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.

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

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 2:58 am

by Patrick Seale
© 1992 by Patrick Seale



For Farah in the hope she will be freed from fear

It was soon clear that [Abu Iyad, PLO Intelligence Chief] had something else on his mind. He wanted to talk about terrorism -- and in particular about Abu Nidal.

The Western world, he said with a frown, was not yet persuaded that the PLO was the indispensable partner for Middle East peace. It had underestimated the importance of the historic resolutions passed by the Palestine National Council in November 1988 that, for the first time, never so much as mentioned "armed struggle" and spelled out with absolute clarity the PLO's readiness to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Israel.

But how to get the West to see this? To his mind, the great obstacle was terrorism, an issue with which Israelis confronted every mention of peaceful compromise. If there was one man responsible for blackening the reputation of all Palestinian factions, it was, Abu Iyad believed, the arch-terrorist Abu Nidal.

The Israelis, Abu Iyad continued, were masters at penetration and deception. He had been sparring with the Mossad for a quarter of a century, and since the early 1980s, he had begun to suspect that the Israelis had infiltrated Abu Nidal's organization and were making use of him. "Every Palestinian who works in intelligence," he told me, "is convinced that Israel has a big hand in Abu Nidal's affairs." His suspicions had now hardened into a conviction: Abu Nidal was not just an extreme rejectionist who sold his services to Arab regimes. Israel had gained control of him. That was the key to his persistent sabotage of Palestinian interests.

In Abu Iyad's mind there was no great mystery about it: Israel wanted to destroy the PLO and prevent negotiations that might lead to a peaceful solution involving an autonomous Palestinian state on the West Bank. Any genuine negotiations would necessarily involve the surrender of territory, which is why Israel had gone to such lengths to persuade the world that the Palestinians were terrorists with whom no deal could be contemplated. Abu Nidal, he believed, was Israel's prime instrument for this purpose, central to its strategy. Until Abu Nidal was exposed and defeated, he said, the PLO's credibility would continue to be questioned and the peace process could get nowhere.

Leaning forward and talking very fast as was his habit, he told me that there was no other plausible explanation for the evidence that had accumulated over the years. Abu Nidal had killed the PLO's most accomplished diplomats: Hammami, in London; Qalaq, in Paris; Yassin, in Kuwait; he had slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian fighters; he had debased the Palestinian national struggle with his senseless and savage terrorism and succeeded in alienating the Palestinians' best friends. He had made the word Palestinian synonymous with terrorist. He was either deranged or he was a traitor, and Abu Iyad did not think he was deranged. Abu Nidal, he told me, was the greatest enemy of the Palestinian people.

"He is a man wholly without principle!" he exploded angrily. "He would ally himself with the devil in order to stay alive and drink a bottle of whiskey every night!

"Try to see Abu Nidal," he urged me. "Go to Libya. Ask him to explain himself, and then make up your own mind."

He then made an extraordinary admission: "I feel very guilty that I was responsible for not facing up sooner to the threat from Abu Nidal. I should have killed him fifteen years ago. I confess this now. I wanted to believe that he was a patriot who had strayed from the path and that I could win him back. For far too long I was reluctant to accept that he was a traitor."

Abu Iyad's diatribe rather took my breath away. Abu Nidal an Israeli agent?


At about this time I was visited in London by a former general in Aman, Israel's military intelligence service, who was doing research on a quite different topic. After our talk I asked him pointblank whether Israel penetrated and manipulated Palestinian groups. He looked at me carefully. "Penetration, yes," he said, "but manipulation, no." He paused, then added with a little smile, "No one would admit to that."


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."


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.

-- "Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire," by Patrick Seale

Table of Contents:

1. The Story of Jorde
2. Abu Iyad's Obsession
3. Childhood Traumas
4. A Black September
5. Made in Baghdad
6. The Sponsors
7. The Colonel's Crony
8. Murder of the Moderates
9. The Organization
10. Invisible Strings
11. Operation Terror
12. Foreign Affairs
13. The Great Purge
14. Duel to the Death
15. Epilogue
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:00 am



Readers of this book will recognize the debt I owe to a large number of Palestinian, Arab, Western, and Israeli informants. Some of these sources I acknowledge in the text, but many more have asked me to respect their confidence by withholding their names. I wish to thank them all nonetheless for the generosity with which they shared their knowledge.

London, October 1991

Chapter 1: The Story of Jorde

More than twenty years have passed since Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi seized power in Libya and yet his capital city, Tripoli, retains the lazy feel of a provincial backwater taking a long siesta. There are no crowds or traffic jams there, no urgent pulse of a metropolis. It is a place one can drift out of easily. Heading away from the thin sprawl along the coast, and with the Mediterranean at one's back, one drives through low-built, shuttered suburbs that soon give way to straggling villages and then to a vast dun-colored horizon. A lot can be hidden away in this empty landscape of scrub and dune. Far to the southwest is the rough and desolate al-Hamra steppe hugging the Tunisian frontier; deeper still into the desert to the southeast are the formidable Soda Mountains. Somewhere between the steppe and the mountains, some 170 kilometers down the highway from Tripoli, the capricious master of Libya has provided the terrorist Abu Nidal with his principal base camp.


A barbed-wire fence runs along the road for a couple of miles. The entrance is a pole between two posts, guarded by a lonely young fellow, his head swathed in the checkered Palestinian kaffiyeh. Beyond, partly sheltered by some low hills, widely scattered clusters of low buildings can be seen, a line or two of tents, a radio antenna, and perhaps a water tanker trucking in supplies from the nearest water hole for this parched spot. At first glance, it seems to be a camp for foreign construction workers engaged in building yet another of the colonel's projects, and indeed it was just that until Abu Nidal took it over and set about expanding it in 1987.

Spread over some six square kilometers of sand and gravel, the camp is vast and comprises a number of distinct, and mutually wary, subdivisions: four or five smaller camps, each in its own barbed-wire enclosure. There is a "village" of bungalows for married cadres and their families, from which nonresidents are strictly barred; the administrative offices, billets, lecture rooms, canteen, and training grounds of the main fighting force; a tented camp, set well apart, where small groups of men, their faces covered with the traditional Arab headscarves, are groomed for clandestine missions; a well- guarded research center known as Station 11, protected by a couple of anti-aircraft missile batteries; and a prison and interrogation bloc, with an underground row of cells, called Station 16, which no one mentions without a shudder and from which Arabic love songs can be heard blaring at night to drown out, I was told, the screams of men being tortured within. Forever on the alert against hostile penetration, shot through with fear and suspicion, the camp is not a happy place, as the fortunate few who have defected from it can testify.

For the most part, the camp is a training establishment for units of Abu Nidal's People's Army, a more-or-less overt militia much like the forces of other Palestinian factions. But the real core of the camp, where men are prepared for foreign operations, is as covert as any in the intelligence world. The ordinary fighting men serve only as protective cover and camouflage for the secret inner workings.

Eccentrically, Abu Nidal has named his Libyan camp after Naji al-Ali, an irreverent Arab cartoonist who was gunned down in a London street on July 22, 1987, outside the offices of al-Qabas, the Arabic daily he worked for. Some say Yasser Arafat ordered the killing, because the cartoonist made a habit of exposing the follies and foibles of the PLO chairman, and that the operation was planned and directed by Abd al-Rahman Mustafa, a major in Arafat's personal security guard, Force 17. This is unproven, because the gunman was never caught. Others say it was a Mossad job to smear Arafat as a killer and the PLO as a murderous organization. Investigating the murder, British police found a cache of rifles, grenades, and Semtex explosives, allegedly belonging to Mustafa, in the apartment of another Palestinian, Isma'il Sawwan, a self-confessed Mossad penetration agent, whose Mossad connection was revealed in a British court a year after the murder. Sawwan was sentenced to eleven years in prison, and two Israeli diplomats were expelled from Britain for being his controllers. They were the first Israeli diplomats ever to be expelled from Britain.

Most likely, Abu Nidal chose Naji al-Ali as the name for his Libyan camp because he hates Arafat as much as Israel does, holding him responsible not just for a cartoonist's death but for the persistent "betrayal" of the Palestinian cause, which, according to Abu Nidal, is the annihilation of the state of Israel. He seeks to instill hatred for the PLO leader into every man who passes through his hands. For close on twenty years, Arafat's PLO has been caught between two fires -- heavy broadsides from Israel and murderous sniping from Abu Nidal.

Abu Nidal does not live at the camp himself, preferring not without reason a three-villa complex set in the large garden of a Tripoli suburb, which is his headquarters and principal residence. But every month or so, driving his own car and casually dressed in shirt and slacks, he puts in an appearance unannounced, and invariably upsets the camp, from the commander to the new recruits, who tremble in his presence. A pale-skinned, balding, potbellied man, with a long thin nose above a gray mustache, he comes without fanfare, making an entry that is restrained and almost shy. Usually, he is accompanied by Amjad Ata, a tall, dark man of about forty, who is his confidant and whose official title in the organization is second secretary of the Central Committee. Ata is, if anything, more terrifying to the camp inmates than Abu Nidal. It is said that every time he comes, a "traitor" is taken away for execution or is sent to face the horrors of Section 16. Most Middle Eastern "strongmen" like to surround themselves, for safety's sake, with members of their own family, and Abu Nidal is no exception: Amjad Ata is the husband of one of his many nieces.

Colonel Qaddafi, Abu Nidal's current patron, has been generous. In addition to the camp and the headquarters complex in Tripoli, he has given Abu Nidal a score of houses in the city for use by his principal aides, houses belonging to opponents of Qaddafi's regime who have been jailed, exiled, or liquidated -- "stray dogs," as the Libyan leader likes to call them; also, a three-story building on Umar al-Mukhtar Street, in central Tripoli, used as a safe house by the Special Missions Committee; a well-appointed villa near the airport, where agents rest and are briefed between assignments; and a farm some seventeen kilometers outside the city, where fruit and vegetables are grown for the men in the camp. Abu Nidal, the son of a Jaffa orange grower, loves to see things grow, takes great pride in his well-ordered farm and sees to it that its choicest fruits reach his own table.


Since the camp opened in 1987, most of its inmates have been Palestinian youths, with a sprinkling of other Arabs, recruited in Lebanon from among the lost souls of that tormented country and flown out to Libya from the Damascus airport in batches of a hundred or so on Libyan military transports. These men are the human debris of the Middle East's two main breeding grounds of rage and alienation: the Palestinian refugee camps and the towns of Lebanon since the civil war. For them, the one way to survive in the last two decades of upheavals, the one way to feel that their lives had some meaning, was to join one of the militias that sprang up to fill the vacuum in Lebanon when the state collapsed in 1975.

Hard as it is to believe, Abu Nidal managed to appeal to some of the best of them. He was on the lookout for lively students, preferably very young ones, who were eager to get ahead and who also wanted to strike a blow for the Palestinian cause. He promised to help with their education -- the classic escape route from the dead-end refugee camps; to set them on the road to a career; to help their families. And he paid good money. He also provided them with the thrill of belonging to a militant secret organization. Scorning the feebleness and compromises of the PLO, he preached that Palestine could be wrested back from the Israelis by armed struggle. It was impressed on his recruits that in joining the organization, they were fulfilling their duty not just to Palestine but to the whole Arab nation. Other organizations were treacherous, corrupt, compromising; their own was inspired by the noblest Arab virtues. It was the last standard-bearer of the true cause.

Recruitment was highly selective, because it had to be. Abu Nidal wanted to make sure that his members were untainted by contact with any other political organization or secret service. They were made to sign warrants agreeing to be put to death if any intelligence connection in their backgrounds were later to be discovered. This was not mere paranoia: It was widely suspected that the Mossad, as well as a number of Western intelligence agencies, recruited Palestinians in Europe and the occupied territories and, after suitable training, sent them back to the refugee camps and dangerous back streets of Beirut in order to penetrate Palestinian guerrilla movements. Who was a patriot and who a traitor? No one could be certain. Spy mania was a disease the whole Palestinian movement suffered from, and none more so than the ultrasuspicious, ultrasectarian Abu Nidal.

On joining, each new recruit was given a thick pad of paper on which to write the story of his life. Everything had to be put down -- family, relatives, contacts, friends, lovers, schools, jobs, social situation, every single detail from birth to the moment of recruitment. This first document in the recruit's personal file was the touchstone against which later information would be tested as it came to light. Woe betide the man who strayed from the truth! Early on, when still on probation, the new member would be inducted into a two-man cell with his recruiter, told to mount guard at the organization's offices, to distribute its magazine, Filastin al-Thawra (Palestine the Revolution), to take part in marches and demonstrations. He might be given some small intelligence task to perform, such as keeping a particular person under surveillance or reporting on the activities in his locality of such enemy organizations as Arafat's Fatah or such rivals as George Habash's Popular Front, or the two Shi'ite factions, Amal and its more extreme sister, Hizballah. In order to be worthy of membership, the recruit's life would have to be reformed and purified: Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, women -- all had to be given up; no loose chatter or unnecessary questions would be tolerated; he was never to ask the real name of anyone in the organization or ever divulge his own; only code names were to be used; anything untoward, however trivial, had to be reported to his immediate superior, and at sessions of self-criticism in front of his colleagues, he had to confess publicly his own lapses and faults and recommend his own punishments.

Throughout his training, he was drilled and drilled again in the organization's ten fundamental principles until they became second nature, molding his every thought and action: commitment; discipline; democratic centralism; obedience to the chain of command; initiative and action; criticism and self-criticism; security and confidentiality; planning and implementation; assessment of experience gained; thrift. Each one of these was the subject of lengthy lectures by senior cadres.

When these and other lessons had sunk in and unsuitable candidates were weeded out, the chosen man would be told that he was being sent to another country for a six-month course that would mark him out for greater things. With a group of other young men, five or six to a battered Mercedes, he would be driven deep into South Lebanon, to a village above the port of Sidon, in hill country controlled by the Druze leader Walid Jumblat. There, billeted in houses scarred by shell fire and abandoned by their inhabitants, he would be issued a uniform, a track suit, and a weapon, and given some weeks of basic military training in the form of drill, physical exercise, and much prowling around the countryside by night to avoid being spotted by Israeli reconnaissance aircraft.

Some weeks later, he and the group he was with would be taken by coach to the Damascus airport. One such recruit I interviewed in the summer of 1990 recalled what happened next:

We were given new code names for the journey and told to memorize them. But after hours of waiting in the airport lounge, several men forgot their new names and did not respond when they were called. They had to be called several times! The Syrian security men were very amused, but our commander was furious.

Eventually we boarded a Libyan military aircraft and took off. We didn't know where we were going. There were rumors that it was Cuba or North Korea. Most of us were dizzy from the noise and air pressure. But three hours later we landed at Tripoli, in Libya. Then, after another long wait, we were driven into the desert in a fleet of Toyota buses. It was already dark when we arrived at the camp. Our original code names were called out and we were individually searched before being let in.

Their ordeal had begun.


(What follows is based on one man's account of his experiences in Abu Nidal's organization, related to me in the summer of 1990.)

He was a short, stocky man in his late twenties, with a bull neck, close-cropped hair, and the round thighs and springy walk of an athlete or male dancer. His code name, he told me, was Hussein Jorde Abdallah, and for a Palestinian his background was unusual. His grandfather was a Kabyle from Algeria, one of several thousand Berbers who immigrated to Palestine from North Africa at the turn of the century. His father was born in Palestine, but when the Israelis took over in 1948, he fled with his family to Lebanon, ending up in Burj al-Shamali, a tented camp near Tyre, one of several erected by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the immediate aftermath of the Palestine war. It was there that Jorde was born in 1961. But life for Palestinians in Lebanon was not easy. Sometime in the early seventies, once Algeria had settled down to its independence, Jorde's father decided to take his family back to their place of origin in Kabylia, the fiercely independent hill country just east of Algiers. And it was there that Jorde grew up, speaking Arabic, one or two Berber dialects, and a smattering of French. He was a restless, resourceful boy who scrounged for food, became a skilled shoplifter, and, after finishing school, joined Algeria's vast army of the unemployed. The family's main asset was Jorde's younger brother, Abdallah, who had gone to the Gulf in search of work and found a job with Kuwait Airlines.

When his father, the family breadwinner, died in 1986, Jorde was expected to provide for his mother and his two younger sisters. But he could hardly face the prospect and decided to escape. With money begged from Abdallah in Kuwait, he bought an air ticket to Barcelona and boarded an Iberia flight, with no visa for Spain and no passport save for a Lebanese laissez-passer, such as is issued to Palestinians. On arrival he had a stroke of luck. A domestic flight had landed at about the same time as his own and its passengers were filing into the arrivals hall a few feet away from those on his international flight. There was only a narrow passage between the two lines. When his fellow travelers, all of them Algerians, rushed for the immigration desk, Jorde quietly joined the other line and entered Spain unchallenged.

Jorde spent three months in Barcelona, living in cheap hotels and at night hanging about discos frequented by Arabs. He robbed those less sharp-witted than himself, stole food from supermarkets, and made friends with petty criminals, until one night he was picked up by the Spanish police in Plaza Catalonia and, after interrogation, deported to Lebanon.

In Beirut, he met a girl and started going out with her. She confided that she worked for a secret outfit that she called the Council, but she warned him not to get involved. He was intrigued. He coaxed the facts out of her. Its full name was Fatah: the Revolutionary Council, and it was run by Abu Nidal. Jorde was broke and seeking fame: With its aura of clandestinity and power, the Council seemed right for him. He heard it had an office in the Mar Elias refugee camp, and he knocked on the door and asked to volunteer.

A young man behind a desk looked him over and listened to his story. What could he do? What skills did he have? Why had he come? Jorde told him about his knowledge of languages. He said he was ready to work for a meal a day and somewhere to sleep.

"What do you think of Arafat?" the young man asked.

"Hopeless!" Jorde replied. He had an inkling this was their line. "He wants to liberate Palestine by making speeches. What was taken by force can only be recovered by force!"

Within days Jorde had signed on, been given a code name and a mattress on the first floor of the building, and written a twenty-seven-page life story in which, to make himself sound important, he told a lot of fibs. He wrote that he had murdered a Jew in Spain, that he had played football for a famous team in Algeria, that he had worked as an interpreter in a travel agency in Pamplona. He listed a score of Spanish women he claimed to have made love to. It was pure fiction.

Jorde was not well suited for the Council. He was a braggart and a compulsive talker; he did not take kindly to discipline; he showed undue curiosity in an organization where information was restricted to those with the need to know; he tried to make friends with colleagues, although friendships were discouraged as a matter of policy; he loved to show off his languages and was hopeless at self-criticism. In such a paranoid outfit, where everyone was constantly spying on everyone else and forever writing up reports, he was certain to get into trouble. But he showed a talent for martial arts and got to the top of the class. He was also good at drill and at physical exercises, and once he had been transferred down to Sidon, he was put in charge of a squad. However, the fact that he shaved every day aroused suspicion. Where had he learned such fastidious habits? Fearing that he had been planted on them, his superiors asked him once again to write his life story. He labored away, but this time around he could no longer remember the names of the girls he previously claimed to have known or the fictitious addresses he had given them.

Nevertheless, since nothing serious was found against him, he was soon flown to Libya with a batch of other recruits and bused to the desert camp. It was 1987. Billets and wash houses were still being built -- by the men -- and in the meantime the accommodation was in tents. The routine was punishing. Roused at dawn, the men were sent out to jog for an hour, returning to a light breakfast and a long, hard shift of building work from 7:30 A.M. to 1 P.M. This was followed by a break for a spartan lunch and a short rest until 3 P.M., before the start of another shift of work until six o'clock. They then were allowed to wash and change for the evening's program of lectures and political films. Jorde discovered to his agony that if one was five minutes late for meals, one would not be allowed into the canteen at all. If one didn't get up on time in the morning, one's mattress would be turned over or one would be doused by a pail of cold water. If one put down tools to take a breather, reproaches and abuse came raining down. One needed permission to go to the lavatory, and one had to be very ill indeed, practically spitting blood, before the camp doctor allowed any sick leave. Complaints were utterly forbidden, on pain of being hauled away to Station 16, from which men emerged scarcely able to walk. Jorde tried to sneak away in mid-morning for a shave and a rest, but he was soon found out and threatened with a thrashing.

When they had been at the camp for about a month, Jorde's section was told that it would shortly be receiving a visit from a "comrade" to whom every man could open his heart. "Speak freely and answer any question he puts to you," their commander instructed.

"What alerted me to Abu Nidal's arrival," Jorde said, "was a driver springing to attention and saluting. I saw a man dressed in civilian clothes and accompanied by three senior camp officials in uniform. I looked at him closely. He wasn't very tall. He had a bald head with a fringe of gray hair, blue-green eyes, and a plump face. I said to myself, This must be the big chief.

"When we assembled in the sports center, he began by telling us that our six-month course was just the first step in our career with the organization. Each of us would in time get the job of his choice, the one best suited to his talents. Then, very quietly, he started to draw us out, asking us about our background, interests, and ambitions. Each man in turn had to step forward, give his code name, and tell him his problem.

"When it was my turn, I stood up and said my name, Hussein Jorde Abdallah.

"'Where do you come from?'

"'North Africa.'

"'Are you a Palestinian?'


"'Were you born in Algeria?'

"'No. In a refugee camp in Tyre.'

"'But Jorde is not an Arab name.'

"'I am not an Arab!'

"At this, everyone stared at me in surprise. My group leader tried to say it was just my code name, but Abu Nidal waved to him to keep silent.

"'Are you a Spaniard?'

"'No, I'm a Kabyle.' And I explained my family's travels from North Africa to Palestine and then back again, via Lebanon, to the Berber capital of Tizi-Ouzo, in Algeria. Jorde, I said, was a Catalan version of Jorge or George: It was a name I had borrowed from a Spanish acquaintance. I told him about the languages I spoke. He asked the camp commander, Husam Yusif, to make a note of what I was saying."

This exchange with Abu Nidal made Jorde a marked man, for in drawing the leadership's attention to his potential, he was also sharpening its suspicions about him. He was asked to report the next day to the camp commander.

"Do any members of your family work for an intelligence or a security organization?" he was asked.

"No." He had an aunt and uncle living in Kuwait; two uncles in America, one in Michigan and the other in Ohio, but he knew very little about them. Another aunt, his father's sister, whom he had not seen for twenty years, lived in Benghazi. It was the usual pattern of Palestinian dispersal.

"What about you? Have you ever worked in intelligence?"


"Are you quite sure?"

"Yes, I am."

"This is a matter of life and death. Don't forget that in Beirut you signed a statement saying you would accept death if you were found to have an intelligence connection. Write your life story for us again, but this time put down every single detail about yourself and about all your relatives -- their names, addresses, and everything else about them."

This was the third time Jorde had been set this task. Confined to his tent with pens and a notepad, he spent the best part of two weeks writing and growing increasingly resentful and anxious. He was worried that his earlier lies would now be exposed. He stopped eating and cried a good deal. The camp commander, Husam Yusif, came to see him.

"What's the matter with you? What's wrong?"

"I want to get out of here! I can't stand it anymore."

The next morning Husam Yusif and a strongly built man called Baha, who was said to be the Palestinian karate champion, frog-marched him to the back door of the kitchen bloc and ordered him into a dark closet, cluttered with mops and dirty rags, situated just behind the kitchen's huge gas burners, whose roar could be heard through the wall.

"We haven't brought you here to imprison you but to stop you from doing anything foolish," Husam said. "Sami will want to see you when he gets back from Tripoli in a couple of days." Sami was the man in charge of Section 16, the prison and interrogation bloc.

Dirty and unshaven, Jorde was brought before Sami two days later.

"Where is your life story?"

Jorde told him he had hidden it under the mattress in his billet.

"Have you told us the whole truth?"


"Before we resort to other measures, let me make one thing absolutely clear. You are still our comrade! If you are in any sort of trouble, you must tell us about it. If you are in danger, so are we all. No one can fool us. God judges in heaven, we judge here on earth. Several of our comrades turned out to be agents of other intelligence services. When we caught them, they told us they had been blackmailed into it. We were able to help them. We can do the same for you. I am going to give you another week to write your life story. Forget about the earlier drafts. Just tell us whom you work for!"

"But I don't work for anyone!"

"Yes you do! We can prove it. But I want you to admit it yourself. Tell us the whole truth. Don't force us to use other methods."

So Jorde started scribbling again. He confessed that he had not played football in Algeria nor worked as an interpreter in Spain. The travel agency in Pamplona did not exist. The twenty-five girls he said he had slept with were all invented. But he really had entered Spain without a visa by jumping a queue at the Barcelona airport.

By this time he had been confined for ten days in the closet. His beard had grown. His body itched all over. When the burners were lit in the kitchen, the temperature soared. He stripped down to his underpants. One day, still scantily dressed, he was taken outside, and, wedged in the backseat of a Toyota between Sami and another man, he was driven out of the camp into the open desert. His first thought was that they were going to kill him. Behind a dune, they came on a single tent pitched directly on the sand. It was empty. There was no ground sheet or bed, nothing except for some iron pegs in the ground, to which they now tied him. There they left him for a couple of days, visiting him once a day with some bread and a cup of water.

"Have you decided to tell us the truth?"

"I've already told you the truth," he groaned.

"Listen," Sami said. "Beating is not allowed in our organization except by decision of the Central Committee. But if you don't talk, the Central Committee will have no alternative ..."

Jorde remained silent. He was filthy and starving. He stank. He began to hope that a scorpion bite would finish him off.

The following day Sami, Baha, and three other men came to the tent. One was carrying a rope, another a length of rubber hose, the third an oxygen cylinder, a bottle of disinfectant, and some rags.

Baha came up to him. "Stand up!" he roared. "Are you going to tell us the truth?" But before Jorde could utter a word, he was struck across the face. He fell down, only to be hauled to his feet again. "Stand to attention! Don't raise your hands! Give me the hose!" And they all set to, punching and beating him.

One of his tormentors was a young thug called Mas'ud, who had been in the physical-exercise squad that Jorde had led. Jorde had pushed him hard to run and jump, and Mas'ud had hated him for it. Now he got his own back. They tied Jorde down, propped his legs up on a stone, and attacked the soles of his feet. Screaming and weeping, his mouth full of sand, he begged them to spare him.

"Stop! Stop! I'll tell you the truth. It's Algeria. I work for Algerian intelligence. They sent me here. They made me do it. I was scared for my family. Stop!"

"OK," said Sami. "That's it. Don't be afraid. We'll look after your family." They sat him down and untied his bonds.

"Is that it?" asked Jorde through his tears. "All finished?"

"Yes, that's it. We'll have a chat together over dinner. Now you are safe. You are once again our comrade. But you will have to tell us everything!" Jorde could not stand up. They carried him to Sami's tent a little way off, gave him some tea, and treated his wounds.

This is what he told them: When he was living in Algeria with his family, he used to buy small quantities of hashish from his neighbor, a petty smuggler. This man told him that they had to watch out for a certain Captain Kamal of military intelligence, whose job it was to chase the drug dealers. Jorde learned to recognize the captain's car. One day Captain Kamal visited Jorde's family at home, and soon afterward he called Jorde to his office and offered him a job as an informer. He wanted to know about smugglers, then he asked Jorde to keep an eye on student agitators in the town, and finally, when Abu Nidal opened an office in Algiers, which it was feared might be used to plan attacks on visiting Palestinians, Jorde was sent to Spain and from there to Beirut to penetrate the organization.

This was Jorde's hastily concocted story. There were elements of truth in it. Captain Kamal was a real person. But the rest was invention. Under questioning, it did not stand up. He got confused and contradicted himself. Sami was unimpressed. Later that night, Jorde was taken back to the tent and the beatings resumed. Desperate to save himself, he racked his brains for a more plausible story. He said he worked in Bilbao for the Basque nationalist movement ETA; he was a member of its military wing. It was ETA that had sent him to Beirut to join Abu Nidal, ETA that had made a soldier out of him! He had never been to Pamplona or slept with Spanish girls; that part was a lie. He was sorry, very sorry. He had only wanted to make himself interesting. The beatings went on at intervals throughout the night.

In the following days, they stopped asking him for the truth and concentrated only on breaking him. It was extremely hot inside the tent. Sami cut his water ration to three small mouthfuls a day. He was so thirsty he could hardly speak. They gave him a tin in which to do his business. Flies gathered on his back and on the filth around him. Blood dried on his wounds. His body was all pain. They forced a potato into his mouth, blindfolded him, and turned Mas'ud loose on him. To escape the blows, he feigned madness, throwing himself on the ground in spasms.

"What do you think?" he heard Sami say to Baha. "Shall we get him a doctor?" He was carried to the surgery, tied to a bed, and given an injection. He was aware that Sami and Baha came to see him several times during the night. Half- asleep, he answered their questions, and they realized he had been faking.

"Have you ever had a wire inserted in your penis?" Sami asked. "Have you been trussed up like a chicken and forced to sit on a broken bottle? We will cut out your tongue. What you've written is all untrue. Every word of it. Who recruited you? Who sent you to us? Tell us about the Syrians! Tell us about the Jordanians!"

"Have pity! Oh God, have pity! I swear I told you the whole truth in the kitchen. The more you beat me, the more I'll lie."

Mahmud, a tall, gray-haired man from the Central Committee, came to look him over. "Take him to Station 16," he said.

There, in a tiny concrete underground cell, they made him stand to attention all night facing the wall, and the next night and the whole of the next two weeks. Jorde learned to sleep standing up. In the morning the guards would crowd in and each one would slap him across the face a hundred times. He had to count the slaps silently and, when it was time, utter only the words "One hundred!" If he fell to the ground or let out so much as a moan, they would start again. His face swelled up like a football and an ugly liquid flowed from his ears. Once every two or three days he was allowed to go out to the lavatory. The stench in the cell was terrible. From time to time Sami would arrive and play a tape of Umm Kalthoum, the undisputed queen of Arabic song, whereupon the guards would rush in, throw Jorde to the ground, put a brick under his feet, bind his legs, and thrash his soles until he fainted.

