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, and other systems that challenged Israel's military advantage, a development Israel viewed with alarm. Hence its eagerness for war against Iraq over Kuwait. Israel knew that the destruction of Iraq as a military power would transform its own strategic environment as radically as had the defeat of Egypt in 1967 -- and this time, if the allies did the job, at no cost to itself. Israel would retain its regional monopoly of weapons of mass destruction. It would be without challenge.

The United States had its own reason for going to war, to do with overcoming the Vietnam syndrome; preserving the status quo in the Arabian peninsula, which Saddam threatened to upset; controlling Middle East oil resources; and affirming American supremacy in the "new world order" emerging after the collapse of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Israel strongly urged American intervention, and influenced America's decision to fight.

Of course Iraq's Arab opponents -- Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and the others -- also wanted Saddam weakened, removed from Kuwait, and contained behind his frontiers. They would have been happy to see him overthrown. But only helpless Kuwait wanted Iraq destroyed. Even Saddam's old enemy Assad, of Syria, knew that the destruction of Iraq would enfeeble the whole Arab world, and until the last minute he pleaded with Saddam to pull back and avoid war. Israel, however, wanted Iraq destroyed.

Beyond wanting Iraq's military challenge removed, Israel wanted to resolve the Palestine problem on its own terms once the Gulf crisis was over. Israel knew that after the war, the Bush administration was likely to address the Arab-Israeli conflict more vigorously than before, and Israel would insist that the PLO would have no part in it.

But in the prelude to Desert Storm, the PLO's activities posed a considerable threat to this Israeli agenda. In Baghdad, Arafat was straining to pull Saddam back from war. If he could persuade him to start withdrawing from Kuwait, or even to say he would do so, it would be far more difficult for the coalition to attack Iraq. Moreover, if Arafat could claim credit for defusing the crisis, the PLO's greatly enhanced prestige might guarantee it a place at the Arab-Israeli negotiating table. From Israel's point of view, the PLO was a problem.

On January 14, 1991, as the UN ultimatum was about to expire and the world held its breath, Abu Nidal's agent Hamza Abu Zaid killed Abu Iyad and Abu al-Hoi, the heads of PLO intelligence and security. A grieving Arafat abandoned his diplomatic efforts in Baghdad and immediately flew back to Tunis to mourn his murdered colleagues. The Palestinian movement was thrown into disarray. As Desert Storm broke over Iraq, the PLO experienced yet another defeat.

But what of Abu Nidal's motives? His main business was now either Mafia-style extortion and protection rackets or anti- Palestinian terrorist operations that seemed in Israel's interest. I was still unsure whether there was a Mossad connection, but if there was one, he was part of it. How could a Palestinian who had called himself a patriot cause such tremendous damage to Palestinian interests, damage that fit so neatly with Israeli interests? If Abu Iyad was right that Abu Nidal was an Israeli agent, the evidence was still circumstantial and would remain so until the Israelis themselves tell their side of the story, if they ever do. In the meantime, there were still loose ends to Abu Iyad's theory, notably Abu Nidal's operations against Israeli and Jewish targets, which Israel could not possibly condone, however much they may have lent Abu Nidal credibility in Arab eyes as a cover for his real activities. Perhaps, if Abu Iyad's suspicions were correct, these were the work of wild cards in his organization who were not in on the Mossad connection or whom he did not fully control. What complicated the puzzle further was Israel's odd behavior in not pursuing and punishing Abu Nidal as it had every other Palestinian faction.

Pondering the puzzle of Abu Nidal, I remembered what so many of my sources had told me -- that for him, self was all- important, his personal security paramount. His deals with Iraq, Syria, and Libya had all been in return for protection. Protection was what he craved. He could not survive without it. In the terrorist underground he inhabited, one country could protect him better than any other: Israel was the most powerful state in the Middle East, the only one whose planes, commandos, hit teams, and intelligence agents, indifferent to national boundaries, could reach any part of the region. Israel had a long record of seeking out and destroying its enemies. Israel could easily end Abu Nidal's career if it chose to do so. But it had not done so. Why? Was he still useful? Abu Nidal needed immunity. Israel needed his services. Here, I reflected, was yet another source of Abu Iyad's conviction.
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