A bucket of cold water would bring him half-alive again. "Where did you learn yoga? Who taught you to sleep standing up? Speak, you dog! Who but a soldier would shave every day? You're an agent. Confess it!"

''I'm not an agent! I am a poor son of the camps! Please believe me."

Jorde spent two months in prison, being beaten every day. One night, when he was still in his underground cell, a wedding was celebrated in the camp. A comrade was marrying a female member, and all the guards went to enjoy the festivities except for Mas'ud, who stayed behind.

"Tonight," he said, ''I'm going to finish you off." He unfurled a length of wire, threw a switch in the corridor, and dangled a bright electric bulb into Jorde's cell through the tiny skylight above the door. "Hold it!" he shouted. "Hold it in your hand! If you drop it, I'll break your bones." Jorde obeyed. After a few minutes, smoke rose from his fearfully blistered palm. Swooning with pain, he was saved by the guards returning from the party.

For the tenth time, Sami gave him a pad and a pen and told him to write his life story. The prescribed routine was for him to write during the day, sitting on the concrete step in his cell, and then stand to attention throughout the night.

One evening, after reading what he had written, a grim-faced Sami came down to the cellblock. "Tonight," he whispered, "you are going to die! You had better say your prayers." They brought him water for his ablutions and stood watching as he prostrated himself. Then they dressed him in military uniform, wrapped a scarf around his head, and took him out beyond the prison compound to where a deep hole, evidently part of the sewage system, had been dug. A ladder led down to the noisome depths. Below him was another hole, shaped like a grave.

"Lie down!" Sami ordered as he drew his Browning and cocked it. "Do you have anything to tell us? This is your last chance."

"I am innocent!" Jorde cried in a storm of tears. "I have told you the truth." And as the filthy water lapped about him, he closed his eyes in a last prayer.

"All right! Get him out," Sami ordered. Shivering and demented, racked by sobs, Jorde was carried back to prison, given fresh clothes, and put in a clean cell. It was warm and dark. He curled up on a blanket on the floor and fell asleep.

Sami woke him up the next morning.

"Congratulations!" he said. "You've passed!" He reached into his pocket and gave Jorde a handful of sweets. "I believe you are innocent! Have a wash and a shave and some breakfast. We'll talk later. We have to behave like this to protect ourselves. There are a lot of enemies outside ..."
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:00 am



For a few weeks Jorde lived in an agreeable limbo. He was excused from work, training, and guard duty. His personal belongings were returned to him. He shared a tent in the prison compound with one of his former torturers and was given magazines to read and plenty of food. His cravings for cakes, fruits, fresh air, and frequent showers were indulged. He could sleep as long as he liked. He was free to move about the camp but was not allowed to contact anyone. His sores healed, hair grew on his shaved head, his injured feet recovered well enough for him to put on a pair of sneakers. He began to regain strength as well as something of his former cockiness.

Escape was very much on his mind. After the floggings and the mock execution, his one thought was to get away. One afternoon a bulldozer scooped out a hole at the foot of the hill behind Station 16. Jorde was curious to know what was going on, but Amjad Ata, the second secretary of the Central Committee, ordered the compound cleared for the rest of the day. A couple of hours later, when they were allowed back, Jorde noticed that the hole had been filled in. He was convinced bodies had been buried there. Loose talk was strictly forbidden and, in any event, each man lived in fear of being reported. Nevertheless, rumors of executions spread around the camp. A little while later, Jorde learned that the driver of the bulldozer had committed suicide. He wondered whether he would ever manage to get out of there alive.

Enjoying greater leisure as well as a certain immunity because of what he had gone through, he was able to observe more closely the workings of Station 16 and to gauge the general mood of the camp. He heard that a man had hit another for staying under the shower more than the regulation minute. To cure him of his "disciplinary disorder," the first man was brought to the cells, chained to the wall, and beaten senseless. The medicine was administered repeatedly over a couple of weeks. Jorde could not help being disturbed at night by screams coming from the cells and came to dread the times when Arabic music was turned up to full volume on the sound system.

Even for those who did not get into trouble there was little relief from the strict routine of work and the mind-numbing lectures about the evils of the PLO, the virtues of Abu Nidal's organization and its ten basic principles, and the inescapable role of armed struggle in the liberation of Palestine. Indoctrination was massive and systematic. The inmates were not allowed radios and had no news of the outside world except for the few items that were filtered through the political-mobilization department and published in the camp's bulletin. Letters to their families were censored, while incoming letters were often not distributed at all. The camp administration kept extensive personal files on each man and evidently found it more convenient to file letters without bothering to pass them on. The men's main grievance was that they had been told their course would last six months whereas they were still there eighteen months later, with no immediate prospect of release. Such was the atmosphere of oppression and fear that everyone seemed close to physical and psychological exhaustion -- and this applied also to the guards who, just a few weeks earlier, had beaten Jorde so savagely. As all personal papers -- such as ID cards or travel documents -- had been surrendered on entering the camp, even a sense of self was reduced to the minimum.

One morning Abu Nidal paid another visit to the camp. It was the second time Jorde had seen him. He drove up in a Toyota, accompanied by two other men, and inspected Station 16, where some new buildings had been erected. Sami drew his attention to Jorde, and Abu Nidal came up and greeted him briefly. Then he continued on his tour of inspection, but Jorde noticed that he kept glancing in his direction.

That afternoon, Sami summoned Jorde to his office.

"You're a liar and a thief," he said. "That's why we're thinking of sending you abroad on foreign missions. Do you think you could steal some passports for us and bring us back some information?" Jorde swore this was just what he was suited for.

"You've certainly shown you can escape detection! The tactics you've used with us you can now tryout on others. We'll give you some money to travel and live abroad. But if you try to escape, we'll catch you and bring you back and you'll never get out again!"

He was introduced to Comrade Ali, a tall, fair Western-looking man with a Lebanese-Palestinian accent, who was to be his instructor and controller. "Learn everything you can from him and obey him fully," Sami said.

In a remote part of the camp, and protected by its own fence and guardroom, was a small group of tents reserved for trainees of the Intelligence Directorate's Special Missions Committee. A few men were brought here individually at night, their faces covered with the Arab headdress, and lodged one to a tent. They were not allowed to mix with each other or, for that matter, with anyone else in the camp, and no unauthorized person was allowed into their compound. Their training courses usually lasted two or three weeks, and during their stay, the camp commander himself saw to their needs, bringing them meals and changes of clothing. Courses were tailored to the needs of individual agents and of the foreign missions for which they were being prepared.

Jorde was transferred here, and in the following weeks, Ali took in hand his basic intelligence training. He taught him how to assume a false identity; how to walk and behave without attracting attention; how to reconnoiter a place of rendezvous; how to keep a target under surveillance; how to throw off a tail; how to write in invisible ink and send coded messages back to base. From another instructor, Ra'id Saqr, he learned to strip, assemble, and fire pistols and light machine guns; to clean, oil, and pack them for burial; to memorize a map; to locate a weapons cache in a foreign country.

When he showed some familiarity with these techniques, Ali told him the time had come to put them into practice. One night, to Jorde's immense relief, they left the camp behind them and drove to Tripoli, to an apartment on the top floor of a three-story building on Umar al-Mukhtar Street. Before pressing the bell on the yellow front door, Ali told Jorde to cover his face. He had a glimpse of several powerful-looking men at the end of a corridor before being quickly shown to a room furnished with a single bed, a table and chair, some books, and a wall map of the world with German place names.

That night Ali gave him a lecture on discipline. "I've heard you used to moan a great deal," he said. "That's got to stop. Absolutely. We are planning to send you abroad, where your life will be totally under our control. You must report back in every detail. If we say, 'Drink alcohol,' do so. If we say, 'Get married,' find a woman and marry her. If we say, 'Don't have children,' you must obey. If we say, 'Go and kill King Hussein,' you must be ready to sacrifice yourself!"

Jorde said he was ready for anything.

"Let me give you an example of a possible mission," Ali continued. "We might say, 'Go to the Argentine consulate in Brussels and apply for a visa. Some fifty kilometers outside Buenos Aires is a region called La Plata, where there are several poor villages. Go to a village, find a destitute old woman, and give her two or three hundred dollars. Tell her you are her long-lost son now working in Europe. She will take you to the town hall and get you documents proving you are her son. Enlist in the army for your national service. When it is over, apply for a visa to Israel. Buy an air ticket to Tel Aviv. Then await our instructions!'"

Ali arranged for Jorde to have his photograph taken and the following day gave him a well-used North Yemeni passport, with various stamps and visas in it, in the name of Muhammad Ahmad al-Salihi, domiciled in Abu Dhabi, occupation petroleum engineer. He was told to memorize the passport details and think himself into his new identity. He was supplied with a suitcase full of clothes, a Samsonite briefcase, and $5,000 in one-hundred-dollar bills. Jorde had never seen so much money before and wondered whether the bills were forged.

"Spend it wisely," Ali cautioned. "Don't forget that one of our ten principles is thrift. We are a small organization with small resources. The money we have belongs to our martyrs and must be looked after carefully."

For an hour he rehearsed with Jorde an itinerary that was to take him to Athens, Rome, Zurich, and Paris, to Niamey, capital of the African republic of Niger, and then back to Paris and Tripoli. At each stop there were people to meet, passwords to exchange, warning signals to observe. If a tall black man with a silver-capped front tooth at his hotel in Niamey carried his cigarette lighter in his left hand, he was on no account to approach him; if the lighter was in his right hand, contact could safely be made. Jorde could not take notes but had to satisfy Ali that he had committed every last detail to memory.

"All right!" Ali said at last. "Tomorrow we will take a trip together. Go through your things carefully and eliminate anything that might connect you with Libya."

Dreaming of Africa, Jorde met Ali the next morning at Tripoli airport and was tested on his itinerary. Ali asked for his passport and, slipping a piece of paper into it, gave it to the officer at passport control. Jorde noticed that his passport was not stamped. In fact there were no Libyan stamps in it at all. Instead, there was an exit stamp from Cairo dated that day. They boarded an aircraft and, a short while later, landed not at Athens, as he had expected, but at Valletta in Malta.

"This is where we go our separate ways," Ali said. "Ask for a three-day transit visa. Say you are going on to Athens. Before collecting your luggage, go to the lavatory and get rid of your Libyan ticket. Change a hundred dollars into local currency. Don't talk to taxi drivers: They are all intelligence agents. Find a modest hotel and meet me at 8 P.M. in the cafeteria of the Holiday Inn."

But Jorde was stopped at the barrier. The woman immigration officer flicked through his passport and shook her head at his request for a transit visa. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Ali watching him. Then he saw Ali talking to another official, who looked like an Arab. The man walked over and had a word with the immigration officer, who then stamped his passport and let him through. "Thank you very much," Jorde said in Arabic. "Don't say a word," the man replied.

In Valletta, Jorde found a cheap hotel by the sea and met Ali as arranged. They dined and spent the evening exploring the town, with Ali continuing to coach his pupil in intelligence techniques: Were they being followed? How could they be sure? Was the street "clean?" Where was a good place to rendezvous? Were there several exits in case of emergency? Who was the main enemy -- Israel or Arafat? The lessons continued over breakfast the next morning.

Then they went to a small supermarket, where Ali bought several cartons of soap powder and two dozen films. He gave Jorde half the load to carry in his suitcase and arranged to meet him at the airport in the afternoon. There he bought two tickets for Libya and asked Jorde to hand over his remaining cash. It was only then that Jorde realized the trip had been a mere trial run, a sort of test, and that his hopes of flying deep into Africa had to be deferred. On landing in Tripoli, Ali was warmly welcomed by a Libyan official, who took their passports and, again without having them stamped, escorted them out of the airport by a back door. Ali said he had paid the man $300 to take them through, but Jorde suspected he wasn't telling the truth. Back in the flat on Vmar al-Mukhtar Street, Ali asked Jorde for the films and soap powder he had carried in for him.

The training continued. A week or two later they found themselves in Belgrade, with Jorde traveling on a Mauretanian passport, once again with no Libyan exit stamp. This time he traveled on his own, with $5,000 in his pocket, flying first to Frankfurt, where he burned his Libyan ticket and flushed it down the lavatory, and then on to Belgrade. Ali walked him around the city, which, he told him, was the administrative center for Abu Nidal's European operations. He showed him airline offices and Western embassies, friendly cafes where meetings could safely be arranged, and hotels where he was on no account to show his face.

The working methods of the organization were becoming clearer to Jorde. Ali explained that considerable resources were devoted to the gathering of intelligence. Before a target could be selected or an attack carried out, data on everyone and everything concerned had to be collected. This was the routine side of the organization's work and the main activity of its agents in the field. There was a strong emphasis on photography, sketch making, and report writing. A second priority was transferring weapons to foreign countries, or obtaining them there, and then hiding them for future use. A third was acquiring genuine passports, which were always more highly prized than the forgeries produced by the organization's Technical Committee. And finally there was training: Abu Nidal believed in moving his cadres from one training course to another, constantly upgrading their abilities and testing their courage.

It was in Belgrade that Ali set Jorde his last training exercise before he became operational. The task was to get a visa for Belgium, fly to Brussels, and make friends there who would welcome him back and help him get subsequent reentry visas: in other words, establish a working relationship in Belgium to justify returning there. Jorde hit on the idea of posing as a used-car dealer who was looking for vehicles in good condition to export to North Africa.

As instructed by Ali, he traveled club class to Brussels on Swiss Air, booked into a small hotel, and hired a taxi driver -- a man of Greek origin, called Victor Roumis -- to take him around the various garages on the outskirts of the city that dealt in secondhand cars. He paid him $220 for two and a half days' work, and together they made lists of vehicles, checked prices, bargained, made many contacts, and collected numerous business cards. Jorde's story was that he was working with two partners in Belgrade and was prospecting the market. After consulting his partners, he would return to place firm orders in a week or two. Would the dealers vouch for him to help him get a reentry visa? Several said they would. Roumis, his newfound friend, took him home for a meal prepared by his Greek wife, who turned out to be an ardent Jehovah's Witness. After supper, the three of them watched a religious video!

Back in Belgrade, Jorde wrote a detailed report for Ali, complete with names, addresses, descriptions, and topographical details. It had been his first assignment entirely on his own, and Ali was pleased with him. What Jorde did not tell him was that in Brussels he had thought of escaping. But he did not have much money, and he knew he could not get very far on a Mauretanian passport. In any event, while he was swanning around Europe at someone else's expense, the need to escape seemed less pressing.


Once Jorde's preliminary training was complete, Ali handed him over to a thin, dark man in his mid-thirties called Hisham Harb, a senior cadre in the Special Missions Committee who was said to have a special talent for directing foreign operations and assassinations.

Sitting in cafes, talking and getting to know each other, they spent a week in Belgrade together. Jorde told Harb about the torture he had suffered in the camp, the memory of which gave him nightmares. He was still troubled by a buzzing in his ears. Why had they done it? What was the point? He was not overjoyed to hear Harb respond that Jorde had been beaten not so much because of suspected treason but because he had complained a great deal! It was a form of training and Jorde should not feel bitter. Others had suffered even more. He was now a trusted cadre and would have occasion to prove himself.

Harb unveiled to Jorde some of the secrets of the outfit he had joined. He explained the history and structure of the organization, the function of its various directorates and committees and, at the center of the whole system, the elite Intelligence Directorate, of which he was now a member. He claimed it was the only effective instrument in the Palestinian struggle, the only truly disciplined force, the only one that made the world tremble! Other Palestinian factions were made up of clowns and charlatans, concerned only to protect their privileges and ready to sell out the cause at the first opportunity.

"Could you kill a man if we asked you to?" he inquired.

Jorde said he would obey whatever orders he received.

Harb gave him an expensive Nikon camera with a zoom lens and taught him how to work it. "You're a talented man," he said. "We're going to use you for ten years. After that, you'll be free to go your own way."

The first assignments were relatively easy. Jorde found himself "borrowing" airline timetables (for which the organization had an insatiable appetite) from travel agencies; photographing Israeli and American embassies, consulates, and airline offices in several European cities; prowling past these potential targets in taxis to observe their defenses; and above all, stealing or buying passports. In Paris, he managed to acquire no fewer than four -- two French, one American, and one Algerian. He discovered that crowded discos were a good hunting ground, because tourists tended to take off their jackets when dancing and leave them unattended. On Boulevard Barbes, north of the Gare du Nord, he met old Algerian acquaintances who, after discreet negotiations, helped him buy, for a thousand francs, an Italian pistol, which he photographed carefully (to prove that he had gotten it) and buried in a public park. By Christmas 1987, he was running out of money, so he sent a coded message to Tripoli to announce his return and flew back from Zurich by Swiss Air.

He was met by the same official who, when he was traveling with Ali, had escorted them through the airport. "Have you anything to declare?" the man asked. "Don't worry. You can tell me. We work for the same outfit."

After some hesitation, Jorde produced the stolen passports. The man took them away but returned with them a little while later and waved Jorde through. Outside the airport, a car took him to the flat on Umar al-Mukhtar Street, where Hisham Harb was waiting to debrief him. Jorde gave him the films, sketch maps, and passports, but when he told Harb he had shown the passports to their colleague at the airport, Harb flew into a rage. "You fool!" he roared. "You stupid fool! You deserve a good beating! You've wasted your whole trip." In disgrace, Jorde was sent back to the camp to cool his heels for several months.

His first task was to write a report of self-criticism and, as was the organization's custom, to suggest his own punishment. He made it exceptionally harsh: one month's work on a construction site; an extra four hours of guard duty each night for ten days; two hours of physical exercise each morning instead of one, which would mean rising at 4 A.M.; and writing two articles for the organization's in-house magazine, al-Tariq (The Path), one on selfishness and the other on bad temper. Perhaps it was this spirit of abject contrition that caused Hisham Harb to waive the sanctions and to send Jorde instead on a weapons course, where he perfected his knowledge of the Browning, Scorpion, M16, Kalashnikov, and also of an American-built RPG.

Jorde was not sure whether it was a promotion or a punishment when, a short while later, Harb issued him a Tunisian passport in the name of Sha'ban Abd al-Majid Belqassim and sent him to photograph and report on Jewish synagogues in Istanbul. Harb warned him it would be dangerous because the Turkish police, as well as vigilantes in the Jewish community, were on their guard following a murderous attack two years earlier on the Neve Shalom Synagogue, Istanbul's largest. In that attack, on September 6, 1986, two members of the organization, posing as photographers, had entered the synagogue, locked the door from the inside with an iron bar, and opened fire on the congregation with submachine guns before blowing themselves up. Twenty-one Jewish worshipers had died and another four were wounded. Shimon Peres, Israel's prime minister at the time, had vowed to "cut off the arms of the murderers, murderers not seen since the days of the Nazis." Now the organization wanted to know how this and other synagogues were defended. Were there any special checks on people going in? Any searches? Any sign of armed guards? They wanted Jorde to visit the Jewish cemetery where the victims were buried, take photographs of their graves, and make sketch maps of their location. Harb, who advised Jorde to pose as a Tunisian Jew, taught him half a dozen words of Hebrew and gave him a skullcap and some brief instruction in how to behave at prayer.

Within three weeks, Jorde was back in Tripoli with a full report and a restored reputation for courage and resourcefulness. On a tourist bus, he had met and befriended a woman guide who happened to be a Jew and who had been very helpful to the pious young Tunisian during his stay. Nevertheless, Hisham Harb insisted that Jorde append to his report a page of self-criticism for having spent a good deal of the organization's money in a very short time.


In September 1988, Jorde was prepared for a mission that Hisham Harb told him was of the utmost importance -- a year- long stay in Thailand, during which he was instructed to learn the language, marry a Thai woman (preferably one working in a hospital, pharmacy, airline, or bank), start the formalities for acquiring citizenship if that was possible, and establish an arms cache within easy reach of Bangkok. The main object of his attention was to be the Saudi presence in Bangkok: Saudi businessmen, the Saudia airline, and in particular the diplomatic staff of the Saudi embassy, about whom he was instructed to compile a detailed report and photographic record. It was plain to Jorde that Abu Nidal was planning to mount an attack, very probably an assassination, against a Saudi target in Thailand.

For very many years Abu Nidal, the apostle of Palestinian violence, had been at daggers drawn with the Saudi royal family, the Arab world's foremost champions of stability and conservatism. Indeed, Abu Nidal's first operation, even before his split from Fatah, had been an assault on the Saudi embassy in Paris, in September 1973, in which two Saudi diplomats had been taken hostage. No doubt he would have pressed his attack on Saudi interests over the years had his various state sponsors -- Iraq in the 1970s and Syria in the early 1980s -- not forbidden it. However, from 1985 onward, when Libya became his main patron, such a prohibition was lifted and Abu Nidal started issuing threats against the Saudis, who, in his paranoid way, he believed were the source of all the plots against him.

The Saudis were sufficiently alarmed to seek a channel of communication with him, which, after some discreet soundings, Algerian intelligence agreed to provide. Abu Nidal did not aspire to a political relationship with Riyadh -- their differences were too ludicrously great for that to be discussible -- but he did expect the Saudis to buy him off. His view was that since they contributed vast sums to the PLO, he too should have his share. Accordingly, Algerian intelligence arranged for Abu Nidal to visit the Saudi kingdom in 1987, and the blackmailer returned from there with a "first payment" of $3 million in cash.

However, he made one mistake, which was to torpedo the budding relationship: He accepted a Saudi offer of a private plane to take him back to Algiers, believing that such red-carpet treatment would boost his stock with the Algerians. But ever wary of plots against him and perhaps fearing an in-flight mishap, he requested that a Saudi prince accompany him on the flight. Defectors from Abu Nidal's organization told me that a prominent young prince, a veteran of top-secret missions, agreed to do so. However, the Americans are thought to have heard of his trip and put pressure on Riyadh to end the relationship. Be that as it may, no more payments were forthcoming. Abu Nidal's rage knew no bounds. As he saw it, the Saudis had struck a deal with him and had then failed to honor it.

Bent on revenge, he attacked "soft" Saudi targets. On October 25, 1988, Abdallah Ghani Badawi, second secretary at the Saudi embassy in Ankara, was gunned down. Two months later, on December 27, it was the turn of Hasan al-Amri, Saudi vice-consul in Karachi. Western Europe, where effective counterterrorist measures had been introduced, was becoming a dangerous place for terrorists, driving Abu Nidal to look for less well policed countries. Hence the choice of Thailand for a third attack. And this was Jorde's mission.

Jorde knew he would not be on his own. He would have shadowy partners in Thailand, although he could only guess at their identity and location. According to the organization's well-tried procedures, an attack required the coordination of several elements:

There was first a long-term "resident" responsible for establishing the arms cache and supplying the necessary background intelligence about the target. This was the role for which he was being groomed.

Second, a "supervisor" would fly in at the appropriate moment, examine the target in greater detail, make a feasibility study, and, after close consultation with the command back at base, call in a third component.

This was the hit team, usually consisting of three members and a leader, whose job it was to decide on the nuts and bolts of the operation: Where exactly was the target to be attacked? In his office, at home, or in the street? How should the team be deployed? Who would fire the lethal shot, and who would provide covering fire? What was the best getaway route? Each team member would travel on his own and make contact with the supervisor, who would assign him a place of residence. The team members did not know the resident or where the arms were hidden. Each member of the team would know the others only by their code names and would not know under what names they were traveling.

Fourth, and finally, there was the "intermediary," usually a high-ranking cadre, whose sole task was to collect the weapons from the resident and deliver them to the supervisor. Sometimes the intermediary would not even meet the resident but would merely collect the weapons from a prearranged drop. The minute the handover was accomplished, the intermediary would leave the country, so as to protect the arms cache and its custodian. The supervisor would not know the resident: His sole contact was with the intermediary. If the operation failed and the team was arrested, the police would be unable to trace the resident or the weapons. If the operation succeeded and the team got away, the supervisor would return the weapons to another prearranged drop, whence they would be collected by the resident and hidden for future use.

As he was being briefed for his assignment, Jorde's hopes of escape revived. He was certain he would be given a decent passport and a large sum of money to establish himself in Thailand. His tentative plan was to abscond with the cash and disappear underground, probably in Spain, where he hoped to resume his former life of petty and relatively carefree criminality.

Jorde spent much of October 1988 learning about Southeast Asia, and Thailand in particular. He pored over books, briefing papers, and maps. He was instructed to send his preliminary findings about the Saudi embassy personnel by coded letter, written in invisible ink and addressed to a certain Sulayman Taha, P.O. Box 83476, Tripoli, Libya. He was to sign his letters Sami Taha. He was given careful training in where to meet and how to identify the couriers who were to bring him money, weapons, and instructions. When he was ready to go, Hisham Harb gave him a North Yemeni passport in the name of Hadi Abdallah al-Dawudi, a mere $5,000 in cash, and a one-way ticket on Libyan Airways to Vienna -- on all counts a great disappointment! Hisham instructed him not to spend more than fifteen dollars a day on a hotel in Bangkok and twenty dollars a day on living expenses. Once again, his dreams of making a well-financed escape evaporated.

At the end of October 1988 he flew to Vienna and, on arrival, burned his ticket as instructed. The stamp in his passport indicated that he had flown in from Amman. He then traveled on to Belgrade, via Zagreb, and applied for a visa at the Thai embassy. He was asked to produce a return ticket -- which cost him $1,700 -- and was given a tourist visa.

Jorde took the long flight to Bangkok, spent a few nights in a cheap hotel, and then, mindful of the need to economize, moved to a rented room. Within days he signed on for Thai classes, at a language school called the American University Alumni, under the name Marco al-Dawudi. He said he ran a video shop in Milan where he lived with his divorced Italian mother. Soon he was sending back to Tripoli voluminous reports and film of the Saudi embassy staff, whom he spent his afternoons following assiduously to their places of residence.

But his funds began to run low. With mounting concern, he sent repeated coded messages to Tripoli, by letter and then by telegram, asking for help and instructions. Day after day he waited patiently at the agreed places of rendezvous, an American ice-cream parlor and a self-service restaurant, called City Food, in the Ambassador Hotel, but no courier showed up. He resorted to what he knew best, picking pockets, befriending people in bars and taking their money, talking his way into the favor of Thai businessmen, who helped him out and paid for his meals. Charming and plausible, a born raconteur, he was able to scrape by on his wits. He met some criminals who were willing to sell him weapons, but he had no money to clinch the deals. Tripoli remained silent.

Had he fallen from grace? Did they suspect him of double-dealing? Had he been sent out as a decoy while the real action was elsewhere? Was there something wrong with his communications? Were they being intercepted? Jorde sank deeper into fear and anxiety. One night he got involved in a brawl and was stabbed in the chest with a broken bottle. His Thai friends rescued him, took him for treatment to the Deja General Hospital on Sriayuthaya Road, and paid the bill.

Then, on January 4, 1989, Salah al-Maliki, third secretary at the Saudi embassy in Bangkok, one of the men he had tracked and carefully photographed, was gunned down by unknown assailants. The Islamic Jihad, a Beirut-based fundamentalist group, claimed responsibility, and most foreign observers attributed the murder to terrorists loyal to Iran. But Jorde knew better.

In the wake of the Bangkok murder, he was arrested in a general sweep of Arabs. He was interrogated by the police and his room was searched, but no evidence against him was found and he was released forty-eight hours later. He was told, however, that he would have to leave Thailand once his visa expired on March 8. As so often in his life when he found himself in difficulty, Jorde appealed to his brother, Abdallah, for help. Through the Kuwait Airlines office, he sent him a message telling him of his whereabouts. His dutiful brother, who had not seen him in five years, came to Bangkok and gave him a present of $900, enough to get Jorde out to Rome on March 8 -- and then to lose himself somewhere in Europe.

He had no wish whatsoever to return to Tripoli and the uncertain fate of an Abu Nidal agent. He needed shelter. He feared the organization would track him down if he were to show his face at one of his usual haunts in Belgrade, Brussels, or Barcelona. Having worked for Abu Nidal, he was now something of a pariah in the whole Palestinian underground. The complicated, faction-ridden world of Palestinian politics was out-of-bounds. No one would trust him or give him safe haven. Nor could he sell his knowledge of the organization to a Western intelligence service without becoming a marked man for life, a target for revenge attack. So Jorde chose simply to disappear.

But why had the organization dropped him? The puzzle continued to rankle until Jorde eventually learned that in the months he had been away, Abu Nidal's previously tightly run organization had been ravaged by volcanic internal eruptions, for reasons that will be clear later. More than ever convinced that he was surrounded by spies and traitors, Abu Nidal had ordered the execution of dozens of men. Among the victims were Jorde's controller and the camp commander, Husam Yusif, accused of plotting to raise a mutiny and assassinate his leader. As men struggled to save their skins, Jorde had simply been forgotten.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:02 am

Chapter 2: Abu Iyad's Obsession

The UN ultimatum to Saddam Hussein expired at midnight on January 15, 1991, and within hours Desert Storm was to devastate Iraq with the ferocity of an act of nature. On the night before the deadline, at 7 P.M. on January 14, a deeply preoccupied Abu Iyad, chief of PLO intelligence, called for his bulletproof Mercedes and asked to be driven from his office in downtown Tunis to the house of Fatah's security chief, Hayil Abd al-Hamid (known as Abu al-Hol), who a day earlier had returned from Baghdad with Yasser Arafat.

The PLO was frantically trying to head off the war in the Gulf that Abu Iyad knew was imminent. All that day Arafat had held anxious consultations in Tunis with French, Italian, and Algerian envoys, and he was now already on his way back to Baghdad to beg Saddam Hussein to announce that he was ready to pull out of Kuwait. The PLO leaders had supported Saddam, but they knew that a war would destroy them all. To Arafat's horror, the Iraqi dictator was adamant. Pride or fatalism stupefied him in those last critical hours. In defiance of the vast armies ranged against him, he appeared to believe that the allies would not dare attack him and that even if they did, his forces could hold them off. Sick with worry, Abu Iyad wanted a firsthand report from Abu al-Hol about Saddam's alarmingly unrealistic mood. He also wanted to review the PLO's plans in the event of war.

Abu al-Hol's villa was in the outlying leafy suburb of Carthage, about half an hour's drive from Abu Iyad's office. Accompanied by a senior intelligence aide, Fakhri al-Umari, Abu Iyad was ushered indoors by Ahmad Sa'id, who that night was in charge of Abu al-Hol's personal security. Ten other guards were on duty: one at the front of the house, another at the back entrance, the others huddled together in a small room by the garden gate around a miniature television set that Abu Iyad's driver, Mahmud Mir'i, had brought out from the Mercedes he drove. It was a cold, rainy night. Inside the villa and in the guardroom everyone talked about the crisis in the Gulf. Abu Iyad and Abu al-Hol knew Saddam was gambling dangerously with their destinies, but the men in the guardroom were excited: An Arab champion had defied Israel and the West.


Security around the house was slack, as was usual in PLO domestic arrangements. Kalashnikovs had been left in cars outside or stacked in a corner cupboard. Abu Iyad's chief bodyguard, Fu'ad al-Najjar, had not arrived with his master but came an hour or so later, as he had gone to settle some problem with his landlord. Then he drove off again to see a man about a BMW he had his eye on and once more left to fetch a take-out dinner for the other guards.

One of these guards, an agitated young man called Hamza Abu Zaid, sauntered out of the guardroom and started to pick a quarrel with Ali Qasim, the man posted at the front door of the villa. The two of them made so much noise that Ahmad Sa'id called out to them to shut up. On the pretext of wanting to take a tissue from a box inside the car, Hamza threw open the door of Abu Iyad's Mercedes. Ali Qasim tried to stop him. Hamza then bet him that the bullets from his Kalashnikov could penetrate the car's armor plating, and Ali Qasim dared him to try. They were soon jostling and butting each other and had to be separated. Hamza then claimed the light bulb over the front door of the house was flickering and wanted Ali Qasim to ring the bell to get someone to change it, but Ali Qasim pushed him away.

A moment later, when Ali Qasim had moved off, Hamza went to the front door and rang the bell himself. A maid opened and he went in. It was about 10:45 P.M. Ali Qasim expected Abu al-Hol to come out and scold Hamza for disturbing him, but instead he heard shots inside the building. He shouted for help. Looking for their weapons, the guards came scrambling out and dispersed to their stations, thinking the attack had come from outside. It took them a few moments to realize that the shooting was coming from inside the house.

Asleep in her bedroom, Abu al-Hol's wife was suddenly roused by a deafening burst of gunfire from the living room below. Hamza had shot Abu Iyad in the head and gunned down Fakhri al-Umari, who had tried to hide behind a sofa. She heard Hamza scream again and again: "Let Atif Abu Bakr help you now!" Then she heard her husband cry, "What have you done, Hamza? What have you done?" And then another burst of gunfire and another. Abu al-Hol had tried to reach the door but had been shot in the legs. He grappled with Hamza, who then shot him in the stomach at close range.

Abu al-Hol's wife ran to the adjoining room, where her seventeen-year-old daughter cowered in bed. She took her in her arms as she heard a man racing up the stairs. Hamza broke in, closed the door, and locked it. "The Israelis are here," he shouted. "They've shot Abu al-Hol."

Abu Jihad, the PLO's military chief, had been killed three years earlier by Israeli commandos, and the women must have believed Hamza.

Abu al-Hol's wife screamed, "Is he alive? Let me go to him."

"He's wounded. Don't ask me more than that."

The two women sat together on the floor in a corner, the daughter crying and her mother trying to comfort her, while Hamza roamed silently about the room, picking up small objects from the girl's dressing table, examining them and putting them down, and peering out of the window. There were sudden flashes of lightning and the sound of rainwater pouring down from the eaves. It was very dark outside.

"Is this your bed?" he suddenly asked the girl. When she did not answer, he bellowed out: "Is this your bed?" Her mother nudged her pleadingly to say yes.

"Why don't I have a bed like this or a desk or a room?" he shouted angrily. "Is it because I'm not the son of a Palestinian fat cat?" He poured out his bile against the PLO and its leaders: agents, traitors, lackeys, a cesspool of corruption. Abu al-Hol's wife heard him curse Atif Abu Bakr, a leading defector from Abu Nidal's organization, and vow to kill him. Then he took an envelope out of his pocket and reached in it for a tablet, which he swallowed. Then another and another over the five hours that he held them hostage.

They heard cars drive up to the house and much running back and forth. The Tunisian police had arrived. Abu Iyad and Umari were already dead. Abu al-Hol, who had lost much blood, died in the hospital on the operating table a little while later.

Upstairs, the telephone rang again and again. Finally, Hamza answered it. He seemed very calm, Abu al-Hol's wife remembered later, and utterly convinced he had done the right thing. She heard him say: "I've killed Abu Iyad and I'm holding Abu al-Hol's family hostage. I won't release them until you bring me Atif Abu Bakr." He added grimly: "I have a message for him."

The Tunisian police brought up floodlights and a loudspeaker. "Hamza!" they called to him, flooding the windows with light. "Hamza! Let the women go free. We want nothing else from you." This message was repeated every half hour, after which a deadly silence would fall. Hamza took more pills from his envelope.

In the early hours of the morning, the police called up to say that they wanted to negotiate with him. What did he want? A plane to fly him out, he told them. They said they had to get permission from a higher authority. When they returned, they said they needed some identification from him. When he proposed throwing his identity card out of the window, they said the rain would ruin it. But a dialogue had started and they soon talked him into coming downstairs and passing the card to them through the front door, which he opened a fraction. Abu al-Hol's wife then heard him close the door and come back up the stairs dragging his feet. Then she heard his Kalashnikov clattering to the ground. Running out onto the landing, she saw him slumped unconscious on the stairs. She later discovered that he had been knocked out by gas, which the police had sprayed into the hall from the outside. She ran down the stairs past him, opened the door, and let the police in.


Hamza Abu Zaid was just another young Palestinian with a troubled past, another Jorde. As recorded in a PLO file, his "permanent address" was:

Mustafa Salim's shop,
Behind the girls' school,
Wahdat refugee camp,

He was born in the Wahdat camp in 1963 and spent his first nineteen years there. His family had fled from Palestine in 1948, leaving their home village of Safiriya, near Jaffa, ahead of the conquering Israeli armies.

From two internal PLO memoranda given me by Abu Iyad's intelligence colleagues I was able to trace Hamza's feckless, itinerant life in the ten years before he killed Abu Iyad and his two colleagues in Tunis. It reveals as much about the workings of the PLO as it does about Hamza himself.

In July 1982, he crossed illegally from Jordan into Syria in order to enroll with Fatah, but the Syrians arrested him at the border. Finding nothing against him, they turned him over to Fatah, which put him on its payroll and posted him to the Salah al-Din camp, near Damascus.

In October 1982, he was sent to Yugoslavia on a ten-week course in weapons handling and security duties, returning to Damascus in December.

In February 1983, he was posted to Pakistan as a security guard in the office of the PLO representative.

In September 1984, he spent a two-week vacation at PLO headquarters in Tunis.

In October 1984, he was transferred to Bulgaria as a security guard in the office of the PLO representative. But he proved rowdy and undisciplined and in November he was sent back to Tunis, where Fatah sentenced him to a month's detention.

In 1985, he was sent to Cyprus as a security guard in the PLO office. Some Palestinian intelligence sources, sensitive, or perhaps oversensitive, to the risk of Israeli penetration, believe that it was here that an agent of the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, disguised as a member of Abu Nidal's organization, approached him to persuade him to defect secretly to the organization. However, by the end of that same year, he was back in detention in Tunis for bad behavior.

On his release in early 1986, he was given a job as a security guard at PLO headquarters at Hammam al- Shatt, outside Tunis. But once again he proved quarrelsome and unreliable. It was decided to send him to Lebanon, but as no transport was immediately available, Abu al-Hol, head of Fatah security, took the extraordinary decision of appointing him as a bodyguard at his own home.

Three months later, Hamza ran away to Iraq with another security guard and managed to get himself taken on by the PLO representative in Baghdad. But the latter fell out with the Iraqi authorities. His office was closed in 1986, and his staff dispersed. Hamza and others soon found themselves in Hungary.

At this point in Hamza's career, the PLO lost track of him. They know that he spent some eighteen months, from mid-1986 to early 1988, bumming around Eastern Europe- -- n Budapest, Warsaw (where he spent twenty-one days in jail for petty theft), Prague, and Belgrade. It is in Belgrade, where Abu Nidal had a considerable base, rather than in Cyprus in 1985, that he was most probably recruited as a potential penetration agent by Abu Nidal's organization.

In July 1988, Hamza turned up in the Philippines. Traveling under a false name, he contacted the head of the Palestinian Students' Union in Manila. Hamza told him he had worked his way on a Greek ship and was trying to immigrate to Australia. He wanted an introduction to the PLO office. But his story failed to stand up. Suspecting that he worked for a hostile outfit, local PLO officials kept him away.

In Manila he moved in with some Palestinian students, borrowing small sums from them to keep alive. One of the boys had a pistol and another an MI6 rifle, which he had bought locally from a Filipino. One day, hearing a rumor that General Ariel Sharon, to them the devil incarnate, was due in town, they determined to assassinate him and set up a watch for this purpose at the Israeli embassy. One of them saw an embassy car with someone in the back who looked like Sharon, so they rented a car of their own, loaded their weapons, and spent a day and night driving between the Israeli embassy, the principal hotels, and the foreign ministry looking for Sharon -- needless to say, in vain.

In February 1989, Hamza left the Philippines very depressed, according to his roommates. There is no record of where he went next, until he surfaced in Libya in the spring of 1990, when he called several times at the PLO office in Tripoli asking to be taken back by Abu al-Hol.

In May 1990, Abu al-Hol went to Libya to attend a memorial service for Abu Jihad, the PLO military supremo killed in Tunis by Israeli commandos in April 1988. Hamza managed to see Abu al-Hol. Throwing himself at his feet, weeping, and lamenting his pathetic situation, he pleaded to be taken back. Abu al-Hol took pity on him and returned him to Tunis, where he put him to work again as a bodyguard at his house. At no time was Hamza properly interrogated about his activities during the years he had dropped out of sight.

In October 1990, on the pretext of wanting to see a long-lost sister, Hamza got leave from Abu al-Hol to go to Libya for two weeks. It was then, he later told his interrogators, that a man called Ghalib in Abu Nidal's organization gave him the mission to kill Abu Iyad. He said that he did not at first want to do it, but he was told that Abu Iyad was the source of all corruption in the Palestinian movement, the traitor who had used the defector Atif Abu Bakr to split the organization. Abu Iyad had to die for the Palestinian revolution to live. As for Abu Bakr, about whom we shall hear much more later on, he was a major defector from Abu Nidal's ranks and an important source for this book.

After the murders at Abu al-Hol's villa on the night of January 14, 1991, Hamza Abu Zaid was arrested by the Tunisians and taken away for interrogation. PLO officers were not allowed to take part in the questioning, nor were they given a transcript of what Hamza said. The Tunisian authorities feared the killings might be the prelude to an Israeli raid or might trigger popular disturbances, as the Tunisians were overwhelmingly on Iraq's side in the Gulf crisis. They had had a taste of Israeli aggression in October 1985, when Israeli aircraft invaded their airspace and bombed Arafat's Tunis headquarters, and again in April 1988, when an Israeli seaborne team murdered Abu Jihad at his house. They were now anxious to play down the affair as much as possible.

But Arafat would have none of this. He took the matter up with Tunisia's president, Ben Ali, who, in February 1991, handed Hamza over to the PLO for trial. The deal was that he would be removed from the country, sparing Tunisia a controversial trial in a Tunisian court. A PLO doctor who examined Hamza pronounced him a drug addict and gave him five times the normal dose of sedatives before he was flown by private plane to San'a, capital of Yemen, where he was interrogated and tried by the PLO and sentenced to death. The idea was that the wives of Abu Iyad and Abu al-Hol should witness the execution. But Colonel Qaddafi and Abu Nidal are said to have put pressure on Yemen's president, Ali Abdallah Salih, not to allow a public execution.

In June 1991, Hamza was found dead in his cell. The PLO let it be known that he had committed suicide.


In the early summer of 1990, nine months before his murder, Abu Iyad sent word to me in London. If I happened to be coming to Tunis, he would like to see me. I was intrigued. What could he want? I had not yet made any holiday plans, so on impulse, I decided to take my wife and children to a hotel I knew outside Tunis. Its chalets, smothered in bougainvillea, were set in green lawns that stretched down to the Mediterranean. Whatever Abu Iyad had to tell me, I determined that it would not be a wasted trip.

I know the Middle East pretty well. I grew up there and, as an author and foreign correspondent (mainly for the London Observer), I have traveled in the region and written about it for thirty years, my main contribution to the subject being two books on Syria, The Struggle for Syria, first published in 1965, and, more recently, a biography of the Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad, which aroused a good deal of controversy. The Syrians banned the book -- in fact (although I like to think it was avidly read), it was not allowed on public sale in any Arab country; the Israelis, too, thought I had been harsh on them; Americans objected to my criticism of U.S. Middle East policy; Lebanese Christians thought I had sold them out to the Syrians; Arafat and other Palestinians felt that in describing their tussles with Assad, I had not done justice to their cause; and the thought crossed my mind that this might be what Abu Iyad wanted to have out with me.

When researching my Assad biography in Damascus, I met and married the daughter of a retired Syrian diplomat, his country's ambassador to Washington for many years. Despite this Arab connection, I trust most readers consider me an independent observer with no ax to grind, no allegiance to one side rather than another, no hidden agenda save to pursue that elusive -- and, in the Middle East, ever-fleeting -- quarry, historical truth.

Abu Iyad I had met a number of times, but without really getting to know him. Involved with intelligence for much of his career, he was a shadowy figure and a good deal less accessible than other Palestinian leaders. I knew him, of course, as one of Fatah's chefs historiques, one of the four men who had founded the mainstream Palestinian resistance movement in 1959, the other three being Arafat; Muhammad Yusif Najjar, killed by the Israelis at his home in central Beirut in 1973; and Khalil al-Wazir (better known as Abu Jihad), the PLO's military supremo, the one killed by the Israelis at his home in Tunis in 1988 -- two commando operations in which Israel's current chief of staff, Ehud Barak, was intimately involved.

I had had my first long talk with Abu Iyad in Algiers in 1983, at a session of the Palestine National Council that I covered for The Observer, and was struck then by his realism, by the way his conversation came in rapid bursts of astonishing candor, by the absence of posturing. He seemed more worldly-wise and better informed than the other Palestinian leaders, perhaps the result of his extensive dealings over the years with intelligence agencies in many different countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Unlike some of the others, who affected a rough guerrilla appearance, he was immaculately turned out in a neatly pressed safari suit, such as African politicians wear, and smelled faintly of eau de cologne.

Held every few years, these meetings of the PNC, the Palestinians' "parliament-in-exile," were good occasions for observing Palestinian leaders doing their turn in the conference hall, for seeing Arafat's gift for political theater, and for informal meetings with the bosses of the various factions in the lobbies and corridors.

I will always remember the remarkable sight of George Habash at the rostrum. The extremist leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine thundered away, with blazing eyes, against a negotiated settlement with Israel. He had had a stroke and could not raise his arm to turn the pages of his prepared speech. The mere effort to speak and to stand upright brought sweat pouring down his face. At his side his disciple, Bassam Abu Sharif, himself scarred and partially blinded by an Israeli letter bomb, mopped his master's brow with a large white handkerchief and turned the pages for him, as one might for a musician. Some while later, Bassam Abu Sharif gave up Habash's extreme rejectionism to become the most ardent dove in Arafat's moderate camp, the frontrunner of the process that led the PLO formally to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel at the 1988 session of the Palestine National Council.

At the Algiers conference I also met Nayif Hawatmeh, leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, his permanently tortured expression seeming to suggest his efforts to squeeze the contradictions of Palestinian politics into the strict confines of his Marxist dialectic, and Ahmad Jibril, leader of the PFLP-General Command, a burly figure in a shiny black leather jacket, surrounded by a phalanx of crew-cut acolytes, who preached armed struggle and still more armed struggle. As a simple soldier, he held the windy theoreticians of the Palestinian movement in the greatest contempt. Sitting by himself in a discreet corner, overflowing out of his armchair in all directions, I found Abu Dawud, a giant of a man with a lopsided jaw where a bullet had got him. He was one of Fatah's most notorious guerrilla commanders and a wanted man -- wanted, that is, by the Israelis. It was rumored that he had had a hand in the attack on the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. In conversation he was mild, self-deprecating, exuding a sort of despair that his obvious energies could not be better directed.

Abu Iyad impressed me more than these others. Calm, soft-spoken, and very steady, he was the sort of man to whom authority came naturally. As we talked, runners came up to whisper something in his ear or give him bits of paper, which he glanced at before tucking them away in his pocket. Although Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman and head of Fatah, was "Mr. Palestine," the public symbol of Palestinian aspirations, his closest colleagues, Abu Iyad, the intelligence chief, and the military chief, Abu Jihad, ran their own autonomous outfits with their own loyalists, much as barons might do under a medieval king. Abu Jihad, boss of the PLO's military wing, was rumpled and unimpressive to look at, with nothing soldierly in his bearing, but he was considered the best manager in the Palestinian movement, with a special grip over West Bank affairs (which is, no doubt, why the Israelis killed him). Abu Iyad, in contrast, had a sharp political brain and a fluent, seductive manner: He was the fixer, the man for confidential foreign missions, the keeper of PLO secrets. He was remarkable on several counts. Known as a committed nationalist on the left of Fatah, he was also one of the very first to recommend, in an interview with Le Monde back in 1972, a negotiated settlement with Israel based on a two-state solution, one in which a Palestinian statelet would live alongside and in harmony with its powerful Israeli neighbor -- a compromise that most Palestinians were at that time not yet ready to accept.

Abu Iyad's mother was Jewish,* and he had grown up chattering in Hebrew to Jewish boys of his own age as they played together on the beach at Tel Aviv.

This was the man I went to see in Tunis in the early summer of 1990. A Tunisian policeman stood in a sentry box outside the garden gate, while just inside the gate was a gaggle of half a dozen gun-toting Palestinian guards, including one ugly, loose-mouthed fellow as large as a sumo wrestler. I took the path across the garden, bright with geraniums, rang the front doorbell, and was ushered in by a woman secretary (who, I noticed, doubled as a telephonist: She had a seat by a switchboard in a corner of the hall) into an almost feminine drawing room, crowded with sofas and gilt armchairs and little tables on top of which sat vases of flowers. A moment later Abu Iyad hurried in and affably embraced me in the Arab manner, giving me his clean-shaven cheek.

For a while we chatted about my biography of Assad. As I expected, there were things about it he didn't like. He thought I had seen events too much from Syria's standpoint. If ever I were to publish a new edition, there were some factual corrections he would like me to make. But it was soon clear that he had something else on his mind. He wanted to talk about terrorism -- and in particular about Abu Nidal.

The Western world, he said with a frown, was not yet persuaded that the PLO was the indispensable partner for Middle East peace. It had underestimated the importance of the historic resolutions passed by the Palestine National Council in November 1988 that, for the first time, never so much as mentioned "armed struggle" and spelled out with absolute clarity the PLO's readiness to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Israel.

But how to get the West to see this? To his mind, the great obstacle was terrorism, an issue with which Israelis confronted every mention of peaceful compromise. If there was one man responsible for blackening the reputation of all Palestinian factions, it was, Abu Iyad believed, the arch-terrorist Abu Nidal.

The Israelis, Abu Iyad continued, were masters at penetration and deception. He had been sparring with the Mossad for a quarter of a century, and since the early 1980s, he had begun to suspect that the Israelis had infiltrated Abu Nidal's organization and were making use of him. "Every Palestinian who works in intelligence," he told me, "is convinced that Israel has a big hand in Abu Nidal's affairs." His suspicions had now hardened into a conviction: Abu Nidal was not just an extreme rejectionist who sold his services to Arab regimes. Israel had gained control of him. That was the key to his persistent sabotage of Palestinian interests.

In Abu Iyad's mind there was no great mystery about it: Israel wanted to destroy the PLO and prevent negotiations that might lead to a peaceful solution involving an autonomous Palestinian state on the West Bank. Any genuine negotiations would necessarily involve the surrender of territory, which is why Israel had gone to such lengths to persuade the world that the Palestinians were terrorists with whom no deal could be contemplated. Abu Nidal, he believed, was Israel's prime instrument for this purpose, central to its strategy. Until Abu Nidal was exposed and defeated, he said, the PLO's credibility would continue to be questioned and the peace process could get nowhere.

Leaning forward and talking very fast as was his habit, he told me that there was no other plausible explanation for the evidence that had accumulated over the years. Abu Nidal had killed the PLO's most accomplished diplomats: Hammami, in London; Qalaq, in Paris; Yassin, in Kuwait; he had slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian fighters; he had debased the Palestinian national struggle with his senseless and savage terrorism and succeeded in alienating the Palestinians' best friends. He had made the word Palestinian synonymous with terrorist. He was either deranged or he was a traitor, and Abu Iyad did not think he was deranged. Abu Nidal, he told me, was the greatest enemy of the Palestinian people.

"He is a man wholly without principle!" he exploded angrily. "He would ally himself with the devil in order to stay alive and drink a bottle of whiskey every night!

"Try to see Abu Nidal," he urged me. "Go to Libya. Ask him to explain himself, and then make up your own mind."

He then made an extraordinary admission: "I feel very guilty that I was responsible for not facing up sooner to the threat from Abu Nidal. I should have killed him fifteen years ago. I confess this now. I wanted to believe that he was a patriot who had strayed from the path and that I could win him back. For far too long I was reluctant to accept that he was a traitor."

Abu Iyad's diatribe rather took my breath away. Abu Nidal an Israeli agent? The extravagance of the charge made me think that I had stumbled on yet another Palestinian feud. It is characteristic of the hothouse of Palestinian politics, and, I suppose, of revolutionary politics generally, that every man's hand is raised against his brother. One has to spend only a little time with the guerrilla factions to be amazed at the wild stories they tell about one another. I had recently spent ten hours talking to Ahmad Jibril at his military camp outside Damascus, trying to probe into his possible connection with the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, only to find that it was almost impossible to get him off the subject of his bitter enemy Yasser Arafat. At great length, and with complicated excursions into Arafat's obscure genealogy, he had tried to persuade me that the PLO chairman was a Jew of Moroccan origin. Heaving himself out of his chair, Jibril threw his arms in the air and exclaimed: "The leader of the Palestine revolution, and we don't even know who he is!"

Was Abu Iyad playing the same game? I had heard rumors that when Abu Nidal was a young man in Fatah, Abu Iyad had been his friend and protector. Clearly, love had now turned to hate. This would explain Abu Iyad's injured tone. But his allegations were a different matter. It was of course well known that Israel's Mossad, like other intelligence agencies, tried to penetrate terrorist groups, but to suggest that Abu Nidal had been "turned" and his organization taken over seemed to me a very tall story indeed.

I tried to question Abu Iyad. Where was the evidence? Disarmingly, he said it wasn't foolproof. When you didn't have your own country and couldn't control airports, ports, borders, hotels, and taxi drivers, gathering the evidence was difficult. Effective counterespionage depended on 100 percent control of the environment -- something that the PLO had never managed to achieve. In Iraq and Syria, he said, the PLO could not monitor Abu Nidal's movements properly, and in Libya it was still more difficult. Even in Lebanon and Tunisia, which he claimed were both swarming with Israeli agents, the PLO had never been allowed the facilities it needed. He added, "We know for certain that Mossad came here to Tunis when we did in 1982, with its own safe houses, weapons, and communications."

Abu Iyad was no half-baked Palestinian youngster talking to me but the PLO's veteran intelligence chief. Skeptical as I was, I took careful notes. "Why don't you write something about it?" he said. Would he tell me what he knew? Would he open his archives? Would he help me find defectors from Abu Nidal's organization who were said to be hiding in Tunis and elsewhere under PLO protection? Two men, in particular, I was anxious to interview because they had broken with Abu Nidal in a blaze of publicity in November 1989 and then gone to ground. One was Atif Abu Bakr, whose name Hamza kept shouting the night he killed Abu Iyad. Bakr had been the head of Abu Nidal's Political Directorate and was well known in Palestinian circles as a thinker, diplomat, and poet; the other was a very different character: Abd al-Rahman Isa had been Abu Nidal's hatchet man and chief of intelligence for twenty years. If anyone knew Abu Nidal's secrets, these two men did. I asked Abu Iyad if he could arrange for me to see them. Anytime I wanted, he replied.

I returned to London to think hard about what I was getting myself into. I didn't buy Abu Iyad's story. I thought it was preposterous. But I was tempted to know him better, learn how his mind worked, see the complicated world of the Palestinians from the inside. Obviously, he wanted to use me to expose Abu Nidal, a man he now hated. The same would be true for the defectors. Obviously, information they gave me would be slanted. After quarrels and splits, revolutionaries notoriously hurl anathemas and invent stories. But I felt I was an old enough hand in Arab politics to pick my way through the maze. Could I see enough people to enable me to check and countercheck my material? Would I be able to test what I learned with intelligence specialists outside the Palestinian movement? In any event, the subject was important enough that whatever happened, I felt I had to get to the bottom of Abu Iyad's allegations if I could. I certainly didn't know what to expect. I had no idea where the trail would lead me, but I felt that if nothing else came of it, I would have the chance to learn something about one of the great mysteries of Arab politics: Who was Abu Nidal, and what was he all about? I let Abu Iyad know that I would return to Tunis later that summer.

Before leaving London, I did some preliminary research. Checking for references to Abu Nidal in a couple of data banks, I turned up grisly accounts of his attacks on synagogues in Istanbul and elsewhere and on El Al ticket counters at the Rome and Vienna airports, hardly the work of an Israeli agent. However, I remembered that Abu Iyad had made much of Abu Nidal's killing of prominent Palestinians. He had used a phrase that stuck in my head: "We were often not sure whether Mossad or Abu Nidal was the killer. I admit it confused us." What could he have meant?

Ransacking my files, I made a list of Palestinians who had been attacked or killed either by Israel or Abu Nidal, a list based on public sources available to anyone, except in one or two cases in which I had special knowledge. Although Abu Nidal surfaced for the first time in 1974, I chose 1971-72 as my starting point because this was when the Black September terrorist movement emerged after the Palestinians' bloody showdown with Jordan's King Hussein in 1970. The Palestinians had then fought a running battle with the Mossad across Europe -- the so-called War of the Spooks -- and Abu Iyad had been up to his neck in it. Israel's embassies, envoys, airlines, and overseas companies had all become vulnerable to attack. Determined to defeat the terrorists, Golda Meir, Israel's prime minister at the time, had instructed her intelligence chiefs to go out and kill. I pinned the list on my wall and started to think about it. This is how it read:

May 8, 1972 -- Four Black September hijackers seize a Sabena jet on a flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv and, on landing at Lod, threaten to blow up the plane unless Israel releases one hundred Palestinian prisoners. Paratroopers disguised as mechanics storm the aircraft, killing two gunmen and releasing ninety passengers.

May 31, 1972 -- In retaliation, three Japanese terrorists, allies of George Habash's PFLP, launch an indiscriminate gun and grenade attack at Lod Airport in Israel, killing twenty-four people.

July 9, 1972 -- Israel hits back with a car bomb in Beirut, which kills the PFLP spokesman Ghassan Kanafani and his seventeen-year-old niece.

July 11, 1972 -- To avenge Kanafani, a terrorist throws a grenade at Tel Aviv's bus terminal, wounding eleven people.

July 19, 1972 -- An Israeli letter bomb injures Dr. Anis al-Sayigh, director of the Beirut Center for Palestinian Affairs.

July 25, 1972 -- Another Israeli letter bomb delivered to a PFLP address in Beirut maims Bassam Abu Sharif, chief assistant to George Habash.

August 5, 1972 -- Black September terrorists, led by Ali Hasan Salameh, bomb an American-owned oil storage tank at Trieste, Italy.

September 5, 1972 -- Eight Palestinian terrorists break into the quarters of the Israeli team at the Munich Olympic village, killing two Israelis and taking nine others hostage. They name their operation Ikrit and Biram, after two Arab villages in northern Galilee razed by Israel, and demand the release of 250 Palestinians and Lebanese abducted in Lebanon by Israeli forces. In a gun battle with West German police, nine Israeli athletes and five Palestinians are killed.

September 11, I972 -- Zadok Ophir, a Mossad clerk at the Israeli embassy in Brussels, is shot and badly wounded by a Palestinian.

September 19, 1972 -- Dr. Ami Shachori, agricultural attache at the Israeli embassy in London, is killed by an Arab letter bomb.

October 17, 1972 -- Wa'il Zu'aiter, Fatah's representative in Rome, is killed by Israeli agents.

December 8, 1972 -- Mahmud al-Hamshari, PLO representative in Paris, is badly wounded by an Israeli bomb. He dies a month later.

December 28, 1972 -- Black September gunmen seize the Israeli embassy in Bangkok and take six Israeli hostages. They demand the release of thirty-six Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. The hostages are eventually released unharmed.

January 24, 1973 -- Hussein Abu al-Khair, Fatah representative in Cyprus, is killed by an Israeli bomb at a Nicosia hotel.

January 26, 1973 -- Baruch Cohen, a Mossad agent directing operations against Palestinians in Europe, is killed in Madrid by a Fatah agent.

February 22, 1973 -- Israeli fighters shoot down a Libyan Airlines Boeing that had strayed ninety kilometers off course over Sinai, killing 104 passengers and crew.

March 6, 1973 -- Black September gunmen raid the Saudi embassy in Khartoum during a diplomatic reception and demand the release of the Palestinian guerrilla commander Abu Dawud, then in jail in Jordan. They murder the American ambassador, Cleo Noel, the departing American charge d'affaires, George Moore, and a Belgian diplomat, Guy Eid.

March 12, 1973 -- Simha Gilzer, a Mossad agent, is killed in a Nicosia hotel by Palestinian gunmen.

April 4, 1973 -- Dr. Basil al-Qubaisi, a prominent PFLP official, is killed by Israeli agents in Paris.

April 10, 1973 -- An Israeli assassination squad kills three prominent Fatah leaders -- Muhammad Yusif Najjar, Kamal Udwan, and Kamal Nasser -- in their homes in central Beirut, which is a devastating blow to the Palestinians and brings down the Lebanese government.

April 27, 1973 -- An Israeli employee of El Al is killed in Rome by a Palestinian gunman.

June 27, 1973 -- Muhammad Boudia, an Algerian member of Fatah, is killed in Paris by an Israeli bomb.

July 2, 1973 -- Col. Yosef Alon, an Israeli defense attache, is shot outside his home in Washington.

July 21, 1973 -- Israeli agents looking for Ali Hasan Salameh, a Black September commander, kill a Moroccan waiter by mistake in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer. Six Israeli agents are captured and put on trial, exposing Israel's counterterrorist network in Europe.

October 1974 -- Abu Nidal agents try to kill Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin), a close colleague of Yasser Arafat.

January 3, 1977 -- Mahmud Salih, a PLO representative in Paris and manager of an Arabic bookshop, is killed by Israeli agents.

January 4, 1978 -- Sa'id Hammami, PLO representative in London and a well-known dove, is killed by an Abu Nidal gunman.

June 15, 1978 -- Ali Yassin, PLO representative in Kuwait, is killed by an Abu Nidal gunman.

August 3, 1978 -- Izz al-Din Qalaq, PLO representative in Paris and, like Hammami, a prominent dove, is killed by an Abu Nidal gunman.

August 5, I978 -- Yusif Abu Hantash, PLO representative in Pakistan, escapes an assassination attempt by Abu Nidal gunmen. Four other people are killed.

January 22, 1979 -- Ali Hassan Salameh, head of Arafat's security unit, Force 17, is killed by an Israeli car bomb in Beirut.

April 22, 1980 -- Abu Iyad (or, to give him his real name, Salah Khalaf) escapes an assassination attempt in Belgrade by Abu Nidal agents. They attack a car in which they think he is traveling.

June 1, 1981 -- Na'im Khudr, PLO representative in Brussels and another well-known dove, is killed by an Abu Nidal gunman.

July 27, 1981 -- Abu Dawud (or, by his real name, Muhammad Awda), the Fatah guerrilla commander, narrowly survives an attack on his life in Warsaw by an Abu Nidal gunman.

October 8, 1981 -- Abu Tariq (or, by his real name, Sulaiman al-Shurafa), Fatah representative in Libya, escapes an attack on his life in Malta by an Abu Nidal gunman, who kills another man by mistake.

October 9, 1981 -- Majid Abu Sharar, a prominent Fatah leader, is killed by an Israeli bomb in Rome.

April 10, 1983 -- Dr. Isam Sartawi, a close associate of Arafat and the most prominent dove in the Palestinian movement, is killed by an Abu Nidal gunman in Lisbon, Portugal.

April 16, 1988 -- Abu Jihad (or, by his real name, Khalil al-Wazir), the PLO's military supremo, is killed at his home in Tunis by a seaborne Israeli assassination squad.

I looked at the list long and hard. It fell into two halves, with an obvious break after 1973. Up to 1973, Israel had been killing Palestinian terrorists and guerrilla leaders. After 1977 Abu Nidal began killing Palestinian moderates -- "doves" who wanted to negotiate with Israel, not to bomb it out of existence. My list wasn't all that neat, but there seemed to be a general pattern. Was there some sort of link between the two halves of the list? And why the gap in the mid-1970s?

I didn't have to look far into the historical record. While the War of the Spooks was raging in the early 1970s, Egypt's President Sadat was pleading with the Americans to bring Israel to the negotiating table. But Henry Kissinger, then secretary of state, ignored him. By 1973 Arafat was trying to disassociate himself and the PLO from terror and counterterror. He was largely successful, though there were groups within the PLO, like that of Abu'l Abbas for example, that he could not control. Nevertheless, Arafat, who had lost some of his best men, was now ready to steer his fractious movement away from violence and toward a negotiated peace. Immediately after the Israeli fiasco at Lillehammer, Arafat sent four messages to Kissinger, between July and October 1973, calling for a dialogue with the United States. But Kissinger sent General Vernon Walters, then deputy director of the CIA, to tell an Arafat aide in Morocco that "the United States has no proposals to make."

In October 1973, Egypt and Syria went to war to break the stalemate, recover part, at least, of the occupied territories, and force Israel to negotiate. Much as Desert Storm did in 1991, the October War revived hopes of a general Arab-Israeli settlement brokered by the United States, with Kissinger then in charge of American diplomacy. Again Arafat appealed to Kissinger to let him join the process, and Sadat urged Kissinger to meet the PLO chairman. But Kissinger shied brusquely away. For him, as for many Israelis, the PLO was not the advocate of a legitimate national claim but a "terrorist group," "unacceptable as a negotiating partner." A PLO-run state, Kissinger believed, was bound, with Soviet help, to develop into a radical fortress like Libya or South Yemen, from which operations against Israel would inevitably be mounted.

Accordingly, Kissinger dropped the West Bank from his agenda and agreed with Israel to exclude the PLO from any post- war settlement. As his "step-by-step" diplomacy unfolded, it gradually became clear that his prime aim -- and that of Israel as well -- was to take Egypt, the most powerful of the Arab states, out of the Arab lineup and push the Palestine question over the horizon. Kissinger agreed with Israel that the Palestinians were a security problem to be dealt with by tough physical means rather than a political problem to be solved by negotiation and compromise.

After that, much that Arafat did was irrelevant. In October 1974, he persuaded Arab leaders to recognize the PLO as "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." In November 1974, he told the United Nations, "I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand," signaling his readiness to negotiate with Israel. He coaxed his followers into accepting the notion of a mini-state alongside Israel rather than the maximalist demand of destroying Israel entirely. But Israel and Kissinger said no.

In 1975, the Lebanese civil war broke out, fueled by the Palestinians' frustrated hopes for peace and the fears of the Christians that if the Palestinians were not to get a state of their own, Lebanon would never be rid of them. The war sucked in several outside parties, notably Syria, and distracted the region for the next couple of years.

Then in May 1977, Menachem Begin, the former Irgun terrorist and zealous champion of a "greater Israel," came to power. It had been his lifelong ambition to absorb the West Bank into the state of Israel by establishing Jewish settlers on West Bank territory and crushing Palestinian nationalism. For Begin, Arafat was obviously a major problem. The PLO leader wanted to negotiate. But for Israel negotiation could mean losing the West Bank. Thus, Israeli strategy aimed to destroy the PLO by all possible means -- by promoting a worldwide political and diplomatic campaign to isolate and undermine it, by demonizing it as a "terrorist organization," by stifling any dialogue the PLO might try to conduct with the West and particularly with the United States.

In January 1978, some months after Begin took office, the list I made showed that Abu Nidal began killing prominent PLO moderates -- precisely the men who were trying to influence Western opinion by preaching negotiation and reconciliation with Israel.

More than any previous Israeli leader, Begin was determined to cast Arafat and his colleagues as terrorists with whom it was impossible to talk, a view that fitted the Reagan administration's obsession with "international terrorism." Not surprisingly, terrorism preoccupied the Reagan administration from the start, in 1981. The long incarceration of Americans in the American embassy in Tehran had done much to destroy Jimmy Carter and ensure Reagan's election. Reagan, his secretary of state Alexander Haig, and CIA director William Casey all gave credence to the comic-strip reports by the American journalist Claire Sterling in her book The Terror Network (1981) of tens of thousands of terrorists, sponsored directly or indirectly by Moscow, being trained in guerrilla camps across the world as "elite battalions in a worldwide army of Communist Combat." The Cubans, she wrote, had a big hand in it, but so did the Palestinians -- the "second great magnetic pole for apprentice terrorists." Intelligence professionals knew that Sterling was talking nonsense, but Begin was happy to encourage the White House and the State Department to see terrorism as the main scourge of the modern world and Syria, Libya, and the PLO as its practitioners.

Claire Sterling nee Neikind (October 21, 1919 - June 17, 1995) was an American author and journalist for the CIA.

Sterling received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York, where she was also born. Earlier she received a degree in economics from Brooklyn College, worked as a union organizer, and was briefly member of the Young Communist League. She joined The Reporter in 1949, writing for the magazine until it folded in 1968, became an author and freelance journalist thereafter, writing for various newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post and Reader's Digest. She married her husband Thomas Sterling, a novelist, in 1950, and they went to live in Italy, where they passed their honeymoon. She died of cancer at age 75, in a hospital in Arezzo, Italy.

Sterling's first book revisited the 1948 death of Jan Masaryk, the Czechoslovakian foreign minister who died under suspicious circumstances. More controversial were her books The Terror Network (1981) and The Time of the Assassins (1984). In the former book, which was translated into 22 languages, she claimed that Soviet Union was a major source of backing behind terrorist groupings around the world. The latter book dealt with the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John II, in which she blamed the Bulgarian secret service for ordering the attack; the discredited "Bulgarian Connection."

-- Claire Sterling, by Wikipedia

Reflecting on all this, I wondered whether this was what Abu Iyad had in mind. He had told me that Abu Nidal's murdering Palestinian moderates was connected with Begin's determination never to negotiate with Palestinians for fear of losing the West Bank. For Begin, the moderates, who wanted to negotiate, were the real danger and had to be eliminated. If the Israelis had in fact infiltrated Abu Nidal's organization, perhaps some spymaster in Jerusalem had said, "We've got someone who can do the job for us." There was very little evidence to go on, but I was beginning to grasp Abu Iyad's logic or, at any rate, the stimulus to his paranoia.

There was, of course, a perfectly sensible alternative explanation. Abu Nidal might simply be what he said he was, an out- and-out rejectionist who considered Arafat a traitor for even contemplating a settlement with Israel and who was prepared to murder any doves, like Hammami in London, who dared to speak out in favor of peace. In the shadowy world of killers and secret agents, who knew what to believe?

At about this time I was visited in London by a former general in Aman, Israel's military intelligence service, who was doing research on a quite different topic. After our talk I asked him pointblank whether Israel penetrated and manipulated Palestinian groups. He looked at me carefully. "Penetration, yes," he said, "but manipulation, no." He paused, then added with a little smile, "No one would admit to that."


I returned to Tunis a number of times that summer and autumn, and Abu Iyad was as good as his word. In great secrecy, he arranged for me to interview Atif Abu Bakr, the most prominent defector from Abu Nidal's organization. Abu Bakr was then in hiding, fearing Abu Nidal's revenge. He proved an invaluable source. Before joining Abu Nidal in 1985, Abu Bakr had represented the PLO in Belgrade (1974-76), Prague (1976-83), and Budapest (1983-84). He was highly articulate, one of the cleverest men I had met in the Palestinian movement. Abu Bakr in turn introduced me to members of his Emergency Leadership -- an anti-Abu Nidal splinter group -- including its military commander, "Basil," who had worked with Abu Nidal since the 1970s. From there, one source led to another.

I tried to persuade another prominent defector, Abd al-Rahman Isa, Abu Nidal's former intelligence chief, to cooperate and telephoned him in Algiers, hoping to visit him there. But he said that he would only talk in exchange for a very large sum of money. When I reported this to Abu Iyad, he laughed and gave me the unedited tapes of a long conversation he had had with Isa, over several hours, after he broke with Abu Nidal in 1989. Isa had not been aware of the hidden microphones and did not know his "debriefing" was being recorded. So, although I never interviewed Isa myself, I had access to the account of his career he had given to Abu Iyad.

Abu Iyad also put me in touch with several of his intelligence officers and with his archivist, a plump man with an encyclopedic memory and a sallow complexion the color of his buff files. Outside Abu Iyad's intelligence orbit, I was of course able to talk at length with a great many other Palestinians who had once had dealings with Abu Nidal or who knew about him indirectly. The most valuable of these was the guerrilla commander Abu Dawud, whose career had meshed with Abu Nidal's over the years.

Jorde, I met in a seaside town on the Mediterranean. After his adventures in Thailand, he had wandered about southern Europe for a few months, getting by as best he could. He was tempted, he told me, to slip back into a life of petty crime, but his main fear was that Abu Nidal's people, present under cover in several European cities, would catch up with him and take him forcibly back to Libya. Penniless and vulnerable, he needed protection. It was therefore pretty well inevitable that he should gravitate to the PLO, the only organization he could think of that had a strong interest in learning more about Abu Nidal.

But after Jorde had told his story to PLO intelligence, Abu Iyad no longer trusted him and suspected that he was a plant. Jorde was so glib, so skillful at spinning a yarn, that Abu Iyad thought it prudent to keep him on ice for a few months, probing into his background and testing his story against that of other defectors from Abu Nidal's outfit.

It was about this time that I met him. He was anxious to please and yet was edgy, like a man on probation, suspended between the organization he had fled from, which he feared was pursuing him, and the organization he hoped to join, which was wary of him. Perhaps Abu Iyad thought that an independent "debriefing" by me would tease the truth out of Jorde -- or would at least provide one version of the truth, which PLO intelligence could then compare with the one Jorde had given them. I don't know the answer to that puzzle, and Abu Iyad is beyond questioning.

Most of the defectors I met lived in fear. Our meetings took place over several months in PLO safe houses in Tunis and its suburbs, reached after long car journeys, usually at night. Invariably, the men I interviewed had guns within easy reach (on the table next to my tape recorder, or tucked casually into the cushions of a chair) and were accompanied by young bodyguards, men much like Jorde, armed with submachine guns. When they were not in the kitchen making coffee, to see us through the long sessions, they lolled in the corridor or on the balcony, where they could keep an eye on the approach roads.

In 1990-91, my research took me to small hotels in Cyprus and Malta, to Paris and Marseilles, to Italy, Austria, and Greece, and to the offices and apartments of a number of men and women in Western capitals concerned with counterterrorism. To all of these I am grateful, although I cannot name them.

My aim in the narrative that follows is to paint as accurate a portrait as possible of Abu Nidal and of the clandestine outfit he has headed for the past seventeen years. No organization, even a legitimate one, likes to be investigated by outsiders. And this one, which is anything but legitimate, is no exception. Its very nature is covert. If they talk, its members and ex- members risk death. But splits and defections have opened a small window, allowing one a glimpse of what goes on inside.

Of all the men of violence in the contemporary Middle East, Abu Nidal poses the most intriguing riddles. Why does he kill? On whose orders? To what effect? How has he managed to survive for so long with half the world's secret services at his heels? Why has Israel never attacked him, as it has other Palestinian factions? No career in recent years throws more light on the Middle East's secret wars, in which dirty tricks abound and in which things are rarely what they seem.

This is not a pretty tale. It is a journey into a violent and distasteful underworld where principles and common pity are unknown and where death waits at every corner.



* In the mid-1970s Eric Rouleau, Le Monde's outstanding Middle East expert (now French ambassador to Turkey), helped Abu Iyad write an autobiography, which appeared in 1978 under the French title Abou iyad, palestinien sans patrie. In it Abu Iyad referred elliptically to his mother when he wrote that "my grandfather, a man of religion in Gaza, had brought up his children in a spirit of tolerance. One of his sons had married a Jewish woman." Abu Iyad was describing his own father.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:03 am

Chapter 3: Childhood Traumas

Eager to check out Abu Iyad's theory, I set out on the trail of Abu Nidal, digging into his past, questioning everyone I met who knew him, and trying to understand his evidently complex personality.

Abu Nidal is, I discovered, a man of nondescript appearance (although several sources mentioned his bald head, bright eyes, and good teeth), simple education, and poor health who suffers from stomach ulcers and angina. He dresses shabbily, most often in a zip-up jacket and old trousers. He has few of the obvious vices: He does not gamble, run after women, hanker after luxuries or even after comfort. He has hardly a family life to speak of. Whiskey, which he drinks nightly in large quantities, appears to be his only solace.

His long sojourn underground for nearly twenty years, something of a record in the world of clandestine operations, has made him shy of human contact. A fantasist with little regard for truth, he lives in a world of violence, delusion, and fear and, like other practitioners in the murky world of intelligence, is addicted to secret knowledge and secret power. A master of disguises and of subterfuge, trusting no one, lonely and self-protective, he lives like a mole, hidden away from public view. He seems to be a mine of contradictions: both quick and very cautious, both daring and cowardly.

Yet even his enemies concede that it has taken great abilities to create his disciplined and widely feared instrument of terror. A canny administrator with a sound financial brain, he has amassed a fortune, reportedly running into hundreds of millions of dollars. Ex-colleagues say that he is capable of hard work and clear thinking over long periods and that he is an undoubted leader who, though inspiring loyalty and dedication, rules his far-flung organization through fear.

Once upon a time, at the beginning of his career, Abu Nidal was famous for his fiery and unbending nationalism. Now he is notorious for his murders. Some say that in his middle fifties, he has come to savor his reputation as an outlaw and a killer, that it is a case of patriot turned psychopath. To kill repeatedly and on a large scale, to be awash in blood, is not a normal human condition. Such an aberration is usually found only in situations of great stress, when a community blinded by hate and fear attacks another, in times of war, or when an individual personality is profoundly disturbed.


If Abu Nidal seems like a classic case of a split personality, his unhappy and insecure childhood, which several of his acquaintances mentioned, may go some way toward explaining it. He was born in May 1937 in Jaffa, an ancient Arab port on the Mediterranean coast of what was then Palestine. His father, Khalil al-Banna, was a solid citizen whose fortune lay in orange groves that stretched south of the town in luxuriant and sweet-smelling plantations. Each year he supervised as his citrus crop was packed in wooden crates and shipped to Europe, on a shipping line from Jaffa to Liverpool that had been opened in the 1890s.

Hajj Khalil was a patriarch. By his first wife, he had had eleven children, seven boys and four girls, who lived in a spacious, three-story house built of dressed stone, which was situated close enough to the shore for the children to skip down for a dip in the sea after school. To escape the humid summer heat of the coast, Khalil al-Banna bought another house in a mountain village further up the Mediterranean. It lay in the north of Syria, in the striking hill country above the port of Alexandretta (which was ceded to Turkey, against Syria's will, by the French on the eve of the Second World War). Many of the inhabitants of these coastal mountain villages were and remain members of the Alawite sect, a heterodox offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. To bring in much-needed cash, these dirt-poor villagers were often forced to hire out their daughters as domestic servants to middle-class families in the region. One summer the Banna family brought home to Jaffa a handsome young Alawite girl of sixteen. Khalil al-Banna became infatuated with her and, in his old age, married her, to the outrage of the rest of his family. His twelfth child, the future Abu Nidal, was the son of the family maid. He was named Sabri.

From the beginning, Sabri's position in the household was uncomfortable. He was scorned by his older half-brothers and sisters. Worse still, when his father died in 1945, his mother was eventually turned out of the house and so he lost her too. Aged eight, Sabri remained in the parental home, but there was no one to care for him, and such neglect meant that he received virtually no education. He dropped out of school after the third grade and to this day, to his embarrassment, continues to write with the untrained hand of a child, a source of much anguish.

Arabs have their own particular snobberies, often to do with pride of family, which is one reason that cousin so often marries cousin. But there was little to be proud of in being the son of a poor maid from a downtrodden sect -- until, that is, Hafez al-Assad, himself an Alawite of peasant stock, came to power in Syria in 1970. Abu Nidal then tried, as we shall see in due course, to ingratiate himself with the Syrian leader by invoking this maternal ancestry.

Abu Nidal has since made it up with the members of his father's family, some of whom live under Israeli rule in the occupied territories. A half-sister lives in Nablus, on the West Bank; he sends her money from time to time in various roundabout ways. A half-brother, Muhammad al-Banna, was a prominent fruit-and-vegetable merchant who, until his death five years ago, was on good terms with the Israeli occupation authorities. Several of his nieces, of whom he has at least a score dispersed around the Arab world, are married to members of his organization. But who can tell how the loss of a mother and his early humiliation and rejection affected him? However, his cruelty and the need to dominate those around him point to a grievance against the world that may be connected with the pain he suffered as a child. Those who know him well say that he despises women, and there is little room for them in his all-male organization. His members' wives are kept in isolation and in ignorance of their husbands' activities. They are not even allowed to befriend and visit one another, as is customary among the other Palestinian groups. His own wife, as we shall see, a patient, longsuffering woman, has for years been kept away from society, without friends.


Abu Nidal's bitter and vengeful personality was very probably shaped by the slights he suffered as a child but also by the impact on him of the disaster that overtook his family, and the whole of the Palestinian community, as a result of massive Jewish immigration into Palestine, culminating in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel.

What happened in Palestine in 1947-48 is one of the most contentious subjects in modern history. This book is hardly the place to rehearse the old polemics or to set out the rival versions of history as seen by Arab and Jew. Monstrously persecuted by Hitler, the Jews needed a homeland and the British promised them one. In November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 181, partitioning Arab Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, a resolution that the Zionists considered international sanction for a country of their own and which the Arabs rejected. Jews claim, moreover, an emotional attachment to the land of their historic ancestors. But the way the state of Israel was created, with the violent expulsion or stampeding of its Arab inhabitants, left much to be desired and has been a source of furious controversy ever since. Dispossessed Palestinians, who had enjoyed almost uninterrupted tenure of their land for thirteen hundred years, suffered a great shock from which they have been unable or unwilling to recover.

In the 1930s many a Palestinian child, like the young Sabri al-Banna, was brought up on tales of heroic deeds by Arab fighters who tried to stem the remorseless tide of foreign immigrants who were buying Palestinian land from Arab landowners, dispersing the Arab tenants and laborers. Jaffa, where he grew up, had a tradition of militancy. A Jewish attempt in 1935 to smuggle weapons through Jaffa port was one of the first incidents that roused the Arabs to take up arms against the Jews and their British protectors. Arab irregulars clashed with British troops. Their leader, Sheikh Izz al-Din Qassam, a devout cleric turned guerrilla fighter, was killed. Palestinians consider him the father of their armed resistance. His death was one of the sparks that ignited the great Arab revolt of 1936-39, which the British put down with terrible ruthlessness, killing thousands of Palestinians and interning tens of thousands. Palestinian protest at the influx of Jews was crushed for a generation. Living cheek-by-jowl with Tel Aviv, its brash, rapidly growing neighbor, Jaffa was caught in the grip of these violent events. Thousands of Arab peasants, evicted from the land as it passed to Jewish owners, set up miserable shantytowns around the port. Hostility between Arab and Jew, in Abu Nidal's youth, was an inescapable fact of daily life.

When the Arabs rejected the 1947 UN partition plan and civil war broke out between the Arabs and Jews, Jaffa found itself under siege. Surrounded by Jewish territory, it was an Arab enclave that the Jewish high command was determined to capture. Sniping escalated into running battles and then into mutual atrocities. In a notorious incident early in 1948, two Stern Gang terrorists disguised as Arabs drove a truck full of dynamite hidden under a pile of oranges into the town and blew it up, causing over a hundred casualties. Such terror tactics were repeated in many parts of Palestine as the Zionists raced to seize as much territory as possible before Britain's withdrawal on May 15, 1948, which, they feared, would herald the entry into Palestine of regular Arab armies. In Jaffa, the fighting shut down schools, factories, the bus service, and the citrus industry, the Banna orange groves and packing plant included.

The hugely successful Zionist strategy was to mount surprise attacks on Arab cities with mortar and rocket bombardments; to harry the Arab population with psychological warfare from loudspeakers and clandestine radio stations operated by the Hagana, the underground Jewish militia; and, in the countryside, to stage massacres in isolated villages such as Deir Yassin and Kolonia, calculated to stampede the rural population off the land. Several thousand Arab civilians were slaughtered in different parts of the country, leading to the panicked flight across the borders of some 750,000 others. It was then that the intractable Palestinian refugee problem was born. For years, much of the information about these killings was deliberately suppressed, but word has lately been filtering out, thanks mainly to Israeli researchers and historians, who have been probing into the events of the period. *

In Haifa, Acre, and Jaffa, scores of Palestinian families, under fire from Jewish snipers, were drowned in the rush to escape by sea to Gaza or Beirut. As soon as the Hagana seized Jaffa on May 14, 1948, it was cleaned out by looters from Tel Aviv and then quickly settled by thousands of Jews. Of an Arab population of 75,000, only 3,000 remained. The Banna plantations were confiscated by the Israeli government. The wild scramble of the Palestinians to get out was matched only by a Jewish scramble to seize their property. As late as 1953, a third of Israel's Jewish population was living on land taken from Palestinians.

A few weeks before the fall of Jaffa, the once proud and prosperous Banna family fled south to the small town of Majdal, where they hoped they would be safe, but they were soon driven out again by the advancing Israelis. Fleeing still further south to Gaza, then under Egyptian military occupation, they found shelter at last in the al-Burj refugee camp, where, packed together in tents, they spent a wretched year, including the very cold winter of 1948-49. They then moved on again to the city of Nablus, in the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule and temporarily out of reach of Israeli guns. In time, some of Khalil al-Banna's sons and daughters were able to scratch out a modest living. They were the lucky ones. Years after the 1948 catastrophe, most Palestinian refugees were still living in tents, still awaiting the miracle that would return them to their homes. Today in the camps, breeze blocks have replaced the canvas tenting, but the refugees are still there, their numbers swollen by natural increase and new wars. Attachment to their lost land and hatred for those who displaced them remain their dominant emotions and have intensified with the passing years.

Israelis are rightly proud of their state building and of their military prowess, but as many would now acknowledge, their "war of independence" was, like most wars, a brutal and often criminal affair. They won it because the military balance was crushingly in their favor. The propaganda version in which a helpless Jewish community miraculously defeated overwhelming Arab forces is a myth and has been exploded by such Jewish historians as Simha Flapam, in his The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities (1987), and Benny Morris, in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem: 1947-1949 (1987). Furthermore, in a lecture delivered in 1990 in Jerusalem, Benny Morris, of the Hebrew University, reported that in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Israeli soldiers and civilians killed thousands of unarmed Palestinians who tried to reenter the country to pick their crops or recover their lost property. Soldiers "used to shoot them on sight," and settlers on kibbutzim would booby-trap water pumps to prevent Palestinians from removing them. The bodies of Palestinians killed in this way would then be booby-trapped in turn to kill anyone who tried to take them away for burial. Such incidents are a reminder of the brutalities the Palestinians suffered and, in the West Bank and Gaza, continue to suffer.

The Israeli state was built on the utter ruin of Arab Palestine and the uprooting of its population -- a people that had had no hand in the frightful persecution of the Jews in Europe. Many in the West still see the Jews as victims of a thousand years of persecution, culminating in the obscenity of the Holocaust. But there can be no understanding of Abu Nidal and other angry Palestinians like him unless the impact on them of Israel's victory in 1948 is recognized. These men and women were made homeless, robbed of everything they possessed, forgotten by the world, and constantly taunted by the triumphalism of the victors. The mass exodus of Palestinians from their homeland gave the Israelis their real start in life, but for the losers it remains the supreme tragedy of their history, blotting out the horizon like an impenetrable cloud. To many Palestinians, the Israeli is a murderer and a thief, a brutal conqueror with neither conscience nor humanity.

What happened in 1948 was not the end of a process but the beginning. The repression of Palestinians, the expropriation of land, the building of settlements, the appropriation of scarce resources such as water -- all these continue to this day, breeding in the victims of these policies an explosive mixture of rage and despair. However reluctant Israelis and Jews may be to acknowledge it, the terrorism of Abu Nidal and those like him is a reaction to the Jewish victory, which has condemned the Palestinians to a half-life of helplessness, insecurity, and uncertain identity.

Perhaps none of this would have happened had the Arabs accepted the UN proposal in 1947 to partition Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish sector, but they didn't and the result has been more or less unending misery and violence.

From a profound sense of grievance, an obsession with revenge has flowed ineluctably: What was taken by force can only be regained by force. This is the gut feeling of many Palestinians. No middle ground, compromise, or peaceful solution can be entertained. When I first started examining Abu Nidal's career, I felt that this maxim had blinded him to political realities and led him into a life of purposeless terrorism and crime.


Abu Nidal's early teens in the West Bank city of Nablus were difficult. He scraped by on charity from his half-brothers, themselves struggling to survive. He took odd jobs as errand boy and electrician's assistant but deeply resented, as he made plain to friends later in life, his ragged clothes, empty stomach, and lack of education. He tried to attend a government school for a few months, but with no money to support him and having missed so many years already, he simply could not catch up. He faced ridicule, which added to his resentments. However, he was clever and ambitious, and attempting to read on his own, he came upon a semi-clandestine news sheet, al-Yaqzah (The Awakening), which the local Jordanian branch of the Ba'ath party published occasionally on the West Bank.

The Ba'ath in Jordan was an offshoot, in fact the first such offshoot in the Arab world, of the mother party that two Syrian schoolmasters had founded in Damascus in the late 1940s. When Arab feebleness and disarray were exposed by the disaster in Palestine, young people looking for a way forward flocked to join the Ba'ath, with its exciting, if somewhat incoherent, program of Arab "rebirth." It was to become the great nationalist party of the period. The West Bank, and the city of Nablus in particular, packed as it was with embittered refugees, was fertile ground for Ba'athist ideas, especially in the turbulent years that followed the assassination of King Abdallah of Jordan in 1951 -- killed by a Palestinian for his collusion with Israel during the 1948 war and his proposal to accept its existence after the war. His mentally ill son Talal succeeded him but was soon deposed as unfit to rule. His grandson, the young Hussein, then seventeen, was still untried.

The Ba'ath in Jordan had not yet been given a license to function legally as a political party and was still more or less underground, playing cat-and-mouse with the authorities. But in violent demonstrations, it demanded a greater say for Palestinians in the kingdom's affairs. It also demanded that Jordan end its relationship to Britain, which the Palestinians felt had betrayed them to the Zionists. In 1955, the Ba'ath campaigned to keep Jordan out of the British-inspired Baghdad Pact, and in 1956, during the Suez war, it wanted King Hussein to side with Egypt's Nasser, the nationalists' hero then fighting for his life -- and for Arab independence -- against Britain, France, and Israel. This Ba'ath was the party that the young Abu Nidal joined when he was eighteen. It was his first taste of radical politics.

But this political experience was short-lived. In April 1957, a group of nationalist officers tried to seize power in Amman but were faced down by Hussein and his loyalist Bedouin troops. The would-be putschists were locked up or sent into exile. The Ba'ath and other radical parties called a congress in Nablus to demand that the officers be reinstated, that the king's advisers be sacked, and that Jordan realign itself away from Britain and the United States and toward Egypt. Agitating, demonstrating, and facing police gunfire, the young Abu Nidal lived every moment of these dramatic events. But the nationalist dream soon faded. Stiffened by Western help, Hussein reasserted his authority, smashing the Ba'ath by mass arrests. Its offices were closed and its paper suspended. Its top men, including the party leader, Abdallah Rimawi, fled to Syria, while young militants like Abu Nidal chose to lie low.

A year later, as Hussein's grip tightened and the Ba'ath party's prospects dimmed, a thoroughly disgruntled Abu Nidal, nursing a hatred for the Hashemites second only to his combined hatred of Israel, Britain, and the United States, went to seek his fortune in Saudi Arabia -- one among tens of thousands of young Palestinians who, to escape the stinking, overcrowded refugee camps, headed for the oil-rich kingdom. He made his way to Riyadh and, with a friend, Abu Fadi, set himself up as a housepainter and electrician, trades in which he had dabbled in Nablus. By 1959 the two partners had managed to open a shop on al-Wazir Street, in the Saudi capital.

But distance from Palestine did not blunt Abu Nidal's feelings. On the contrary, the further away he was from the lost homeland, the more he dreamed of "the return," the obsessive idea that filled the minds of countless Palestinians. He still considered himself a Ba'athist -- the party had been his school during the Nablus years. But in Saudi Arabia it presented few attractions: It was a puny underground movement, a dozen young men who held meetings in a cellar. In any event, Nasser, who was suspicious of the Ba'ath, had forced the Syrian mother party to dissolve itself at the time of the Syrian- Egyptian Union of 1958, plunging the movement into confusion, which spread to its branches throughout the Arab world. Abdallah Rimawi, head of the Jordanian Ba'ath and the man Abu Nidal had looked up to in his young manhood, left the movement and took refuge in Cairo.

Abu Nidal, in turn, left the Ba'ath, to find another outlet for his restless energies. In his early twenties, already conscious of his latent abilities, he saw himself as something of a leader, seeking to impress others by spinning yarns about his own achievements. He was a fabulist, playing games with the truth, a trait that would grow more pronounced. In Riyadh, gathering around him a group of young men, he founded his own little faction and, in the spirit of the times, gave it the grandiose name of the Palestine Secret Organization. He dreamed of dispatching emissaries throughout the region, of sprouting offshoots, of carrying the fight into "usurped Palestine" itself. Beirut was his first target. It was then considered the political and publishing mecca of the Middle East, the one Arab capital where speech was free enough and the secret police comparatively benign. So in the early 1960s, Abu Nidal staked his savings on sending two young men to Beirut to set up a branch of his secret faction. But his envoys gave up -- one became a student, the other went into business -- and the venture collapsed.

In striving to get started in the resistance business, Abu Nidal was not unique. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, many Palestinians working in Arab countries, as well as Palestinian students in Europe, attempted in a more or less clandestine fashion to set up their own political organizations. Dozens of groups emerged, although few survived for long. The prime inspiration was the trauma of exile, the suffering of their families, the need to break free from the shackles of Arab host countries -- and the burning desire to hit back at Israel.

Of all these organizations, by far the most important was Yasser Arafat's Fatah, which emerged in Kuwait in 1958-59 and was soon to grow into the parent of all Palestinian fighting movements. Fatah had recruits wherever Palestinians were to be found -- including Saudi Arabia, where Abu Nidal, a proven activist, was inevitably drawn into the net.

Abu Nidal did not join Fatah as a humble foot soldier. Having run his own "group" and passionately committed to the cause of the resistance, he entered a rung or two higher up on the organizational ladder. He had a head for figures, and his business was doing well. He was lively and entertaining company. He seemed well launched into life. On a visit to Nablus, he met and married a girl, Hiyam al-Bitar, from a good Jaffa family exiled like his own. She was better educated than he was, had been to school and had learned French. But, to his taste, she was agreeably docile, halfway between a traditional Arab wife and a modern woman. She was to bear him a boy and two girls.

In Saudi Arabia, Abu Nidal had been no more than an armchair guerrilla -- plotting, talking, dreaming of great deeds, but not actually doing very much. The 1967 war -- after 1948, the second traumatic date in the Arab calendar -- changed all that. In a lightning preemptive campaign, Israel shattered the armies of its Arab neighbors, seized East Jerusalem and all that was left of Arab Palestine, as well as Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Syria's Golan Heights, and emerged as the region's superpower, evidently stronger than any combination of Arab states. The West Bank and Gaza, with their teeming Palestinian populations, became the occupied territories, as they remain today. The blow to the Arab psyche, to Arab self-confidence, was colossal. The gangrene of hate ate deeper, as did the thirst for revenge.

Demonstrating against the war and its disastrous outcome, Abu Nidal and his friends were rounded up by the Saudis and expelled as dangerous subversives. But Abu Nidal could not return to the West Bank. His Nablus home had been overrun by the Israelis. The only possible destination was Amman, where Palestinian guerrillas were preparing to fight an enemy whose forward positions had now reached the Jordan River.

A Palestinian acquaintance, Abu Ali Shahin (who was later to spend many years in Israeli jails), remembers Abu Nidal at that time. "He was very fanatical," he told me. "He wanted to go and fight. He didn't believe in religion or Ba'athism or Marxism or anything else. There was no way to recover Palestine except by shedding blood. The gun was his ideology and his ideology was the gun. The gun, only the gun!"



* To cite a single example, on August 24, 1984, the Israeli daily Hadashot published an account of a previously unreported massacre at the village of Dweima on October 28, 1948, in which an estimated 500 men, women, and children were killed by a regular Israeli army unit.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:04 am

Chapter 4: A Black September

"The gun, only the gun!"

Abu Nidal's call to arms after the 1967 war was no more than the standard rhetoric of the time. Traumatized, like practically every other Arab, by Israel's victory, expelled from Saudi Arabia for political agitation, he moved his young family to Amman.

At this time, there were hundreds of thousands of exiled Palestinians like himself who had been waiting for two decades for the Arab states and the United Nations to reverse the harsh verdict of 1948. But now, stricken by another immense disaster, the majority of them united around two basic principles -- first, that the "lost homeland," the object of their painful yearning, could be recovered only by armed struggle; and second, that any negotiation with a triumphant Israel could only spell surrender and had therefore to be rejected out of hand.

Taking up arms against Israel was seen as an essential, morale-boosting formula for national salvation -- a philosophy in tune with that of other third world liberation movements of the 1960s. But what sort of "armed struggle" could the Palestinians seriously wage against Israeli power?

In Riyadh before the June 1967 war, Abu Nidal's "resistance" had taken the form of excited late-night discussions with fellow members of his Fatah cell. If only the Arabs could mobilize their great potential, they must surely triumph. This was the recurring theme. How could a handful of alien settlers overcome the Arabs' teeming millions? The Arab world was a chained elephant confronting an Israeli mouse: Fatah's task was to break the elephant's chains and release its strength.

Such metaphors did wonders for the morale, but Abu Nidal had had no military training and no experience of any sort of armed conflict. His war talk was far removed from the reality of his situation. By day, he was a manager, a pen pusher. His electrician's shop in Riyadh had grown into a small contracting business. He had made money and had handled it sensibly. On arrival in Jordan, therefore, he did not, like many others, head for one of the ramshackle camps that Fatah was setting up on the Jordan River, within gunshot of the enemy, but installed his family in a decent house in Amman. He had a sense of organization, sorely lacking in much of the chaotic and quarrelsome guerrilla movement, and he could work around the clock.

Within a very short time, he had founded a trading company called Impex, whose offices in central Amman soon became a sort of clandestine Fatah "front," a place where people could meet when they came into town and where funds for the guerrillas and their families could be received and paid out. For all his talk of revolutionary violence, Abu Nidal was by nature orderly and methodical, a bureaucrat of armed struggle rather than a fighter, qualities that were noticed and appreciated by Yasser Arafat and other Fatah leaders.

It was in those early months in Jordan that he met and was befriended by Abu Iyad, Fatah's long-serving intelligence chief. In one of our talks, fluent and slightly ironic as ever, Abu Iyad told me that he had first heard the name Sabri al- Banna soon after the June war.

"He had been recommended to me as a man of energy and enthusiasm, but he seemed shy when we met," Abu Iyad recalled. "It was only on further acquaintance that I noticed other traits: He was extremely good company, with a sharp tongue and an inclination to dismiss most of humanity as spies and traitors. I rather liked that! I discovered he was very ambitious, perhaps more than his abilities warranted, and also very excitable. He sometimes worked himself up into such a state that he lost all powers of reasoning."

Abu Iyad enjoyed the younger man's readiness to criticize everything and everybody, not least Yasser Arafat. With the cheekiness of youth, Sabri al-Banna, who now adopted the alias Abu Nidal, behaved as if he were Arafat's equal, because, before joining Fatah, he had been the boss of a tiny Palestinian outfit. Abu Nidal dared say things for which Abu Iyad and other Fatah leaders had a sneaking sympathy -- notably, that Arafat was a dictator who was inclined to rush into impulsive decisions without first consulting his colleagues.

Abu Nidal often drove down to the Jordan valley to visit Abu Iyad at Karameh, a village where Fatah had set up a military base and from which it attempted, somewhat incompetently, to infiltrate men across the river into the occupied West Bank. Karameh was squalid, and Sabri was appalled at the wretched conditions in which Yasser Arafat and Abu Iyad lived. Why did it have to be such a shambles? In contrast, when Abu Iyad paid Abu Nidal a return visit in Amman, he would stay at his clean and comfortable house, have a square meal, take a shower, get a good night's sleep, and play with his host's two young children, Nidal and Badia.

Abu Nidal had no taste for the romantic heroics of the fedayeen or for their extraordinary capacity for getting themselves killed. Abu Dawud, a giant some six feet six inches tall, who would eventually in 1970 command all of Fatah's guerrilla forces in Jordan, remembers that in those days Abu Nidal carried a pistol but was never known to have fired it. In skirmishes in Amman between Hussein's troops and the guerrillas Abu Dawud was out fighting, but Abu Nidal stayed safely indoors, never leaving his office, let alone taking part in the street battles. To a tidy mind like his, such wild and unplanned clashes against superior forces were sheer madness.

By late 1968 or early 1969, Abu Nidal had persuaded Abu Iyad that his talents lay in diplomacy rather than guerrilla warfare and had secured a posting as Fatah's representative to Khartoum.

In the Sudan, Abu Nidal worked hard and intelligently, made contacts across the spectrum of local politics and was soon on good terms with the new regime of Ja'far al-Numeiri, the thirty-five-year-old colonel who, in the summer of 1969, had seized power in Khartoum. It was Abu Nidal's first proper job for the Palestinian cause and a spur to his ambition.

Why did Abu Nidal leave Amman? The question has long been pondered in Palestinian circles. Abandoning his trading company, Impex, and his Fatah comrades, he ducked out just when the guerrillas in Jordan were coming under intense pressure from both Israel and King Hussein -- a move that later earned him the charge of cowardice. Perhaps he was simply more careful than others.


A history of recurrent defeat forced Palestinian leaders, Abu Nidal among them, to think hard about the strategy of armed struggle -- the attempt to send guerrillas on sabotage missions inside Israeli territory -- which they adopted with blithe amateurishness in the mid-1960s. Israel's counterstrategy was to lash out ferociously not only against the guerrillas themselves, on the principle of an eye for an eyelash, but also against the Arab countries that gave them sanctuary. Inevitably, the host countries turned on the guerrillas, as happened in Jordan and later in Lebanon: Made to choose between helping the guerillas and sparing themselves Israeli reprisals, the Arab states not unnaturally put their own security first.

Abu Nidal seems to have had doubts about the way the Palestinian struggle was being conducted. Rather than open confrontation, he preferred the indirect approach, preparation in the shadows, the blow struck when and where the enemy least expected it.

How did this strategy evolve? Under the pressure of events, his ideas seem to have taken shape gradually between 1968 and 1973, by which time Abu Nidal had developed the tactics and the methods -- in a word, the terrorism -- for which he was to become infamous.

Men who knew him then report that he was much influenced by, and in fact modeled himself on, right-wing Jewish terrorist movements. He was in particular much impressed by the Irgun, the brainchild of the Russian-born agitator Vladimir Jabotinsky, who called for the unabashed use of force -- an "iron wall" -- against the Arabs to establish full Jewish sovereignty over both banks of the Jordan, an agenda adopted by his loyal disciples Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin. Abu Nidal was also struck by the Irgun's more extreme offshoot, the Stern Gang, which under Shamir and others played a crucial role in unnerving both the Arabs and the British in the struggle for the Jewish state. During the Arab rebellion of 1936-39, the Stern Gang was the first to introduce terrorism to the Middle East by exploding bombs on buses and in Arab markets and, in November 1944, by assassinating Lord Moyne, the British resident minister in the Middle East. The Irgun also used terror against British and Arab targets. Its most eye-catching and notorious exploit was blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1946, where the British had set up their headquarters. More than a hundred people died in the attack. By today's debased standards, such carnage might seem relatively small scale, but the shock at the time was colossal, and Abu Nidal is said to have been much affected by these acts when he learned about them later, as a young man.

His former comrades told me that in the late sixties, Abu Nidal was forever brooding over the lessons to be learned from the loss of Palestine. Where had the Palestinians gone wrong? In the mid-1930s, they had risen in spontaneous revolt against massive Jewish immigration, but the British had crushed them, reducing the Palestinian community as a whole to helpless spectators for the duration of the Second World War. By contrast, tens of thousands of Jews served in Allied armies and learned how to fight (including the teachings of sabotage and terrorism, which some of them used to devastating effect in 1947-48 against the ill-prepared Arab population of Palestine and the rabble forces of the Arab states).

From 1948 to 1965, as Israel grew stronger and stronger, the Palestinians did nothing. It was not until 1965, seventeen years after the loss of Palestine, that Fatah started small-scale military incursions into Israel with the goal not so much of fighting Israel alone -- Fatah knew that this was impossible -- but of dragging the Arab states into a war that, it hoped, would restore Palestinian "rights." This, in turn, proved a gross miscalculation, not least of Arab military strength. Indeed, although the guerrillas inflicted no significant damage on Israel, they helped precipitate the Six-Day War. Early in 1967, they implicated their Syrian backers in their inept incursions, arousing fears that Israel would retaliate against Syria and try to topple its radical regime. Egypt's President Nasser, who posed as the leader of the Arabs, could not stand by and let this happen. Fearing that an Israeli attack on Syria might catch him unawares and suck him in, he sought to bring the crisis under his direct control by shifting its focus from Syria to Sinai, where he indulged in some saber-rattling of his own. With half his army in Yemen (fighting the royalists in the civil war there), Nasser had no intention of attacking Israel. But he did challenge a vital Israeli interest by closing the Red Sea shipping lane to Eilat, a route Israel had opened in the Suez war of 1956. Israel seized on this casus belli and smashed Egypt, together with its Syrian and Jordanian allies, in its devastating preemptive attack of June 1967 (as William B. Quandt has explained in his Decade of Decision [1977] and as I have written about in Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East [1989]).

The disastrous experience of 1967 should have discredited the old guerrilla strategy, but the Palestinians were seduced into believing that despite the defeat of regular Arab armies, "armed struggle" could still be waged against Israel, on the Algerian or Vietnamese model, in the form of a popular liberation war. Young Palestinian recruits were sent, without much preparation, to set up "revolutionary cells" in the occupied West Bank, more or less in full view of the enemy. With no maquis to hide them, they were soon rounded up or killed. By early 1968, such ineffectual pinpricks had been virtually ended and Israel was ready to counterattack against guerrilla bases in Jordan -- and then against Jordan itself, predictably creating grave tensions between the guerrillas and the king.

Two events in 1968 were of great importance in that they set the Palestinians off once more in the wrong direction. The first occurred in March, when an Israeli armored force of 15,000 men, with air support, crossed the river and attacked Fatah's guerrilla base, at Karalleh in Jordan, with overwhelming strength. The base and much of the village were wiped out, with heavy losses. However, the guerrillas fought back bravely and, with help from the Jordanian army, managed to inflict significant casualties on the Israelis. At a time when Arab demoralization was total in the aftermath of 1967, the fact that the Arabs had actually put up something of a fight was hailed as a great victory. Half the population of Amman rushed out to Karameh to embrace the surviving guerrillas, and thousands flocked to join their ranks. Carried aloft on a wave of popular sentiment, the idolized guerrillas considered themselves demigods and swaggered about Amman and other cities, with scant regard for the local authorities. Not surprisingly, King Hussein saw their undisciplined posturings as a threat to himself and began cooperating secretly with Israel to contain them.

A second decisive event was the hijacking in July 1968 of an El Al passenger plane on a scheduled flight from Rome to Tel Aviv and its diversion to Algiers. Women, children, and non-Israelis on board were soon freed, but to Israel's rage, the remaining twelve Israeli men among the passengers were held for thirty-nine days and were only released in exchange for fifteen Palestinians detained in Israeli jails.

This was the first terrorist operation of its kind, the prototype for many others to come, and its mastermind was Wadi Haddad, a Palestinian revolutionary from Safad who had graduated as a medical doctor from the American University of Beirut. Outraged by the violence Israel had done to his people, he had vowed to use violence in return. With three American University friends and contemporaries -- Syrian Hani al-Hindi, Palestinian George Habash, and Kuwaiti Ahmad al-Khatib, the last two medical doctors like himself -- Haddad founded a political party, the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN), which was to develop offshoots in several Arab countries. Its banner was a three-word slogan, "Fire, Iron, and Revenge," and its philosophy was that until the Palestinians regained their rights, the whole world could burn.

Not long after Fatah embarked on "armed struggle," Habash and Haddad gathered the Palestinian members of MAN into a separate organization that became the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Envious of the bigger and more solidly implanted Fatah, and unable to match Fatah's operations on the ground, the PFLP resorted instead to terrorist spectaculars, such as the El Al hijacking, which won it immense prestige among Arabs and set the pace for the resistance as a whole.

Had the first hijacked plane not been Israeli, such piracy might have been rejected by the Palestinians themselves from the very beginning. It needs to be recalled that in the twenty years from 1948 to 1968, the Palestinians had never considered attacking an Israeli, still less a Jew, outside Israel. Terror was not on their agenda. From 1965 onward, Fatah's "armed struggle" was directed at such targets as Israeli water pipelines and railway tracks. Fatah disapproved of hijacking and had no intention of following the PFLP's example. But because the PFLP's target had been an "enemy" plane, the Arab world was loath to condemn the hijacking.

After this first "success," Wadi Haddad went on to hijack planes of other nations and to establish relations with European and Japanese terrorist groups. An unexpected windfall was that airlines started to pay him large sums in protection money. For example, two international airlines paid Haddad $1 million a month each, monies that he turned over to his organization and that allowed the PFLP to acquire a measure of independence from its Arab sponsors.

In Jordan, meanwhile, the overconfident guerrillas started preaching sedition against King Hussein and calling openly for his overthrow. Excited by the precedent of Aden, where armed irregulars affiliated with MAN had forced the British out, then routed their local rivals and seized power, some guerrillas believed that power in Jordan, too, was theirs for the taking. The crunch came in September 1970, when, in a hijacking orgy, the PFLP forced no fewer than three passenger planes to land at a disused airstrip in Jordan. An outraged King Hussein determined to fight back. Stiffened by the United States and by a threat of intervention by Israel, he unleashed his tanks against the guerrillas and his air force against some Syrian armor that had crossed half-heartedly into Jordan in their support. In the running street battles and the shelling of the refugee camps, several hundred guerrillas were killed, another three thousand were captured, and some ten thousand Palestinians were wounded, most of them civilians. Such was the gruesome balance sheet of that "black" September.

At a stroke, the guerrillas lost their vital sanctuary in Jordan, from which they had dreamed of pushing Israel back from the Jordan River -- and so liberating Palestine inch by inch. The dream and the strategy had now to be abandoned, plunging the whole guerrilla movement into distress and disillusion.

From distant Khartoum, Abu Nidal followed the unfolding drama as best he could. But in early 1970, unable to contain himself any longer, he turned up in Amman, several months before the disastrous September denouement. He was there by February, in time to witness one of the first serious clashes between the guerrillas and the army, and it profoundly affected him.

Both militarily and politically, it seemed to him that the Palestinians were set on the wrong course. Militarily, their "armed struggle" had been totally ineffective and had lost them the sympathy and backing of Jordan, the Arab country with the longest frontier with Israel. Politically, the Palestinian resistance was far from a disciplined or cohesive movement. Commando groups had formed, merged, disbanded, split, and changed their names in a bewildering dance that outsiders found incomprehensible. These groups were divided by personal hatreds and rivalries but also by divergent views on how to achieve the common objective of the recovery of Palestinian land and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, the "umbrella" apparatus for the resistance movement as a whole, had been born out of the decisions of the first Arab Summit Conference, of January 1964, when Arab leaders, unable to do anything about a major water pipeline Israel was then completing to carry Jordan water to the Negev, decided to defuse Palestinian anger and frustration by giving the Palestinians an organization of their own. Ahmad Shuquairy, a loquacious Palestinian lawyer who had never carried a gun, was made PLO chairman and a Palestine National Charter was approved, calling for the destruction of Israel. It remained a dead letter until June 1967, when the defeat of Arab regular armies stimulated the emergence of Palestinian commando groups, of which Fatah was the best organized and the most powerful.

By 1969, Yasser Arafat had become PLO chairman and Fatah had gained control both of the PLO Executive Committee and of the Palestine National Council, the Palestinians' parliament-in-exile. Being far and away the biggest of the commando groups, Fatah could, and no doubt should, have imposed its will on the other factions and unified the resistance movement into an effective force. As it represented the reasonably pragmatic mainstream, it could have saved the Palestinians a lot of heartache had it done so. But for reasons that remain obscure, Arafat and his colleagues felt it best to accommodate within the PLO the various shades of Palestinian opinion, with the result that from the very beginning, the PLO was paralyzed by internal quarrels.

Arafat had to contend not only with George Habash's PFLP, founded in December 1967, which vociferously rejected any thought of a compromise settlement with Israel, but also with Nayif Hawatmeh's Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a Marxist organization formed in 1969 by extreme leftist defectors from both the PFLP and MAN, dedicated to an anti-imperialist third world liberation struggle. Another group that was to give Arafat a lot of trouble was Ahmad Jibril's PFLP-General Command, formed in 1968 from a split in the PFLP. Jibril, a stalwart military man, had been an early commando, with a history of guerrilla activity stretching back to 1959. His blunt philosophy was that the Palestinians should spend less time talking and more time fighting. Supported by Syria and Libya, he specialized in suicide raids into Israel.

Arafat had also to wrestle with two pressure groups controlled, respectively, by Syria and Iraq, states that were not inclined to leave the all-engrossing and highly dangerous confrontation with Israel in Palestinian hands alone. Syria's outfit was known as al-Sa'iqa (the Thunderbolt), formed in 1968 with members from the Palestinian branch of Syria's Ba'ath party. Its Iraqi equivalent, a rival of al-Sa'iqa, was the Arab Liberation Front (ALF), formed in 1969 by Palestinians close to Iraq's Ba'ath party. And this was by no means the end of the story. Other groups, with varied sponsors and objectives, emerged in subsequent years to muddy Palestinian waters and render it virtually impossible for a clear strategy to emerge or for the PLO to project a coherent message to the outside world.

Prominent among the troublemakers whom Arafat failed to control was Abu'l Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, a small offshoot from Jibril's organization, which enjoyed first Iraqi and then Libyan backing. Among its later exploits, all disastrous for the Palestinian cause, were the seizure of the Achille Lauro in October 1985 and the murder of a crippled Jew on board, and then, in May 1990, an abortive guerrilla raid on the Israeli coast at Tel Aviv, which caused the United States to suspend its dialogue with the PLO.


None of this was to Abu Nidal's liking. Early in 1970, foreseeing the coming showdown with King Hussein, he started to pester Abu Iyad, and indeed anyone in the Palestinian leadership who would listen, to send him once more to represent Fatah abroad -- this time in Baghdad. As it happened, at that moment Fatah badly needed someone to lobby the Iraq government. Iraq had some fourteen thousand men stationed in Jordan, elements of a short-lived Arab "Eastern Command" that had once included Egypt and Syria. The Fatah leaders were anxious to know if they could count on these Iraqi troops to side with them in the event of an all-out fight with Hussein. To sound out Iraqi intentions, Arafat and Abu Iyad had in July 1970 met secretly with two leading members of the Iraqi regime, Abd al-Khaliq Samirra'i, a member of the Revolutionary Command Council, and the interior minister, General Salih Mahdi Ammash, at an Iraqi army camp near the Jordanian town of Zarqa. They had been given assurances that Iraqi troops would fight with them. But Fatah needed someone in Baghdad who could hold the Iraqis to this pledge, someone able and forceful enough to make personal contact with President Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr and his army commander, General Hardan al-Takriti. Abu Nidal seemed the right man for the job.

In late July, just two months before all hell broke loose in Amman, he took up his new post in Baghdad, leaving the anarchy of Jordan behind him and once again arousing the suspicions of some of his comrades that he was running away to save his skin.

But Abu Nidal failed in his mission. When King Hussein's tanks blasted guerrilla positions that September, the Iraqis did not move. The battles between the Jordanian army and the fedayeen raged on for ten days with the dead and wounded piling up in the streets, but Fatah's desperate cries for help were ignored in Baghdad.

Arafat narrowly escaped capture, but Abu Iyad and another prominent Fatah leader, Abu al-Lutf (Faruq Qaddumi), later known as the PLO's "foreign minister," were seized by the Jordanians and interned. To break their morale, their captors made them listen to a tape of a telephone conversation between King Hussein and General Takriti in which the Iraqi commander confirmed that, in accordance with their prior agreement, Iraqi forces would not intervene. Iraq had betrayed the guerrillas.

The Fatah leaders were soon to have another shock. Immediately after the September carnage, Abu Nidal began to attack them over the Voice of Palestine, their own radio station in Baghdad, accusing them of cowardice in battle and condemning them for having agreed to a cease-fire with King Hussein. The man Abu Nidal singled out for particular abuse was none other than Abu Iyad, his old friend and mentor, who had given him the job in Baghdad.

Abu Iyad told me that, in retrospect, he had come to believe that something important had happened to Abu Nidal in 1969 or 1970 to set him on this new and suspect course. He wondered whether Abu Nidal had been recruited in Khartoum by Iraqi intelligence or by the Mossad. It was a puzzle Abu Iyad wrestled with until the end of his life.

By 1971, as Abu Nidal continued his radio attacks on his Fatah comrades, Arafat and his chief military colleague, Abu Jihad, decided to expel him from Fatah. But Abu Iyad advised caution. He was the butt of Abu Nidal's wounding criticism, but he felt it would be wrong to lose such an able man to the Iraqis -- that is, until they could get an explanation from him for his alarming change of attitude. Moreover, Iraq was likely to interpret Abu Nidal's expulsion from Fatah as a criticism of itself. Fatah had just clashed bitterly with Jordan, and Abu Iyad thought it should beware of quarreling with Iraq as well.

In 1972, Iraq invited Fatah to send a delegation to Baghdad to discuss their increasingly sour relations. The delegation consisted of Abu Iyad, Abu al-Lutf, and Abu Mazin (Mahmud Abbas). High on their agenda for the talks was Iraq's failure to assist them in Jordan in their hour of need. As Abu Iyad recalled, Abu Nidal met them at the airport, but Abu Iyad was angry with him and refused to shake his hand.

They were soon deep in discussions with Iraq's leaders, notably with Abd al-Khaliq Samirra'i, the man who had promised them that Iraqi troops would intervene on their behalf and who was understandably embarrassed because the promise had not been kept.

"He took us to see President Bakr," Abu Iyad told me. "On the way there he tried to prepare us for what to expect. 'You won't be able to stay very long,' he warned. 'The president is tired. Don't bother to embrace him when you greet him.' The first thing that struck me as we entered Bakr's office was that he didn't rise from his desk. Such discourtesy from an Arab ruler toward Palestinian leaders was unheard of! I could sense that Samirra'i was getting still more embarrassed."

By all accounts, it was a glacial meeting. As it drew to a close, Abu Iyad said, "Mr. President, it seems you are busy. Please allow us to take our leave. But before we go, may I just say that we were upset by the decision not to support us in Jordan -- no doubt taken without your knowledge."

"It was my decision!" Bakr snapped back. "I personally supervised the withdrawal of Iraqi troops." At this Abu Iyad felt compelled to ask the president for his reasons, to which Bakr replied: "You in the Palestinian resistance have nine lives, like a cat. If they kill you, you can rise again. But we are a regime! In Jordan in 1970, there was a conspiracy to draw us into a battle in order to destroy us. And had we been destroyed, we would have been finished!"

"And that was it," Abu Iyad told me. "The whole meeting barely lasted ten minutes. Once outside the room, I took Abu Nidal aside, cursed him, and gave him a piece of my mind. 'Is this the regime you are defending?' I stormed. That evening I went to his house and had it out with him in the presence of his wife. I said he had tied himself too closely to the Iraqis. I had heard he had a special relationship with Sa'dun Shakir, then head of Iraqi intelligence.

"Abu Nidal flew into a rage at my accusation. 'I'm no one's agent!' he protested. But my doubts persisted. Before I came to suspect a possible Massad link, I believed that Iraqi intelligence had contacted him when he was in the Sudan and that his eagerness to be transferred to Baghdad had not been entirely his own idea."

However, even after this visit, Abu Iyad advised his colleagues in Fatah that it would be better if they tried to contain Abu Nidal rather than expel him, not to risk pushing him even further into the arms of the Iraqis. As Abu Iyad admitted to me, he was still fond of him. But he was worried by what was happening to him. There was something about Abu Nidal that frightened him. He did not, however, share his anxieties with his colleagues.

The Fatah leaders had to face the grim fact that their man in Baghdad had switched allegiance. Instead of defending their interests, he had made himself the echo of Baghdad's views and sniped at them over the airwaves. Abu Nidal had become a painful thorn in their flesh, but as he now enjoyed Iraqi protection, they could not easily pluck him out.


The matter of Abu Nidal's indiscipline was dwarfed by the turmoil into which the whole Palestinian movement was thrown by its catastrophic clash with King Hussein, and which was to be the backdrop to the next stage in Abu Nidal's development. The battle for Amman of September 1970 had routed the guerrillas but also profoundly divided them. When, at the height of the fighting, the besieged Fatah's leaders grasped that the king was out to destroy them, they held a council of war and decided to disperse -- in effect, to run away. Some went to Cairo or Damascus, others went underground. The instinct was to survive to fight another day.

But some commanders would not give up the fight, chief among them being the fearsome, if misguided, Abu Ali Iyad (not to be confused with Abu Iyad), who had won prominence as a guerrilla leader during the battle of Karameh. Before that, he had been Fatah's chief military instructor at its camp in al-Hameh, near Damascus, where he had been responsible for training Palestinian recruits, some hardly more than fourteen or fifteen years old. These ashbal, or "tiger cubs," were in great awe of him because of his strict discipline and fierce appearance: He had lost an eye and damaged a leg in an experiment with explosives.

After the battle of Amman, Abu Ali Iyad would not run away. Determined to carry on the fight, he headed north with a group of his tiger cubs to the wild country around Jarash and Ajlun in Jordan, where there were woods and caves to hide in. It was a suicide mission. In house-to-house combat in Amman, the guerrillas had had a chance against Hussein's armor, but out in the open they were no match for it. Abu Ali Iyad was lame and practically blind. The terrain was rough. In the early summer of 1971, the king sent troops to hunt him down. Their orders were strict and no quarter was given. Palestinians say that tanks were driven over the bodies of wounded men, providing a sight so harrowing that some seventy of Abu Ali Iyad's cubs fled across the river and, waving white shirts, preferred to surrender to the Israelis rather than face death at the hand of Hussein's troops.

On July 23, 1971, Abu Ali Iyad was reported killed. However, such was the wildness of the place that his corpse was never found. A few days earlier he had sent a man down the mountain with a letter to the Fatah leaders, bitterly criticizing them for running away and ending with a phrase that was to become the rallying cry of the survivors -- "We will die on our feet rather than kneel." Those of his tiger cubs who escaped the carnage broke up into small clandestine groups, acquired arms and explosives, and vowed to avenge him.

Four months later, on November 28, Jordan's prime minister, Wasfi al-Tal, who had been King Hussein's right-hand man during the onslaught on the guerrillas and a fanatical enemy of the Palestinians, was shot dead in Cairo, on the steps of the Sheraton Hotel. "At last I have done it. I am satisfied, I have spilled Tal's blood!" one of his killers, Munshir Khalifa, was heard to say defiantly on his arrest. Khalifa was one of Abu Ali Iyad's cubs. With this assassination, the Palestinian terrorist campaign known as Black September was born.

That Tal had been made to pay for the slaughter of the Palestinians was a source of exhilaration in guerrilla circles. Spirits that had been downcast were now raised and a great impetus was given to violence. Some fighters, with little grasp of reality, imagined that Tal's disappearance would allow them to return to Jordan and resume their fight against Israel from there. But as it turned out, the Palestinians' resort to terrorism was not a prelude to further armed struggle but only a tawdry substitute for it. Tal's murder was an expression of Palestinian weakness and frustration rather than of real Palestinian militancy.

The resistance movement in 1971 was in utter disarray. It had been crushed by Israel on the West Bank and by Hussein's army on the East Bank. The rebellious Gaza Strip, teeming with hapless refugees, had suffered the same death and destruction. In that year alone, nearly a thousand "terrorists" -- Israel's term for whoever dared challenge its rule -- were killed or captured under the heavy hand of General Ariel Sharon. Elite Israeli commando units were unleashed against the civilian population. There were prolonged curfews, demolition of homes, torture, summary executions, mass detention of families of wanted men, and the destruction of orchards, the only means of subsistence.

Desperate for a safe haven, survivors from all these battlefields regrouped in southeast Lebanon, only to be pursued there by punitive Israeli raids. Every man's hand was against them. No one, it seemed, was ready to accept the Palestinian resistance movement as a serious political force. Maddened by the killing of their fellows, hounded on every side, but also, it must be said, excited by the media attention the early hijackings had received, some fighters from all the various Palestinian factions turned in 1972 to "foreign operations" -- in other words, to terrorism. Their inability to hit the enemy on his home ground had convinced them that their only option was to seek targets abroad.


The dirty war of terror and counterterror between Israel and the Palestinians of 1972-73 was something of a new phenomenon, different in significant ways from the violence that preceded it and from the violence that was to follow. Before 1972, terrorist attacks on Israeli and foreign targets were the work not of Yasser Arafat's Fatah, which disapproved of such "adventurism," but of radical groups like George Habash's PFLP. Such, for example, was the PFLP attack on December 26, 1968, on an El Al Boeing at the Athens airport, in which one Israeli was killed. Characteristically, Israel responded two days later with a one-hour commando raid on the Beirut airport in which thirteen Lebanese civilian planes, more or less Lebanon's entire fleet, were destroyed.

And such again was the PFLP hijacking, on August 30, 1969, of a TWA Boeing on a flight from Rome to Tel Aviv and its diversion to Damascus. Two Israelis on board were quietly exchanged for two captured Syrian pilots, but Israel's response then took the familiar form of air raids, artillery barrages, and ground assaults against Arab and Palestinian targets. Reprisals became still more violent when Golda Meir took over as Israel's prime minister in March 1969, inaugurating a policy of "active self-defense," which meant seeking out and destroying Palestinians -- before or in case they attacked. Such state terror, aimed at liquidating Israel's enemies, was a good deal more destructive than the disastrous strategy of haphazard terror pursued by the guerrillas, although it did not always find its mark. In July 1970, Mossad agents fired rockets into the Beirut apartment of Wadi Haddad of the PFLP but failed to hit their quarry.

In 1972-73, there was a significant change of pattern when, under the banner of Black September, Fatah radicals joined with Wadi Haddad and others in a widespread terrorist campaign. Three distinct trends were discernible: Some of these militants wanted to kill Israelis; others wanted to put pressure on King Hussein to release the three thousand Palestinian prisoners held in his jails since September 1970 and allow the guerrillas back into Jordan; still others wanted to attack American targets, especially airlines and oil companies, to punish the U.S. for its support of Israel. In the dirty war that followed, both Israel and its opponents, abandoning all restraint, resorted repeatedly to murder.

Black September made a great impact on Abu Nidal. He admired its operations. But he was not part of it -- in fact, its angry young men ignored him. They did not want him to participate in their operations even though several of them were actually planned and launched from Baghdad, where he was based. He was already drinking heavily, seemed overly self- important, and they felt he might spoil any operation in which he took part. None of these avenging tiger cubs were later to join his organization. But their indirect influence on Abu Nidal was considerable. He resented being left out and was determined to force his way in. As a challenge of sorts, he threw himself into terrorism, as if to convince those Palestinians already engaged in it that he was stronger and more effective than they were. Undercover work, identifying the enemy's weak spots, and hitting him hard -- all these accorded with his temperament and fitted in with the philosophy he was then evolving.

But by 1973, after the murders and counter-murders of the War of the Spooks, Fatah and Israel were ready to conclude an unofficial truce. Fatah was now in a stronger position to regain control over undisciplined Palestinian fighters still thirsting for revenge, partly because Muslim opinion in Lebanon had rallied massively behind the resistance after an Israeli commando raid in central Beirut in which three top Fatah leaders were killed. As a result the Palestinian movement felt more secure in Lebanon. For another, the October War of 1973 had opened up prospects for a peaceful settlement, taking the sting out of Palestinian frustrations and making terror seem largely irrelevant.

It is often said that Black September was a secret arm of Yasser Arafat's Fatah. The truth is more complex. Some Fatah commanders approved of Wasfi al-Tal's killing, the incident that launched the violent movement. But Black September was never officially authorized by Fatah, nor was it a structured organization at Arafat's command. It was more a kind of mutiny within Fatah, a protest by disgruntled fighters at what they considered the blunders and passivity of their leaders.

Angry, vengeful guerrillas, graduates of the same camps, often friends or relatives bound together by common loyalties and common hatreds, were not easily reined in. To bring these mutineers under control, the Fatah leadership had to provide them with political cover. Within Fatah, Abu Iyad defended the young terrorists, and did so as well for international consumption. For example, he justified the attack on the Israeli athletes at Munich -- an operation that, perhaps more than any other, tarnished the Palestinians' reputation -- with the specious argument that Israel had taken the Palestinians' rightful place at the games. Because of such ill-conceived pronouncements he has been considered the mastermind behind Munich. Whether or not he was directly involved in planning the operation is still a matter of controversy, but as he disingenuously remarked to me in Tunis in the summer of 1990, "Defense lawyers are often called upon to defend causes they don't believe in!"

One device Fatah adopted to tame Abu Ali Iyad's tiger cubs, aged at the time between seventeen and twenty-four, was to marry them off. An Arabic proverb says that marriage makes a man both prudent and thrifty. One of Wasfi al-Tal's killers is now married and the father of seven children.


Meanwhile, in Baghdad Abu Nidal had become, despite his public row over the airwaves with his Fatah colleagues, very much a diplomat. As chief Fatah representative in Iraq in the early 1970s, he spent his days making contacts in the media, meeting Arab and foreign envoys, and improving his relations with the Iraqi authorities. The Iraqis thought he was good at his job -- no doubt because he defended their point of view. But on the quiet, he was up to something quite different: stitching together, with like-minded men in Iraq and other Arab countries, a secret group inside Fatah opposed to Yasser Arafat.

The immediate backdrop to his conspiracy was the Palestinians' catastrophic defeat in Jordan and the subsequent dirty war with Israel, which, as is clear from the list I drew up at the start, took a heavy toll of Palestinian lives. Within the resistance movement, radicals and moderates were quarreling over what had gone wrong and how to proceed. Abu Nidal had already emerged as a leading radical at Fatah's Third Congress, the first big Palestinian postmortem on events in Jordan, which was held late in 1971 at Hammuriya, in the leafy outskirts of Damascus, some six months before Black September first made itself known when it hijacked the Sabena flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv. What the Fatah leaders did not know at this time was that Abu Nidal had already moved beyond verbal criticism and was actually plotting against them. As the mainstream Palestinian leader, Arafat tried to steady his reeling followers at the congress by pleading for political realism and defending his cease-fire with King Hussein. It had been a clear mistake, he argued, for fringe groups like the PFLP to force a showdown with the king. Such a political miscalculation should not be allowed to recur, and now that the Palestinians had given vent to their rage by killing Wasfi al-Tal, any further violence would only play into the hands of their enemies.

Arafat's arguments were violently contested by a "leftist" group that included Abu Dawud, the intellectual Naji Allush, an admirer of third world revolutions -- and Abu Nidal, who had become their chief spokesman. Far from making it up with the king, they clamored for a campaign of sabotage and terror to bring him down. He was the enemy of the Palestinian people! A war of "continuous explosions" should be waged against him. Rather than the old bankrupt strategy of armed struggle by ill-trained, poorly armed guerrillas, the resistance should go underground and launch military operations from clandestine bases. Abu Nidal was the most vocal exponent of these ideas.

Fatah was used to being racked by fierce disputes over policy and also over what were known, in the jargon, as "organizational questions," in other words disputes over how power was to be exercised. The resistance movement was in a state of almost permanent dissidence. Military officers had mounted a number of minor mutinies against Arafat, while some political cadres, rebelling against their leader's "personal style," castigated his mistakes and fallibilities, his reluctance to consult, and his tight grip on the purse strings, one of the ways he has maintained his power over the Palestinian movement. As has already been suggested, Arafat's closest colleagues were not unhappy to hear these criticisms, because they felt that they served as a healthy brake on Arafat's natural authoritarianism. Abu Iyad, himself on the left of Fatah, had considerable sympathy for the rebels. As he told me, he was not much upset by Abu Nidal's diatribes at the congress because he still thought of him as a sort of wayward disciple whose career he had launched.

The radicals were united on two issues: First, they demanded more democracy within Fatah, an issue on which they had majority support; second, they pressed for violent action against King Hussein -- a policy that, after the disasters in Jordan, was rejected as "adventurist." Had they chosen to fight on the first issue, they might have won; but instead, they chose the second, allowing Arafat to steer the congress away from their incendiary views and gain the upper hand. It was the last Fatah congress Abu Nidal was to attend. But he had made his mark.

Shortly afterward, his radicalism and personal ambition were further stimulated when, as a Fatah representative, he led a three-man mission, which included his friend Abu Dawud, on a ten-day journey to China and North Korea, from March 28,1972, to April 8, 1972. They flew from Kuwait to Shanghai, where a private plane took them on to Beijing. But as they approached the Chinese capital, they ran into a storm. Temporarily unable to land, they circled the city to Abu Nidal's increasingly vocal alarm. Not knowing any English, he could not follow the pilot's explanation. "Why are we doing this?" he hollered. "Why aren't we landing?" Suffering what appeared to be an attack of hysteria, he found he could no longer move his legs. To calm him down, Abu Dawud tried to engage him in a game of chess, but as Abu Dawud told me later, Abu Nidal remained hysterical until the aircraft finally came down.

Cut off from the world and still in the throes of its "cultural revolution," China received the Arab delegation as if they were the leaders of the whole Palestinian movement. Abu Nidal was gratified and remained on excellent terms with the Chinese for the next decade. His fanatical nature found considerable affinity with Maoism. His quarrel with the Soviets may also have contributed to the warm welcome he received from the Chinese. Abu Nidal had come to dislike the Soviet diplomats he met in Baghdad, and they in turn found him too reckless for their taste. Their main quarrel was over the boundaries of a future Palestinian homeland: The Soviets backed the 1967 boundaries, whereas Abu Nidal dreamed of those of 1948, preaching the destruction of Israel and the recovery of the whole of Palestine.

As Abu Dawud told me, in discussions with the Chinese, Abu Nidal made it his ingratiating habit to open with a violent diatribe against the Russians, which finally caused Prime Minister Chou En-lai to react. "I don't think you can survive without Soviet help," he chided him. "They are an important force on the international scene, and you must deal with them. But try to avoid becoming a part of their regional strategy."

The Palestinian delegation posed for photographs with Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai before flying on to North Korea for talks, and more photographs, with Kim Il-Sung. Abu Nidal never returned either to China or North Korea, nor did he undergo training in either country, as is sometimes alleged. Still, the trip provided him with some new slogans and a heightened sense of his own importance.

As the head of Fatah in Iraq, Abu Nidal was officially on a par with Fatah's other representatives in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Libya, the main Arab centers of its activity. But following the expulsion of the guerrillas from Jordan, the Iraqi job had become somewhat more important than the others. In Baghdad, Abu Nidal had managed to procure Iraqi documents for thousands of exiled fighters and their families. Iraq was a thoroughfare to the Persian Gulf and the place where Palestinian volunteers from the Gulf came for training in camps put at their disposal by the Iraqi authorities. Arms were stored there. Donations flowed in from ordinary Iraqis. Militancy and political radicalism were in the air under the Ba'athist regime of President Hasan al-Bakr and his formidable deputy, Saddam Hussein. Inevitably, some of Iraq's considerable prestige in Arab affairs rubbed off on Fatah's chief representative in Baghdad.

But with Jordan now lost to them, how were the guerrillas to fight Israel? Many Palestinian fighters believed that they had been unjustly thrown out of Jordan and that King Hussein should be coerced into letting them back in. Many of them still dreamed of waging guerrilla warfare against the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and between 1971 and 1973, the Palestinians attempted repeatedly to placate King Hussein. They appealed to Arab intermediaries like King Faisal of Saudi Arabia to intercede for them, asking to be allowed back to fight Israel in full coordination with the king, if he so wished. But Hussein was not inclined to trust men who had very nearly overthrown him and who had killed his prime minister. Wanting safe and peaceful frontiers with Israel, Hussein firmly rejected their overtures.

Such was the background to Abu Dawud's ambitious plan of February 1973 to lead a sixteen-man hit team into Jordan. In later accounts, the target was said to be the American embassy, but at the time the real aim was to strike at the king, or at least to scare him into releasing the hundreds of Palestinians who had been picked up on the streets and in the camps in 1970-71 and who had been held in jail without trial ever since. Abu Dawud's operation deserves recounting in some detail because of its impact on Abu Nidal's career.

In East Germany, Abu Dawud had learned the trick of taking a car apart and concealing weapons in the cavities of the chassis. Several vehicles were thus loaded up and driven into Jordan by members of his team. Abu Dawud let his beard grow and, posing as a Saudi on holiday, crossed the frontier uneventfully, accompanied by his "wife." In fact she was the wife of one of his team members and had volunteered for the job. In Amman, he immediately contacted a Fatah sleeper, a certain Mustafa Jabr -- but unfortunately for Abu Dawud, Jabr had been "turned" by Jordanian intelligence.

"The moment I saw him," Abu Dawud told me later in Tunis, "I knew from the look in his eye that he was going to betray me. I took him by the collar and whispered, 'Look here, Mustafa, if you ever think of squealing, you're a dead man!'"

Sensing danger, Abu Dawud determined to strike within twenty-four hours. But Mustafa must have alerted the Jordanians first, because Abu Dawud was arrested on his way back from seeing him.

For four days Abu Dawud was beaten and questioned, but he gave nothing away. By coincidence, on the fourth day the Jordanians arrested a young man in an empty car whom they suspected of smuggling marijuana. He was a member of Abu Dawud's team and his car was laden with hidden weapons. The Jordanians decided to show Abu Dawud to this man to see if he recognized him. Abu Dawud was lying slumped on the floor, where he had fainted from pain.

"Do you know who this is?" they asked the young man. "Why yes," he replied. "That is Abu Dawud. I came here with him!"

They dragged Abu Dawud back to the interrogation room, determined to make him talk. He was beaten again, for six or seven hours a day, for an entire month. Meanwhile, from the boy's confession the Jordanians managed to round up all the members of the team, who had been waiting at various hotels for the signal to move. They lined them up and hauled Abu Dawud in front of them. His face was swollen and his arms and legs bruised and useless. He must have been pretty well unrecognizable.

Only one man knew where the weapons were hidden in the cars, and he cracked after two weeks of torture. At that point, the game was up. Abu Dawud and his team were all condemned to death. Twice he was dressed in the red death- row suit and taken down for execution, but each time it was deferred at the last minute.

Abu Dawud never let his captors know that Mustafa Jabr had betrayed him, and pretended not to know him at all. Later, in order to trap Mustafa, Abu Iyad sent him word from Egypt that he wanted to mount a really big operation in Jordan to secure Abu Dawud's release. The Jordanians could not resist the temptation of finding out what Abu Iyad had in mind, so they sent Mustafa Jabr to meet Abu Iyad in Cairo. He was seized there by Fatah and smuggled out to Libya, where he was imprisoned. Three years later, in 1976, on a plea from his old father, Jabr was released and on his return to Jordan was appointed director of cultural affairs at the ministry of information, a post he may still be holding.

As Abu Dawud told me, "I was myself released far sooner as a result of numerous appeals on my behalf. The Kuwaitis agreed to pay King Hussein $12 million to save my head, and the ruling Soviet troika of Brezhnev, Kosygin, and Podgorni sent Jordan a tough telegram. In 1973, the king knew that war in the Middle East was coming within a very few weeks and he didn't want to hold prisoner hundreds of Palestinians during a conflict which he hoped to stay out of. This was probably what got me out.

"On September 18, 1973, a few days before the outbreak of the October War, we were all released under a general amnesty. The king himself came to my prison cell and told me I was free."

Such was the immediate background to Abu Nidal's first act of terror.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:06 am

Chapter 5: Made in Baghdad

On September 5, 1973, just two weeks before Abu Dawud's release, five armed Palestinians seized the Saudi embassy in Paris. They took thirteen people hostage and threatened to blow up the building if Abu Dawud was not released from his Jordanian jail.

After lengthy negotiations, the guerrillas agreed to fly out to Kuwait on a Syrian Airways Caravelle, taking some of their hostages with them. More talks followed at a refueling stop in Cairo, and still more at the Kuwait airport, where the gunmen transferred to a Kuwait Airways Boeing and flew over Riyadh, the Saudi capital, threatening to throw their hostages out of the plane if their demand was not met. But when the Saudi authorities insisted that they could not be held responsible for King Hussein's policies, the gunmen eventually flew back to Kuwait, where, after further lengthy negotiations conducted by Ali Yassin, the PLO representative, they surrendered on September 8, thus ending the three- day drama.


This operation was Abu Nidal's first act of terror, planned and directed by him from Baghdad. My sources told me that the man in operational control was Samir Muhammad al-Abbasi (codenamed Amjad Ata), Abu Nidal's aide whom Jorde had caught sight of at the Libyan camp. Amjad Ata was married to one of Abu Nidal's nieces and was to become one of the leading killers in his organization. At the time of writing, he was living in Libya.

Abu Nidal was of course eager to secure the freedom of his friend and fellow radical Abu Dawud: On his release from jail shortly afterward, Abu Nidal offered him a job in the secret group he was then forming. But the larger aims of the Paris operation were more complex.

On September 5, the day of the attack on the Saudi embassy, fifty-six heads of state had assembled in Algiers for the Fourth Non-Aligned Conference, which was opened that day by the Algerian leader Houari Boumedienne, in the presence of UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. But Iraq's president, Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, jealous of Algeria for hosting it, disapproved of the Algiers conference. The Paris operation, which enraged both President Boumedienne and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, was an attempt by Iraq and Abu Nidal to torpedo the proceedings. One of the captured guerrillas later confessed to the Kuwaitis that his orders had been to shuttle the hostages back and forth as long as the Non-Aligned Conference lasted.

Yasser Arafat, who was also in Algiers for the gathering, was deeply embarrassed. He issued a statement condemning the assault as a "plot against the Palestine revolution" and vowed to punish the culprits. Fatah insiders knew that Abu Nidal was the agent and Iraq the sponsor.

A few days later, Abu Iyad and another Fatah leader, Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin), flew to Baghdad to have it out with the renegade -- but found they had to contend with Iraq as well. Abu Iyad told me that when Abu Mazin started to rebuke Abu Nidal for the Paris operation, an Iraqi official present at the meeting interrupted him brusquely. "Why are you attacking Abu Nidal?" he asked. "The operation was ours! We asked him to mount it for us."

"It was as blunt as that," Abu Iyad said. "Abu Mazin was so angry he got up and left the room. We all followed."

It was now clear to Arafat and his colleagues that their man in Baghdad had put himself wholly at Iraq's service.


So far, the ostensible reason for Abu Nidal's estrangement from Fatah was the dispute arising from the Jordanian debacle. But the October War of 1973 introduced an altogether more important subject of controversy. In the Arab world, the October War is still thought of as an Arab victory that erased the humiliation of 1967. Arabs prefer to remember the early successes, when Egypt and Syria caught Israel napping and stormed its defenses on the Suez and Golan fronts, rather than the later failures, when Israel regained the initiative. Having proved they could fight and having tasted even limited victory, many Arabs now felt that the time had come to end the conflict with Israel, which had absorbed their energies for over thirty years. The desire for peace was widespread and it involved Arafat's PLO. The despair that had produced the violence of Black September now gave way to optimism. Terrorism was out of fashion as Arafat and his lieutenants sought to muzzle the hotheads and prepare the PLO for a diplomatic role.

There were three distinct landmarks on the PLO's road from armed struggle to political action.

First, the Palestine National Council, meeting in Cairo in June-July 1974, adopted after much heated debate a ten-point political program that accepted the principle that the PLO should set up a "national authority" on any "liberated" territory. This vote by the parliament-in-exile is widely considered the first formal signal that the Palestinians were ready to give up their maximalist demands to retake Israel and make do with a "mini-state" in the West Bank and Gaza.

Second, at an Arab summit in Rabat, Morocco, on October 20, 1974, Yasser Arafat managed to wrest from the assembled Arab leaders, and especially from a reluctant King Hussein, an admission that the PLO would henceforth be the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." Not all Arab leaders were happy to give the PLO such exclusive authority, but they fell into line when they learned that a Palestinian hit team had arrived secretly in Morocco and was preparing to assassinate them all. In fact the operation was a bluff, dreamed up by Abu Iyad to put pressure on the assembled Arab leaders without doing them any physical harm. At the appropriate moment, Abu Iyad tipped off the Moroccan police and the team was rounded up, having served its purpose. The catchphrase "sole legitimate representative" on which Arafat insisted was intended to advance the PLO's claim to negotiate the recovery of the West Bank in place of King Hussein.

Third, fresh from this Arab success, Arafat addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 13, 1974, and won a standing ovation. Once again, he was signaling his readiness to negotiate a political settlement with Israel.

Several strands may be identified in Arafat's thinking at this time. He believed that after the October War, the United States genuinely wanted an evenhanded settlement in the region and that Henry Kissinger could deliver one. As we have seen, even before the war, he had sent Kissinger no fewer than four messages seeking a dialogue. Arafat now believed that with Israel overwhelmingly strong and the Arabs defeated and divided, guerrilla warfare could not possibly result in statehood. Armed struggle had brought victory to the Vietnamese and the Cubans, but their victories had to be set against a long list of costly failures by other revolutionary movements: the Kurds in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq; the Polisario in the Western Sahara; other insurgent groups in Thailand, Malaya, the Philippines, Burma, El Salvador, and Peru. No one at that time would have believed that by 1991 the Eritrean People's Liberation Front in Ethiopia would prevail after one of the longest struggles of all. It was difficult, Arafat argued to his close associates in 1974, to win against the formidable defenses of a state. Surely the time had come for the Palestinians to go for a political solution.

Non-Palestinians cannot easily comprehend how unwelcome this pragmatism was to the rank and file. Romantic and irresponsible rejectionism, the refusal to make concessions, the insistence on fighting when there is no chance of victory have a long ancestry in the Palestinian movement, as David Gilmour points out in Dispossessed, The Palestinian Ordeal from 1917 to 1980 (1980). Convinced of the justice of their cause, the Palestinians were rejectionists in 1917, in 1922, in 1936-39, in 1948 -- and with even greater conviction when they started their armed struggle, in 1965. How could any people be expected to surrender voluntarily the greater part of their country? Gilmour quotes a remark by the Irish nationalist leader Eamon de Valera: "The rightful owners of a country will never agree to partition." So whatever Arafat recommended, and whatever resolutions were passed by the Palestine National Council, a negotiated settlement with Israel offended those Palestinians who believed that only force could liberate Palestine and feared that political concessions would lead to a sellout. They were not yet ready to accept the unsatisfactory compromise of a mini-state.

The PFLP's George Habash, one of the most ardent advocates of continued armed struggle, broke with the PLO at this time and took the lead in setting up a "Front Rejecting Capitulationist Solutions," which came to be known simply as the Rejection Front. Formally launched at a conference in Baghdad in October 1974, with the backing of Iraq, Algeria, and South Yemen, it opposed all negotiations. The front provided an umbrella for those Palestinian factions that shared this view: the PFLP; the Syrian-backed breakaway group that its leader, Ahmad Jibril, named the PFLP-General Command; and Iraq's own creation, the Arab Liberation Front. Meanwhile, Wadi Haddad, leader of the PFLP's military wing, continued incorrigibly to mount terrorist operations, although by now his organization was so penetrated by half a dozen intelligence agencies that most of his plans were aborted. He eventually died, following a mysterious illness contracted in Baghdad. Some say he was given a poison pill supplied by another Arab government to make it seem that Iraq was to blame. Abu Iyad was particularly incensed by Wadi Haddad's continued hijackings. "Which madman," he would storm despairingly, "would want to trap the Palestine cause in an airplane? If the plane blows up, the Palestine cause might blow up with it!"

Abu Nidal was perhaps the most violent "rejectionist" on the Palestinian scene, but he never formally joined the Rejection Front, which may have been too overt for so passionate a convert to clandestine action. In any event, he was busy setting up his own secret organization, and in this he had the inestimable advantage of having become Iraq's favorite Palestinian protege.

From the start, Iraq's Ba'athist leaders set themselves up as the main champions of the Palestinian rejectionists. Far from the scene of the Arab-Israeli conflict, untroubled by fear of Israeli retaliation, and with no Palestinian refugee problem to cope with, Iraq could afford this grand gesture. There were also personal factors involved. The Iraqi president, Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, a simple soldier of nationalist convictions who was fond of declaring that his most cherished dream was to die fighting in Palestine, had an unbounded contempt for Yasser Arafat. The antipathy was mutual and dated back to an incident in early 1969, when Arafat (still only Fatah's official spokesman and not yet chairman of the PLO's Executive Committee) paid a visit to Baghdad accompanied by Abu Dawud. Their reckless driver crashed into a truck. Arafat's hand was broken and his ribs crushed, while Abu Dawud's face and eyes were badly hurt by flying glass. They were taken for treatment to a military hospital in Baghdad, where Bakr came to inquire after their health. After the customary exchange of civilities, a dispute broke out in the hospital room over the friendly relations -- too friendly, in Bakr's view -- that Fatah had entertained with the preceding Iraqi regime, overthrown a year earlier by Bakr and his Ba'ath party. Sharp words were exchanged -- and a lasting chill ensued, which was to have considerable political consequences.

Accordingly, by early 1974, when Fatah was considering its switch from guerrilla warfare to diplomacy in the wake of the October War, Iraq's Ba'athist leaders invited Arafat to visit Baghdad again. Men like Bakr and his powerful second-in- command, Saddam Hussein, considered the Palestinian cause inseparable from their party's historic mission: They could not tolerate an independent PLO that was not under their direction, an attitude not very different from that of Hafez al-Assad of Syria. Thus, Bakr and Saddam Hussein pressed Arafat to move his men to Iraq and reject all political compromise. If he did so, they promised, he would have Iraq's full backing! But Arafat refused their offer and, instead, went to Cairo to win support for his "moderate" ten-point program at the June meeting of the Palestine National Council. Iraq was furious and launched a propaganda campaign against Arafat.

Abu Nidal was the first to benefit from these developments. Though he was Fatah's man on the spot, he was a known opponent of Arafat. Iraq's instinct in the circumstances was to give him a secure geographical base and use him against the man they now saw as a traitor. Indeed, had it not been for Iraq's quarrel with Arafat, Abu Nidal might not have split from Fatah but might, at most, have led a strong opposition movement inside it, leaving the balance of power among the Palestinians to decide the issue in due course.

Abu Nidal also became the beneficiary of the endemic rivalry between Iraq and Syria, which dated back to the great Ba'ath party schism of 1966, which over the years had hardened into enmity between the two Ba'athist states. Seen from Iraq, Arafat's Fatah, which by 1972 had established itself in Lebanon, just across the Syrian frontier, was now in Syria's orbit. Syria had also created al-Sa'iqa (the Thunderbolt) as its own wholly controlled Palestinian organization. Iraq felt the need for a counterweight in the form of a Baghdad-based Palestinian group.

What choice did it have? A possible candidate was the PFLP, run by George Habash and his trigger-happy colleague Wadi Haddad, but these were prickly, strong-minded men who could not easily be controlled. Another possibility was the experienced officer Ahmad Jibril and his militarily effective PFLP-General Command, but having started life in the Syrian army, Jibril tilted naturally toward Damascus. Then there was Abu Nidal: ambitious, active, wanting power over others, a provocateur of the first order -- and in many ways already Iraq's man. He seemed ideally placed to oppose Arafat's errant leadership. Furthermore, he let the Iraqis know that many cadres in Fatah thought as he did: He meant, for example, such well-known men as Abu Dawud and Naji Allush and even his former mentor, Abu Iyad. Moreover, as a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, he was already some way up the Fatah ladder.

Arafat and his Fatah central committee were by now thoroughly outraged by the disloyalty of their man in Baghdad. Ever since 1971 there had been moves to sack him -- moves that Abu Iyad had repeatedly blocked, in the belief that Abu Nidal might still somehow be saved. But now a decision could no longer be deferred. In the early summer of 1974, it was decided to send Abu Mazin to Baghdad, accompanied by Abu Iyad and Abu Dawud, to inform Abu Nidal that he was being replaced.

Abu Iyad told me later that even at this eleventh hour, he wanted to make one last attempt to save Abu Nidal. Before the interview, he and Abu Dawud conferred secretly with Abu Nidal to urge him to plead with Abu Mazin not to expel him. They coached him in how to put his case. When the meeting took place, Abu Mazin gave Abu Nidal the dressing-down of his life. But in reply, Abu Nidal grossly overplayed his act. He was so abject and groveling that Abu Iyad had to leave the room in embarrassment. Abu Mazin guessed that Abu Iyad had schemed yet again to block Abu Nidal's expulsion.

"Abu Mazin and I were very close friends," Abu Iyad told me, "but it was about the tenth time that I had taken Abu Nidal's side against a central committee decision. Abu Mazin was very angry and uncomfortable and that evening had the first signs of the heart problem that was later to trouble him."

But Abu Iyad could no longer stem the tide. On July 26, 1974, the Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that Sabri al-Banna, "known by his alias of Abu Nidal," had been removed from his post as Fatah representative in Baghdad.


Even before the formal announcement, Abu Nidal sought revenge for his humiliation -- -and he did so by plotting Abu Mazin's assassination. The affair was both complicated and controversial, but it was to precipitate the final split.

In June 1974, Fatah intelligence came upon a letter written in Baghdad by a certain Mustafa Murad (code-named Abu Nizar) -- a close associate of Abu Nidal -- to two men in Damascus, instructing them to spy on Abu Mazin's movements in preparation for an attempt on his life. Thus forewarned, Fatah proceeded to round up Abu Nidal's known sympathizers among Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon; when Abu Nizar went to Damascus on a mission in July 1974, he was seized by Fatah and imprisoned in its jail at Hammuriyah, near Damascus.

Three months later, Abu Nizar was put on trial before a Fatah court. A gun, equipped with a silencer, which he confessed to having supplied, was submitted in evidence, together with sketch maps prepared by the conspirators showing the location of Abu Mazin's house. In early November, Abu Nizar was sentenced to eighteen months in jail, to be served at Hammuriyah. Abu Nidal, the alleged mastermind behind the attempted assassination, was sentenced to death in absentia.

The death sentence was confirmed at a meeting of Fatah's Revolutionary Council -- in the teeth of strenuous protests from Abu Dawud and Naji Allush, the radical journalist, who thus showed where their sympathies lay. Abu Mazin, the intended victim of the assassination attempt, left the meeting in anger. But still not giving up, Abu Dawud pleaded that Abu Nidal be given a last chance to put his case. It was decided to invite him to Beirut for questioning, with Abu Dawud personally vouching for his safety. Such was the incestuous relationship between these comrades and former comrades that the breach was even then still not final.

Abu Nidal was a very careful man. It was, therefore, with considerable hesitation that he traveled to Beirut, where Abu Dawud met him at the airport and took him to a safe house. Fearing a trap, he insisted throughout his visit that Abu Dawud never leave his side. To give Abu Nidal every chance to clear his name and return to the Fatah fold, Abu Iyad diplomatically wrote out the questions to be put to him -- and the answers expected from him. But this scheming came to nothing. Abu Nidal was no longer willing to humble himself. With Iraqi backing, he was beginning to feel both powerful and destructive. Angrily, he returned to Baghdad. Both sides had passed the point of no return.

It may be, as some Palestinian insiders suggest, that Abu Nidal never really intended to kill Abu Mazin but merely to frighten him; and that Fatah's death sentence, in turn, was more for public consumption than a genuine attempt to bring him to justice. In any event, no effort was made to carry it out. If Fatah had truly wanted to kill Abu Nidal, it could have sent someone to Baghdad to do the job.

But the psychological impact of the sentence on Abu Nidal was considerable. It had the effect of driving him out of Fatah altogether and of making him cling ever more closely to Iraq. As an acquaintance put it, "For Abu Nidal, self is everything. When he feels personally threatened, he goes berserk."


Abu Nidal's reaction to the death sentence was to denounce Arafat as a heretic whose willingness to accept a peaceful solution of the Palestine question was a betrayal of Fatah's original ideals. In support of his accusations, he published the resolutions of Fatah's Third Congress, which Arafat had forced through. So incensed had Abu Nidal been by these resolutions that his first thought had been to call his new movement Fatah: The Fourth Congress, to indicate his total rejection of everything the Third Congress had approved. But on reflection, in October 1974 he settled for Fatah: The Revolutionary Council: He was, after all, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, most of whose members were his friends and held hard-line views like his own: Arafat might control the top of the pyramid, but its base, as he believed, was solidly with him. He thought of himself as representing not just a splinter group but a majority within the Palestinian movement. And in true sectarian fashion, he took to referring sneeringly to Arafat's Fatah as Fatah: The Executive Committee. His was the legitimate face of Fatah, Arafat's the face of treachery!

Many Fatah members across the Arab world were attracted to Abu Nidal's stance and thought him a brave and principled politician who had stood up against a sellout. The fact that he was no outsider, that he had a background in Fatah, made cooperation with him easier.

His strongest card was that he was now a source of considerable patronage, because the Iraqis had turned over to him all Fatah's assets in Iraq. These included a training camp at Ramadi, west of Baghdad; a large farm where food for his men was grown; passports, a more precious commodity for stateless Palestinians than food; scholarships for study abroad; a radio station; a newspaper; and a stock of Chinese weapons worth $15 million, which Abu Dawud had ordered for his militia in Jordan but which never got further than Iraq when the September 1970 crisis erupted. Abu Nidal sold some of them off: It was the beginning of his fortune. He also became the recipient of the regular financial aid Iraq had given to Fatah: 50,000 Iraqi dinars a month, the equivalent at the time of about $150,000. In addition, as a special bonus to set himself up, Iraq gave him a lump sum of $3-5 million. All this represented real wealth and power. Within a very short time, Abu Nidal became "Mr. Palestine" in Iraq, dominating the entire Palestinian community there. Any Palestinian who needed anything at all from the Iraqi government had to go through him.

His main supporter in Iraq was President Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, the man from whom his power truly derived. They shared an anxiety about the "dangers of the peace process" and held Arafat in contempt. Abu Nidal cleverly suggested to Bakr that because of the position he had taken, he risked being killed by Fatah, so from the start he enjoyed Iraq's sympathy as well as the assiduous protection of its intelligence service, whose chief, Sa'dun Shakir, became his close friend.


An event then took place that was to have a profound effect on Abu Nidal, propelling him down the path of violence, or at least giving him a pretext for taking that road. One of his closest friends was killed by Fatah in Beirut.

Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur (code-named Abu Mahmud), a fervent nationalist and rising Fatah cadre, was one of the first and certainly one of the most important members of the secret group that Abu Nidal had formed inside Fatah in 1972-73. In the 1960s, he had worked for an oil company in Libya, where he made money and acquired management experience. He also struck up an acquaintance with the young Libyan officers who, under the leadership of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, seized power from the aged King Idris in September 1969. The following year, Fatah called him to Jordan to help manage its slim resources, and he proved to be good at it, dipping into his own pocket when the need arose.

But like many others, he was shattered by the slaughter of the Palestinians in Jordan in 1970. A dramatic change came over him. This once sober man joined Black September and became one of its most bloodthirsty members. He was determined, he declared, to cleanse Fatah of its "heretics" and wreak vengeance on all supporters of Israel. To Abu Iyad's alarm, as he later explained to me, Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur took to propounding a dangerous terrorist theory: The way to win support for the Palestinian cause was to send gunmen to shoot people at random in the streets of Europe and the United States. In court, the gunmen would declare that they had killed in order to bring an oppressed and persecuted people to the attention of the world.

In 1972, Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur broke away from Black September, moved to Lebanon and, while still linked to Abu Nidal, formed a fighting group of his own made up of men he was able to seduce away from Fatah. As he was popular in the refugee camps, he soon had a large body of followers and angered Fatah by mounting terrorist operations just when Fatah was trying to put terror behind it. One of his most notorious operations was an attack on December 17, 1973, at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, on a Pan Am Boeing 707 about to take off for Beirut and Tehran. Five fedayeen hurled incendiary bombs inside the aircraft, killing twenty-nine people, including Aramco employees and four senior Moroccan government officials who were on their way to Iran.

Then, in 1974, to Fatah's even greater alarm, word reached it that Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur and Abu Nidal were working more closely together and were considering merging their two organizations. The combination of Abu Nidal backed by Iraq and Abd al-Ghafur backed by Libya -- two crazy and destructive men, as Arafat believed at the time, in the pay of two extremist regimes -- represented an intolerable threat to the political course on which Arafat had embarked. Abd al-Ghafur had to be stopped, and Arafat's military chief, Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), gave orders for him to be killed. Fatah may also have felt the need to clip the wings of a rival organization that was becoming a significant force in Lebanon, an especially sensitive theater of operations for Fatah. So Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur was gunned down in the Ashrafiya district of Beirut in late 1974 by a certain Azmi al-Sughayyir, a Palestinian of murky background who had worked for the Israelis, then for the guerrillas. (He would eventually be killed in southern Lebanon, during Israel's invasion in 1982.)

Abd al-Ghafur's ideas did not die with him. One of his disciples, a Palestinian named Abu Mustafa Qaddura, took over his group and, with backing from both Libya and Abu Nidal, organized the hijack of a British Airways VC-10 at Dubai when it landed there on November 22, 1974, on a flight from London to Brunei. The four gunmen on board, who called themselves members of the Martyr Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur Squad, forced the plane to fly to Tunis, where one of their hostages, a German doctor, was shot and tossed out onto the tarmac. Their most pressing demand was for the release from Egyptian jails of the five comrades who had staged the attack on the Pan Am plane at Fiumicino in December 1973 and who were awaiting trial by the PLO.

President Sadat of Egypt appealed to Abu Iyad for help in negotiating with the gunmen and sent a plane to take him to Tunis. Abu Iyad recounted to me that when he first spoke to the gunmen from the control tower, they were violent and abusive, but he was gradually able to influence each one of them in turn, including their leader, who called himself Tony. They kept threatening to blow up the plane, but he persuaded them to release a few passengers at a time. "Let the passengers go, and then do what you like with the plane," he argued.

In the meantime, President Sadat agreed to release the five prisoners held in Egypt, who were flown to Tunis to join the gunmen on board the plane. Once the passengers had been freed and the gunmen, their comrades, and the crew were alone on board, Abu Iyad persuaded them to give themselves up in exchange for free passage to a country of their choice. When they chose Libya, Abu Iyad got President Bourguiba to agree to the transaction. He then contacted the head of Libyan intelligence at the time, Abd al-Mun'im al-Huni, and he too approved the plan. They agreed that on arrival in Tripoli, the gunmen would be handed over to the local PLO office.

But when Abu Iyad arrived in Tripoli a day later, he found that contrary to the agreement, the gunmen had been allowed to go on to Benghazi, where, in protest at the handling of the affair by the Tunisian government, they had actually been allowed to take over the Tunisian consulate. Qaddafi was clearly settling a few scores of his own -- against Tunisia. Abu Iyad thought the whole thing a scandal.

"I raised the matter with Qaddafi," he told me. "Why had he not honored our agreement to hand the gunmen over to the PLO? I had, after all, saved his reputation by resolving the crisis peacefully. Had it ended violently, his connection with the gunmen would have been made public!

"He pretended ignorance of the whole business, but asked me who on the Libyan side was responsible for the blunder. I replied that it was his own intelligence people, Sayyid Qaddaf al-Damm and Abdallah Hijazi. He summoned them and scolded them in a schoolboy manner, with lots of giggles. He said he wanted the hijackers handed over to me on the morrow. They laughed, nodded, and left.

"On my way out, I quizzed al-Huni, the Libyan intelligence head, about the colonel's manner. Was this how he usually behaved? Did he not have enough authority over those men to make them take him seriously? al-Huni turned to me: 'Don't be misled,' he said. 'Take it from me: He's a wolf in sheep's clothing.'

"It's a description of Qaddafi I have never forgotten," Abu Iyad said.

The incident illustrated the stress, embarrassment, and frantic maneuvers imposed upon Fatah and Arab regimes as they struggled to contain such terrorist operations. In turn, the operations themselves had, by this time, very little to do with defending the Palestinian cause and a great deal to do with squabbles between Arab states and among Palestinians themselves.

As Abu Iyad conceded to me, Fatah had made a terrible error in killing Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur. His assassination introduced violence into intra-Palestinian relations, which had so far been largely absent. The death of Abd al-Ghafur released a ferocious tide in Abu Nidal's nature and gave him an excuse for his own later murders of Palestinians.

Why did Fatah not rid itself of Abu Nidal as well? The answer must be that at this late stage, he was still being protected by Abu Iyad, as he himself told me:

"I used to believe there were two ways of dealing with him: One was to cut him down, as many wanted to do; the other was to win him over. In spite of everything, I still hoped to do so." He explained that Fatah could have killed Abu Nidal when he came to Lebanon in 1974, but they did not do it because at that time he was only calling for reforms. "If we were to kill everyone who called for reform of the PLO, we would have to slaughter thousands," he said with a laugh. "Anyway, we claimed that ours was a democratic movement, and this was a way of proving it."

Abu Iyad felt that Abu Nidal voiced significant criticisms of the PLO -- criticisms that in some ways he shared. "I wanted to let him loose on our movement so that he could act as a corrective to trends of which I disapproved," Abu Iyad said, despite Arafat's conviction that Abu Nidal was dangerous.

It was a view he came bitterly to regret, and one he would eventually pay for with his life.


Abu Nidal spent his first years in Iraq as head of his own organization in careful preparation for an international role. He set up an ultrasecret Military Committee and proceeded to equip it for "foreign work." From the start, he was more interested in such operations than in cross-border raids into Israel, the traditional expression of Palestinian militancy. Whether or not this was because he already had a link with the Mossad must be a matter of conjecture. It is a subject to which we will return in a later chapter, once his connections with Arab sponsors have been explored. Abu Nidal's argument at this time was that Iraq was a long way from Israel, and his enemy Yasser Arafat would never allow him a free hand in front-line areas. One of his earliest recruits, known as Basil (later to be a commander of Abu Nidal's forces in Lebanon), whom I interviewed in Tunis, recalls him saying in 1973 that "the battlefield on the borders of the enemy" was closed to him. The argument was spurious because he did in fact have men in Jordan and Lebanon who, like members of other groups, could have struck into Israel if he had instructed them to do so. But this was evidently not his first priority.

Instead, he concentrated on smuggling arms into European countries and concealing them there. In 1973-75, when security at airports and land borders was not as strict as it was to become, the clandestine movement of arms was still relatively easy. For this traffic, Abu Nidal used Iraqi diplomatic pouches, secret compartments in cars, and containers on ships sailing from Iraqi ports. In some cases, arms were bought locally from extremist groups, and suitable places to hide them abroad were located and mapped on land that was not going to be farmed or developed; woods were preferred. Weapons were stored either in small quantities, enough to arm one or two men, or in so-called strategic dumps, which could be drawn on several times and then hidden away or locked up for further use. Such larger dumps were placed in the custody of a "resident," usually someone married to a local girl or otherwise enjoying good cover. Great care was taken to protect the residents and to conceal any information that might link them to Abu Nidal's organization.

In those early days the main arms dumps were in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Italy, and France -- some of which are still there today and could in theory permit Abu Nidal to mount operations in Europe. According to Basil and other sources, Abu Nidal learned his terrorist techniques from Black September but also from Iranian revolutionaries who were then plotting to overthrow the shah, some of whom had trained with the Palestinians in Iraq.

At this stage Abu Nidal's Military Committee seemed a wholly Iraqi creation. He did Iraq's bidding and was rewarded with access to Iraqi funds, airlines, embassies, and diplomatic bags. His enemies were Iraq's enemies, his operations were dictated by Iraq, and his various institutions -- the Military Committee and other bodies dealing with finance, external relations, and internal organization -- seemed no more than extensions of Iraqi intelligence.

Yet Abu Nidal's vanity would not allow him completely to be anyone's agent. In his view, he had not been "recruited" by the Iraqis but rather had entered into a partnership with them, founded on his personal friendship with their leaders. They provided the logistics, he paid in "services rendered." As he confided to one of his associates, "When I take, I give." It was a principle that was to govern his relations with other sponsors over the years.

The attack on the Saudi Arabian embassy in Paris in September 1973 was Abu Nidal's first recorded operation and one clearly carried out on Iraq's behalf. In December of that year, he sent two Tunisian members of his still embryonic organization to disrupt the Geneva conference, stage-managed by Henry Kissinger after the October War. The plan was that they should invade the conference hall or gun down the delegates to indicate their rejection of any sort of peace settlement, to which both he and Iraq were virulently opposed. But his men never got a chance to act. The conference opened at the Palais des Nations on December 21, 1973, and, after ceremonial speeches, adjourned that same afternoon. Henry Kissinger had conceived it as a fig leaf to legitimize his secret objective of a bilateral deal between Egypt and Israel. It never became the forum, as many had hoped, for a wide-ranging multilateral negotiation to implement UN Security Council Resolution 242, which called on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories, in exchange for secure and recognized borders. Thus, Abu Nidal had to call off his operation and bring his men home.


By 1976 Abu Nidal's organization was ready for more ambitious operations. The Lebanese civil war had broken out, pitting Muslims of that country and their Palestinian allies against the once-dominant Maronite Christians. The Palestinian guerrilla commander Abu Dawud soon found himself in the thick of things. Although he was still in Fatah, he was also cooperating secretly with Abu Nidal. In early 1976 he brought about fifty of Abu Nidal's men into the port of Sidon, on the south coast of Lebanon, to fight under his command alongside other Palestinian troops in the commercial district of Beirut.

By the spring of 1976, the tide of war had turned against the Maronite Christians, who found themselves besieged in the mountains by a combined force of Palestinians and radical Muslims. Fearing an Israeli intervention to save the Maronites, President Assad of Syria sent his army into Lebanon in June 1976 to force the Palestinians to call off their offensive. But Arab opinion could not accept that an Arab nationalist regime like Syria's should turn its guns on Palestinians. The outcry against Assad was heard from one end of the Arab world to the other. Sadat broke off relations, while Iraq's Saddam Hussein sent troops to the Syrian border, calling Assad a madman whose ambition had immersed him in a bloodbath. (Just before Syrian troops marched in, Abu Dawud got Abu Nidal's men out; he knew the Syrians would give them no quarter.)

On Iraq's prompting, Abu Nidal then mounted a terrorist campaign against Syria code-named Black June -- the month in which Syrian forces entered Lebanon. In July 1976, he had bombs set off at the offices of Syrian Airlines in Kuwait and Rome, and two months later, on September 26, four Abu Nidal gunmen burst into the Semiramis Hotel in central Damascus and took ninety people hostage. Traveling on Iraqi passports, the team had smuggled its weapons into Syria from Europe, via Turkey. Syrian forces stormed the hotel, killing one gunman and four hostages and wounding thirty-four others. The next day, the three remaining gunmen were hanged in public.

In October, Abu Nidal mounted attacks on Syrian embassies in Islamabad and Rome, and in December on the Syrian embassy in Ankara and the Syrian legation in Istanbul. A weapon used in several of these incidents was the small Polish-made WZ-63 submachine gun, whose folding butt and large magazine made it a terrorist's favorite. Bombs placed in public trash cans in Damascus caused alarm and resulted in ugly casualties. One of Abu Nidal's men, Ali Zaidan, who had taken part in the two Rome operations of July and October, was arrested by the Italian police and would spend five years in an Italian jail. He is now a member of Abu Nidal's Revolutionary Council and one of his main killers.

Less than a year later, on October 25, 1977, Syria's then foreign minister, Abd al-Halim Khaddam, narrowly escaped death at the Abu Dhabi airport when a gunman opened fire on him. The bullet missed him but killed Saif al-Ghubash, the United Arab Emirates minister of state for foreign affairs, who was standing at his side. The planner of this operation, and of the attack on the Semiramis Hotel, in central Damascus, was Fu'ad al-Suffarini (code-named Umar Hamdi), a long- serving director of Abu Nidal's office in Baghdad and a member of his Military Committee. (An earlier attempt to kill Khaddam in Syria in December 1976, widely attributed to Abu Nidal, was in fact the work of the Muslim Brotherhood, then beginning a campaign to overthrow Assad's regime.)

With these anti-Syrian operations, Abu Nidal was cutting his teeth and making himself useful to the Iraqis. But he had yet to develop his own distinctive style. So far he had been busy building up his organization and acquiring weapons and funds. He claimed he wanted to wage war on "Zionism" and "imperialism," but his only targets so far had been Arab -- and were soon to be more specifically Palestinian.

Yet as he sank deeper into an underworld of violence, he told a friend of the damage to himself and to his family of the course he had chosen:

"In the 1970s, when we lived in Iraq," Abu Nidal said, "I enrolled my son Nidal at a school in Baghdad under a false name. One day he misbehaved in class, and the headmaster asked to see his father. He said the boy wouldn't be allowed back to school until the father had been to see him.

"Nidal didn't dare tell me about it. He knew I could not appear in public. So he asked the father of a friend of his to stand in for me. But it didn't work. The headmaster insisted on seeing me.

"One day Nidal came to me and said he wanted to give up school altogether! I soon learned why, and telephoned the headmaster to ask him to pay me a visit. I had to tell him who I was and confess that my son was registered under a false name.

"I'd caused shame and discomfort to my own son!"
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:08 am


Chapter 6: The Sponsors

For seventeen long years, from 1974 to 1991, Iraq, then Syria, and finally Libya gave Abu Nidal a home, logistical support, and that most precious gift of all -- security. Iraq's sponsorship lasted for over eight years, from 1974 to 1983; Syria's for six years, from 1981 to 1987; and Libya's continues (despite Colonel Qaddafi's denials) to this day.

There was a curious overlap in the early eighties, when Abu Nidal's organization, one of the most dangerous in the region, gradually transferred its operating base from Baghdad to Damascus, in effect evading the control of either sponsor. What made the situation still more strange was that except for some months in 1978-79, Iraq and Syria were deadly enemies, busily abusing and sabotaging each other, each claiming to be the fount of Ba'athist legitimacy and Arab nationalism.

But Abu Nidal has an outstanding talent for inserting himself into the narrow gap between contending parties. He thrives on Middle Eastern conflicts, not only between Israel and the Palestinians but between the Arab states and Fatah, between Iraq and Syria, between Libya and Egypt, between the Arabs and the West. He threatened the conservative states of the Gulf as well as European governments on both sides of the Iron Curtain, which often caved in to his blackmail to protect themselves from his terrorism. This was the shadowy, quarrelsome world he inhabited, the underbelly of politics. Because he was ubiquitous and violent, there were many attempts to penetrate his organization or simply to make contact with him, allowing him in return to extort what funds, facilities, or concessions he could get. He offered his sponsors valuable services but was never entirely their creature.

The Middle East is a place of almost perpetual conflict. Arabs and Israelis have waged great wars during just about every decade. Iraq and Iran engaged in a grinding eight-year struggle. The civil war in Lebanon lasted the best part of a generation and the war in the Sudan longer still. We are still living in the dark shadow of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War, which brought devastation to both Kuwait and Iraq. But another form of warfare, covert and subterranean, is as characteristic of the region. It is waged not by conventional armies but by secret services, by terrorists and irregulars. This conflict touches every state without exception, to the extent that Middle East politics is as much about this form of warfare as it is about the overt kind -- a fact that Abu Nidal has turned to his advantage, becoming a sort of nefarious spirit inhabiting the region's contradictions.


Abu Nidal first flourished under the harsh reign of the Ba'ath party in Iraq. The Ba'ath had seized power in Baghdad in February 1963, when it distinguished itself, with discreet American help, by the wholesale slaughter of members of the Iraqi Communist party, then the strongest in the region. As Marion and Peter Sluglett suggest in Iraq Since 1958 (1987), the CIA may have supplied the Ba'athists with lists of their Communist enemies. "It is certain," they write, "that some of the Ba'th leaders were in touch with American intelligence networks." When the rough and reckless Ba'athists had finished liquidating their enemies, they started quarreling among themselves, which allowed a cabal of nationalist army officers to overthrow them, in turn, in November 1963.

The party then went back underground, where it remained for the five years from 1963 to 1968. During this time it was purged and rebuilt by a young man of ruthless talents, then still in his late twenties, called Saddam Hussein. In July 1968, the party climbed back to power in a coup staged by one of its military members, General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, a well-known officer who had participated in the overthrow of the monarchy in 1968. Bakr had support in the officer corps, but his real underpinning came from Saddam's civilian wing of the Ba'ath.

For more than a decade, from 1968 to 1979, Bakr and Saddam Hussein, the soldier and the party apparatchik, ruled Iraq together, stamping out opposition, packing the army with their loyalists, controlling it with political commissars, and imposing Ba'athist rule in every corner of the country by means of a cruel and all-seeing security apparatus that was Saddam's own creation. From very early on, he was the regime's "strongman," with the title vice-chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council and with powers over everything and everyone.

Living in Iraq from 1970 onward, Abu Nidal had a ringside view of the growth of Ba'athist power and of the Iraqi state, funded by rising oil revenues after the 1972 nationalization of the Iraq Petroleum Company and the oil-price explosion the following year. Abu Nidal's support derived mainly from President Bakr rather than from Saddam Hussein. He was also close to Iraq's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, and to Sa'dun Shakir, Saddam's cousin, who was then director-general of intelligence. Bred in a new Iraqi tradition of ferocity, Shakir undoubtedly had a sinister influence over Abu Nidal. Saddam, however, tended to make light of Abu Nidal, perhaps recognizing in him a smooth operator like himself. Abu Nidal was extremely touchy and Saddam's slights were not forgotten, and the two men were not on easy terms.

The mid-to-late 1970s were the high noon of Abu Nidal's Iraqi period. At that time, Iraq was the Arab world's bully and mischief maker: It planted secret Ba'athist cells across the region to stir up revolution; cozied up to Moscow; and proclaimed the most extreme views on Arab socialism, Arab unity, and the Arab-Israeli dispute in an evident bid to claim the leadership of Arab radicalism from its principal rival, Syria. After the October War of 1973, Baghdad condemned Arafat's attempted moderation as treacherous and denounced Syria's 1974 disengagement agreement with Israel on the Golan Heights, together with Assad's intervention in Lebanon two years later. Abu Nidal was encouraged to unleash his terrorists against Syria and the PLO.

But in 1978-79, following a change in Iraq's political climate, Abu Nidal suddenly fell out of favor. The immediate occasion was the signing of the Camp David accords of September 1978, brokered by Jimmy Carter between Begin and Sadat. Saddam Hussein, who had not so far had a chance to cut much of a figure beyond Iraq's borders, seized on Sadat's "betrayal" to assert himself in Arab politics. He convened a summit in Baghdad that November to concert an Arab response to Egypt. He made it up with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, as well as with Syria, and sought to project a new image as an Arab and international statesman. A considerable obstacle to this program was his sponsorship of terrorism. Washington had long urged him to clean up his act. Thus, Abu Nidal's murderous outfit became an embarrassment to Saddam, and even on the purely Palestinian front, it was now more to his advantage to deal with Arafat, who was mainstream.

While the Baghdad summit was still in progress, Saddam called Arafat and Abu Iyad into his office in order to outline his new policy to them. Abu Iyad later gave me an account of what took place:

"What are our differences?" Saddam queried. "Are you still upset because we didn't intervene to help you in Jordan in 1970 [a reference to the inaction of Iraqi troops when the guerrillas were being slaughtered by King Hussein's army]? We've already criticized ourselves for that unfortunate episode," he said grandly, "and we consider it past history.

"Is it our support for Abu Nidal that angers you? I can tell you at once that we will sanction no further operations against you mounted from Baghdad. We will no longer take responsibility for his actions -- and we have told him so.

"But," he added with a dreadful smile, "don't expect me to hand him over to you!"

Once Saddam had edged out the ailing Bakr and assumed the presidency in 1979, Abu Nidal knew that his organization's days in Iraq were numbered. Not wishing to be the hostage of any one regime, he began making secret overtures to Syria and Libya. But just when he expected to be expelled from Baghdad, the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, in September 1980, gave him a reprieve. The war meant that Iraq needed international support more than ever, especially from the West and the rich Gulf states, and therefore ought to have gotten rid of Abu Nidal. But he was a valuable man for a regime at war to have in its service. The Iraqis needed weapons and intelligence. They needed an external arm, and Abu Nidal was ready to make himself useful. He offered to assassinate members of the Iraqi opposition abroad; he put himself forward as a covert channel of communication with Syria; internally, he kept an eye on potentially subversive enemies; and he involved himself as a middleman in the arms trade, from which he hoped to profit personally.

One of Abu Nidal's principal lieutenants at this time was Abd al-Rahman Isa, the defector I had hoped to interview in Algiers, but whose taped debriefing was made available to me by Abu Iyad. From these tapes I learned that Abu Nidal had in 1980 or 1981 promised the Iraqis that he could obtain T72 tanks from Poland, where he had good contacts: "Saddam Hussein considered this a tremendous service," Isa told Abu Iyad, "a service that in fact delayed our eviction from Baghdad by two to three years!" The Iraqis made a down payment of $11 million, which Abu Nidal placed in a private Swiss account. But then the Iraqis changed their minds. It was no longer tanks they wanted but artillery. Abu Nidal could not help there, but according to Isa, he never returned the money, which was another reason for his eventual departure from Baghdad.


During this same period, the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Abu Nidal was struggling to hang on in Iraq, there arose a crisis inside his organization. He was to come out of it harsher, more secretive, and still more violent. The turmoil started in Lebanon in the wake of Operation Litani, Israel's invasion of March 1978.

Israel announced that its invasion of Lebanon was a response to a Palestinian attack that month on its Mediterranean coast, when a small force of guerrillas landed from two rubber dinghies and hijacked two civilian buses. In the shootout, nine guerrillas and thirty-seven Israelis were killed. But in scope and destructiveness, the Israeli invasion dwarfed the incident that had provoked it. Israel occupied the whole of South Lebanon up to the Litani River, sending a panic-stricken population fleeing northward toward Beirut. Some two thousand Lebanese and Palestinians were killed and an estimated two hundred thousand displaced from their homes.

Angry at Israel's disproportionate violence, President Jimmy Carter told Menachem Begin to pull his troops out and lent American backing to UN Security Council Resolution 425, which called for a cease-fire and put a UN buffer force, baptized UNIFIL, between Israel and the PLO. The Israelis left three months later, but only after creating a buffer zone of their own inside Lebanon under a local Christian proxy, Major Sa'd Haddad.

The decision to accept the cease-fire with Israel split Fatah's high command. Arafat agreed to it after discussions with the UN secretary-general, Kurt Waldheim. But more militant members of the movement, including Abu Iyad, were determined to harass Israel's invading army. Abu Dawud, an ever willing firebrand, was ordered to assemble some men and send raiding parties against Israeli positions on the southern bank of the Litani. Looking for men to swell his force, Abu Dawud contacted Abu Nidal in Iraq, who supplied travel documents, tickets, and money for a Baghdad contingent some 150 strong. From his own stores in Beirut, Abu Dawud drew uniforms and weapons for the newcomers and sent them south. The incident illustrated Abu Dawud's ideological ambivalence: He was a prominent Fatah militia commander, yet he was also on the fringe of Abu Nidal's underground.

When Arafat heard what had happened, he interpreted it as a huge conspiracy against himself. Not only was his authority being flouted over the cease-fire, but he faced, or so he believed, a mass penetration of Fatah's ranks by Abu Nidal. His military commander, Abu Jihad, was instructed to arrest the "infiltrators." At this crucial moment, Abu Dawud was taken ill with food poisoning and had to be hospitalized. In his absence, Fatah disarmed and interned Abu Nidal's men. It was not an entirely straightforward task. Skirmishing broke out at several camps and there were casualties on both sides. At one point Arafat's loyalists came to suspect, with good reason, that Abu Iyad was siding with Abu Dawud and very nearly turned their guns on his men in Beirut. An intra-Palestinian bloodbath was narrowly averted.

After a long and stormy confrontation, Arafat and Abu Iyad made it up, and Abu Iyad went to interrogate the arrested men one by one: Some he won over to Fatah, but a good number were jailed. When he heard the news, Abu Nidal in Baghdad went wild with rage. He had lent 150 of his best fighters to Abu Dawud and now held him responsible for what had happened to them. He declared that his "martyrs" had been punished for refusing to follow Arafat's path of surrender to Israel, and he vowed to avenge them.

Suspicious as ever, he smelled a plot. Why had Abu Dawud asked him to send men to Lebanon? Was it a trap? Was Abu Dawud two-timing him with Abu Iyad? To put him to the test, he proposed a characteristically byzantine plan: He would lend Abu Dawud one of his men as a bodyguard for a few weeks -- long enough for Abu Iyad, a frequent visitor at Abu Dawud's house, to get used to seeing him around. Then one day, on a prearranged signal, this man would kill Abu Iyad, and Abu Dawud would at once gun down the assassin and so destroy all evidence of the conspiracy. (It was, as has been seen, by a similarly devious scheme that Abu Iyad eventually met his death in January 1991.)

Abu Dawud indignantly rejected the plan. It was cowardly and immoral. But Abu Nidal took his refusal to cooperate as confirmation that Abu Dawud had deliberately led his men into a trap. In turn, when Abu Iyad heard of the proposed conspiracy against himself, it was enough to arouse his own doubts about Abu Dawud's ultimate loyalty. Of such tortuous stuff are Palestinian resistance relationships made!

As I learned, Abu Nidal and Abu Iyad then indulged in tit-for-tat assassination attempts against each other. In April 1980, a bomb was thrown at a car in which Abu Iyad was thought to be traveling in Belgrade. When that attempt failed, Abu Nidal sent three assassins to kill Abu Iyad in Beirut. Two of them, armed with rifles, waited on the roof of a building opposite his office for a signal from a third in the street below to open fire. This third man, a youth named Nabil, was spotted at his lookout post in a barber's shop near Abu Iyad's office: The barber was in Abu Iyad's pay. When arrested by Abu Iyad's security men, he was found to be carrying a pistol. He was brought before Abu Iyad, who dismissed his guards and sat down alone with him.

"You really want to kill me?" he asked.

"Yes," the youth replied.


"Because you are a traitor! You are part of the leadership that has betrayed us." Nabil spat out the familiar line with which Abu Nidal brainwashed his members.

Abu Iyad put his loaded pistol on the table in front of Nabil.

"If you're convinced I should die, then shoot me."

Nabil pushed the gun away and broke down. He was a confused young man whose certainties crumbled when he found himself face to face with his intended victim. After a while, he gave away his accomplices, who in turn revealed the addresses of Abu Nidal's safe houses in Beirut and the names of the men who ran them. The PLO seized the buildings and arrested the members. To Abu Nidal's fury, about $1 million worth of property fell into PLO hands.

Determined to have done with the threat from Abu Nidal, Abu Iyad then sent a twenty-five-man team to kill him in Baghdad. Machine guns, hand grenades, and wireless communication equipment were smuggled in. After monitoring Abu Nidal's movements for several weeks, the team decided to ambush his car on a bridge over the Tigris River, which he crossed almost daily. However, a few days before the planned attack, Iraqi intelligence spotted live members of the team behaving suspiciously on the bridge. They were followed to their lodgings and arrested. The others scattered and the operation was called off. The five were condemned to death, but sentence was never carried out. Some years later, Abu Iyad managed to have them freed. "Two of them are now my bodyguards," he said with a smile as he told me the story. "You might have seen them as you came in."

By this time, the once friendly relations between Abu Iyad and Abu Nidal had turned to pure hatred. For years thereafter, Abu Nidal ran a column in his magazine in which Abu Iyad was always referred to as "the son of the Jewess."


In mid-1979, at the height of his murderous feud with Abu Iyad, Abu Nidal was struck down by a heart attack and had to be rushed to Sweden for surgery. The Iraqis generously paid the bills. To this day, when seeking to win sympathy, Abu Nidal is liable to unbutton his shirt and display his scars.

While he was convalescing, he handed over command of his organization to Naji Allush, a shy, plumpish, sweet-toothed intellectual of Christian parentage, normally resident in Beirut, who had joined the organization some eighteen months earlier with the high-sounding but empty title of secretary-general. Allush was a radical member of Fatah and the head of the General Union of Palestinian Writers. In Arab circles, he was known as a left-wing thinker and publicist who preached that the Palestinians should model their struggle on the revolutionary experiences of Cuba and Vietnam. Sharing with his friend Abu Dawud a gut dislike for compromise and an enthusiasm for armed struggle, he had been attracted by Abu Nidal's criticism of Arafat.

However, Allush's real ambitions lay in Lebanon, where he dreamed of founding a press, a newspaper, even in time a political movement. Believing that he could do so with Abu Nidal's backing, he joined him. Abu Nidal, too, wanted to establish a clandestine presence in Lebanon and thought that Allush could provide him with the cover he needed. He may also have liked the thought of having an in-house ideologue in his employ. Like many self-taught people, he had an exaggerated respect for intellectuals. So Allush became the organization's figurehead. In practice he had no authority whatsoever -- no access to the organization's funds or to its weapons, still less to its ultrasecret Military Committee, which was responsible for foreign operations. All these remained firmly in Abu Nidal's hands.

When Abu Nidal fell ill, Allush moved from Beirut to Baghdad, expecting to take command. But this only sharpened the contradictions between him and the rest of the shadowy outfit. From his sickbed, Abu Nidal continued to issue a torrent of peremptory memos and instructions -- including one abruptly sacking two of his most dedicated followers, who were the bedrock of his movement, one a chemist called Imad Malhas (code-named Umar Fahmi), the other an accountant, Salah Isa (code-named Faraj). Suspecting them of disloyalty, Abu Nidal insisted they not only be dismissed from the organization but expelled from Iraq.

These orders appear to have greatly exasperated Allush. He disliked Abu Nidal's dictatorial ways, which left him no meaningful role to play. In spite of his title, he had never felt in charge. He shuddered at the organization's practices, its arrests, interrogations, and torture, which he now heard more about. Above all, he thought it wrong to murder Palestinians simply because one disagreed with them politically. His grievances had been building up for some time, but now came explosively to a head when he decided to mount a coup d'etat.

But being neither cunning nor assertive, Allush missed his chance. Instead of expelling Abu Nidal and boldly taking over the organization, a move that in the absence of the chief had a good chance of success, Allush decided instead to break away altogether. Taking a handful of top people with him, he founded a new organization, called the Popular Arab Movement. Within a year or two, it had withered into insignificance. He had in effect surrendered to Abu Nidal what was left of the organization. Most members further down the hierarchy were barely aware of the ructions at the top: Allush was a remote figure; Abu Nidal was the leader from whom they got daily instructions. They stayed put. A few of the more sophisticated cadres, including some student members in Europe, drifted to Allush's side, but where and when he could, Abu Nidal exacted revenge. His representative in Spain, Nabil Aranki, was killed on March 1, 1982, for having sided with Allush.

An internal negotiating committee tried at the start to patch things up between Allush and Abu Nidal, but the latter was unforgiving. He launched a blistering attack on Allush, accusing him of stealing arms, of embezzling $400,000, of being a Vatican spy -- for it was one of Abu Nidal's enduring obsessions that a dangerous papist conspiracy was at work in the region and in the Palestinian movement in particular.

Before this crisis, Abu Nidal had not been a wholly clandestine figure. In addition to being the boss of a secret outfit, he was also something of a diplomat and politician, receiving visitors at his house and dealing with people face-to-face. But after his heart attack and the Allush split, he became a recluse. When his doctors recommended that he take a glass of whiskey in the evenings, he started doubling the dose, and then doubling it again, until whiskey became an addiction, no doubt contributing to his suspicious and vengeful inclinations. He closed his door and tightened his security. His organization became more difficult to penetrate and his operations harder to monitor -- as Fatah and his other enemies, including Western intelligence agencies, discovered to their chagrin. As a result of these upsets, 1979 was a relatively inactive year for him.

Abu Nidal was shaken by Naji Allush's split, but he recovered quickly. After all, he still controlled the money and the arms. His Military Committee was watertight, its secrets safe. Having lost some old-guard radicals, he took the opportunity of replacing them with men he could wholly control, small fry with little political experience whom he turned into killers and fanatics. One way or another, he was able to contain the Allush upheaval and stabilize his organization.


After his heart operation in 1979, Abu Nidal could no longer bear the fierce summer heat of Baghdad and took to spending several months a year in Poland, where he moved his family into a large villa some sixty kilometers outside Warsaw. He did not speak a word of Polish, or indeed of any other foreign language, but his children went to Polish schools and his daughter, Badia, acquired fluency in the language. He settled in Poland more or less permanently between 1981 and 1984, only rarely visiting the Arab world and communicating with his colleagues by courier. It was a period of convalescence and retrenchment.

Calling himself Dr. Sa'id, Abu Nidal posed as an international businessman, and for the first year of his stay the Polish authorities did not know who he was. His cover was a Warsaw-based company called SAS, which had branches in East Berlin and London and through which he traded with Polish state companies. One deal the company made was to purchase four thousand Scorpion submachine guns. Desperate for foreign exchange, the Poles chose not to inquire too closely about the destination of the weapons.

Abu Nidal's relationship with Poland dated back to contacts he had made with the Polish embassy in Baghdad in 1974. As his quarrel with Fatah deepened, so he used bribes and the arms trade to strengthen his ties with Eastern Europe. For a while, Faraj (the accountant he dismissed in 1979) was in charge of relations with Poland, distributing gifts and commissions to officials, some of them in cash on a monthly basis. In the late 1970s, Abu Nidal deposited $10 million in a Polish bank, greatly improving his status in that country.

He had settled in Poland in 1981 because he no longer felt safe in Iraq. The Iraqi authorities had signaled their changing attitude toward him in a number of unfriendly moves. They had informed him that from January 1, 1981, they would no longer issue Iraqi passports to his members, with the result that some 120 men whose passports had expired found themselves in difficulty. At the same time, Iraqi intelligence started monitoring conversations at Abu Nidal's Baghdad offices, forcing him and his colleagues to go to the Ramadi training camp, outside Baghdad, when they wished to escape this irksome surveillance. It was a considerable inconvenience.

It was very probably these developments that, early in 1981, caused Abu Nidal to instruct his close aide Abd al-Rahman Isa to sound out the Syrians about the possibility of a move to Damascus. Between January and May 1981, Isa went five times to Damascus at the head of a small delegation for discreet talks with General Ali Duba, head of military intelligence; General Muhammad al-Khuly, head of air force intelligence; and Foreign Minister Abd al-Halim Khaddam. The Syrians wanted a detailed explanation of Abu Nidal's anti-Syrian operations, including the attempt on Khaddam's life. Syria was holding half a dozen of his members in jail, on suspicion of having been involved in sabotage in Damascus in the 1970s. For his part, Abd al-Rahman Isa took the Syrians to task for their intervention against the Palestinians in Lebanon and for standing by while Maronite militias besieged the Palestinian camp of Tal al-Za'tar and then massacred many of its inhabitants. But finally it was agreed to let the future be a test of their good intentions toward each other. More immediate interests were involved.

Abu Nidal needed a new sponsor and hoped to develop with Syria the same intimate relationship he had once enjoyed with Iraq. He instructed Isa to ask permission to open offices in Damascus. Syria, for its part, had two main objectives in dealing with Abu Nidal: First, it saw him as a potential ally in the bitter war it was then waging against the Muslim Brotherhood -- a war of militant Islamic terror and Ba'athist counterterror that had developed into the gravest challenge Assad's regime had yet faced. Terrorists of the Muslim Brotherhood had started their campaign of bombings, assassinations, and attempted insurrection in Syria in 1977 and were to pursue it ruthlessly until 1982, when, in a gory finale, the regime rooted them out and crushed them, together with thousands of innocent civilians, in the central Syrian city of Hama, which the rebels had made their stronghold.

In early 1981, when Abd al-Rahman Isa made his approach to Syria, the regime's war against its internal Islamic enemies was at its peak, and Syria's relations with its neighbors Jordan and Iraq, which were known to be providing the Muslim Brotherhood with arms, funds, training, and sanctuary, were at an all-time low. Abu Nidal seemed well placed to supply intelligence about both the Muslim activists and their backers in Amman and Baghdad, as well as to strike at their leaders, some of whom were operating from Europe. Abu Nidal had learned a good deal about the Muslim Brotherhood in Baghdad and had even trained some of their men at his base at Hit, 300 kilometers north of Baghdad. All this information he was now proposing to trade with the Syrians.

Second, Syria saw Abu Nidal as a useful instrument with which to deter King Hussein of Jordan and Yasser Arafat from private dealings with Israel. Assad had for years been sparring with the two men on this issue. He feared that if Jordan and the PLO negotiated a separate peace with Israel, Syria would be isolated and militarily at Israel's mercy. Assad believed fervently that the only peace with Israel worth having was a comprehensive one, in which Israel withdrew from all the Arab territories it had seized in 1967, and that the only way to make Israel come to the negotiating table was for the Palestinians, Jordan, and Lebanon to fall in behind Syria and confront Israel as a united bloc. Assad felt that recruiting a notorious hit man like Abu Nidal was a way of putting pressure on both the PLO leader and the Jordanian monarch to accept Syrian leadership on these issues.

But the Syrians were far more cautious than the Iraqis in their dealings with Abu Nidal. Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr had embraced him, set him up in business, and given him access to Iraqi facilities, whereas Assad refused to meet him, and he insisted that the relationship be kept within strict intelligence bounds and be reviewed at intervals. In the meantime, Abu Nidal's organization was to be allowed no overt political activity and no training camp. The link with Abu Nidal was to be maintained by Muhammad al-Khuly's air force intelligence rather than by Ali Duba's military intelligence, which handled relations with all other Palestinian groups. Assad had not been impressed by ingratiating letters Abu Nidal had sent him, in which he reminded the Syrian leader that his own mother had been an Alawite, a member of Assad's own sect, and that he should therefore be considered not just an ally but a kinsman.

On his fourth visit to Damascus, Abd al-Rahman Isa presented the Syrians with a working paper of a page and a half, signed by Abu Nidal, which set out the main lines of their prospective understanding. The Syrians promised to respond. A month later, on Isa's fifth visit, in the spring of 1981, he and his delegation were summoned to General Khuly's office, where, as Isa later told Abu Iyad, they were warmly received. "Our leadership has decided that Syria should be your country, so welcome to it!" Khuly declared. "Move here as and when you please. But I would suggest that at the start, your presence should be kept secret. Let us hope that the relationship between us will go from strength to strength."

In this friendly climate, Abu Nidal paid his first visit to Syria on June 11, 1981, and, to his considerable satisfaction, was met by General Khuly on the Iraqi-Syrian border and escorted to Damascus for a five-day visit. Abu Nidal was now officially under Syrian auspices. Isa was left to search for suitable premises and appealed to Abu Nidal for the money to buy a five-story building in the Sha'ian district of Damascus. Isa moved into a small room on the top floor with his wife and children and for several months shared the rest of the building with the organization's members, until General Khuly found them an apartment.

Soon Isa was given permission to set up a radio link with headquarters in Baghdad, and the Syrians also helped him monitor Fatah's radio communications. Members of the organization were allowed to carry light weapons for purposes of self-defense. More buildings and vehicles were acquired and more cadres drafted in. There was a lot to do: internal administration; contacts with Arab and foreign embassies; spreading the word in the Palestinian camps; liaising with the organization's members in Lebanon and Jordan; and of course, starting up intelligence work. A branch office was opened in Der'a, on the Syrian-Jordanian frontier, from which to run agents and smuggle weapons into Jordan. A group of very young recruits, aged fifteen to seventeen, was sent to Iraq for training. In November 1981, the organization opened a real estate agency in Damascus, as a cover for acquiring suitable apartments and offices, and in December it bought two heavy trucks to work the Baghdad-Damascus road and a refrigerated vehicle to work the Amman-Damascus road, commercial investments that could, when needed, be put to other uses. By the end of 1981, Abu Nidal had some 120 full-time workers in Syria and Lebanon.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

Postby admin » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:08 am



Although the Iraqis did not like Abu Nidal's growing involvement with Syria, their own relationship with him dragged on until 1983. The last straw was the murderous operations he mounted for purposes of extortion and blackmail against both the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. The Emirates were one of Iraq's paymasters in the Iraq-Iran war, while Jordan's port of Aqaba had become its lifeline to the world. Iraq came under great pressure to have done with Abu Nidal once and for all.

On November 4,1983, Abu Nidal (then on a brief visit to Iraq from Poland) and two of his top officials were summoned at short notice to a meeting with Tariq Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister. Abd al-Rahman Isa, Abu Nidal's intelligence chief, witnessed the scene and related it later to Abu Iyad in his taped debriefing. Aziz was unusually brusque with them. "Our leadership," he declared, "has been discussing your presence here. President Saddam has come to the conclusion that you have become a dangerous burden to us. You have not kept to our agreements. At a time when we are engaged in a national battle, you have attacked our allies. Your organization has just one week from today to clear out." Then, turning to Abu Nidal and rudely jabbing a finger at him, he said: "As for you, you are to leave Iraq the minute you step out of this office!"

The humiliation of this dismissal enraged Abu Nidal. Given to fanatical prejudice, he worked himself up into a frenzy of hatred against Christian-born Tariq Aziz, whom thereafter in his publications he regularly accused of being in league with the pope to destroy the Arabs. Abu Nidal had actually been expecting the eviction for months, and he had deliberately stayed abroad for extended periods so as not to be in Baghdad when word of it came. But the Iraqis had cunningly waited for his return, to serve the notice on him in person. Apart from relishing his humiliation, they might perhaps also have feared that had he been absent from Baghdad at that time, he might have ordered his men to put up a fight before leaving. The Iraqis knew that he was perfectly capable of sacrificing his members so long as he himself was safe.

In the district around the Ramadi training camp, Abu Nidal's organization had made many Iraqi friends, largely by providing local services such as improving the water and electricity supply. On feast days, as many as twelve thousand people might attend celebrations at the camp. That is why the Iraqis feared that if it came to a confrontation, some of these could have been recruited and armed. While the war with Iran was raging, even a small internal uprising could have done the regime great harm.

The organization's departure was soon complete. Furniture from the various houses and offices was sold off. Half the weapons from the training camp were trucked to Syria for storage and the rest given to Iraq as a contribution to its war effort. The Iraqis allowed Abu Nidal to keep a small office, manned by two lowly cadres, to handle matters concerning members held prisoner in Iraq and families of men who had died there while in the organization's service.

On being thrown out, Abu Nidal was bold enough to complain that Iraq owed him $50 million in compensation for the properties he was giving up, although all of them had in fact been bought with Iraqi money. In numerous communiques, from 1983 to 1987, he kept up a steady volley of invective against Baghdad on account of the money he claimed it "owed" him. It was true that he had greatly improved a large tract of land at Hit, in the north, which the Iraqis had given him. "It was," one of his group's members remarked, "just about the best developed piece of land in that whole country!" It was unfortunate, however, that when the Iraqis recovered it, they found, as well as improvements, twenty-six corpses buried under the trees, the grisly remains of those members he had murdered.


The expulsion from Iraq caused Abu Nidal's organization to focus its attention and its hopes on Syria. Members poured into Syria, some with the permission of air force intelligence, most of them incognito, posing as ordinary Arabs who wished to reside there. Members who, in the years of tension with Iraq, had dispersed to Eastern Europe now set up house with their families in Damascus.

At first, the Syrians decided that the organization could rent only a limited number of buildings, but such restrictions soon went by the wayside. Abu Nidal's tactic was to acquire apartments as private residences and then turn them into offices. It was all done secretively. No sign was put up or guard posted at the door. Eventually, he began to purchase houses and flats, often registering them in the names of his members' wives. Some forty offices and about a hundred apartments were secured in this way, as well as a number of outlying farms. Perhaps because of his upbringing as the son of a Jaffa orange grower, Abu Nidal preferred country properties. Though Syrian security had monitored some of these activities, it did not grasp their scale.

The organization's main headquarters, in the Sha'lan district of Damascus, was expanded to house a prison, a technical unit responsible for forging passports and other documents, and the offices of the Intelligence Directorate, where weapons were hidden away in cavities in the walls or under the floors. Closed-circuit television provided a permanent watch of the surrounding streets. In addition, a press was bought on which to print pamphlets and magazines; a travel agency, secretly owned, booked flights for members and issued air tickets; an estate agency looked after Abu Nidal's expanding real estate interests; and a news agency, called Dar Sabra, served as a front for intelligence gathering. But at this stage, the Syrians did not permit the organization to open a training camp, nor were they forthcoming with weapons and military stores. (This contrasted with their treatment of other Palestinian factions, notably Ahmad Jibril's PFLP-General Command, which was allowed to build up a considerable military establishment.) The Syrians did not provide Abu Nidal with funds, either. If anything it was really the other way around: To ease his entry into Syria, Abu Nidal arranged for well-placed Syrian officers and officials to be given gifts of cars and fancy guns and to be lavishly entertained at the best hotels. During the time Abu Nidal was living in Poland, this expansion into Syrian life was directed by Abd al-Rahman Isa, the organization's head of intelligence.

As we have seen, Syria was mainly interested in using Abu Nidal internally against the Muslim Brotherhood and externally against King Hussein and Yasser Arafat, whose initiatives on the so-called peace front made Assad nervous. But by the spring of 1982 the Muslim Brotherhood had been defeated and Abu Nidal's services against it were no longer required. Jordan's King Hussein had become the main target.

With Syrian encouragement, Abu Nidal was to wage a terrorist war against Jordan for nearly two years, from October 1983 to the summer of 1985. It was to be the only substantial service he rendered the Syrians.


There were several strands to the quarrel between President Assad and King Hussein, but two deserve special mention. Assad had been angered by the support -- in the shape of funds, training facilities, and safe haven -- that Jordan had given terrorists of the Muslim Brotherhood in their war against Damascus from 1977 to 1982. However, by 1983-85, his main subject of disagreement with Hussein was over strategy vis-a-vis Israel, and in particular a dispute over how to recover the Arab territories Israel had conquered in 1967. King Hussein thought that he could win at least some of them back through negotiations with Israel, in which he would represent the Palestinians as well as himself. Assad's view was that only a solid Arab front, which included Syria, could have any chance of making Israel yield. If Hussein ventured alone into negotiations, Jordan would be gobbled up and the whole Arab camp considerably weakened.

This particular argument had a long history. Assad had fought the 1973 October War together with Sadat in the hope of loosening Israel's hold over the occupied territories and forcing it to the conference table. But Israel had gained the upper hand, defeating Egypt so decisively that it was Sadat who was forced to conclude a separate peace, leaving Syria and its neighbors Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians exposed to Israeli power. From then on, Syria's concern was to prevent Israel from picking off the lesser players and bringing them into its orbit. If Syria could expand its own influence on the players, so much the better, Assad felt.

For years, Hussein had come under sustained Israeli pressure to "solve" the Palestine problem in direct negotiations. Israel sought to offer Hussein the job of policing the Palestinians in the occupied territories while retaining sovereignty for itself, together with control over land, water, and security. Hussein's counterstrategy was to press for a Jordanian-Palestinian federation, which, he felt, would give Israel the security it needed while providing the necessary outlet for restless Palestinian aspirations.

In 1983, Hussein set about trying to convince Arafat to let him talk to Israel on behalf of both of them. To prepare the ground, the king freed Palestinians from his jails, held frequent meetings with Arafat, promoted his plan in London and Washington, and restored diplomatic relations with Egypt, broken off at the time of Camp David.

Assad's worst fears thus aroused, it was then that Abu Nidal unleashed his hit men against Jordan. The Syrians were careful to stay in the background, not wishing to be obviously implicated in terrorism. They did not agree to joint planning with Abu Nidal, nor did they give him explicit directives to hit specific targets. They merely let fall suggestions, leaving the rest up to him. After all, it was his job to sniff out whom the Syrians hated most at any given moment. For this reason, Abu Nidal mounted his operations under different aliases. Then he waited to see: If the Syrian reaction was favorable, he would acknowledge the operation as his own; if the reaction was negative, he could just as easily disown it.

The results of his efforts were soon to appear in a frightening display of pyrotechnics that brought into play his wide network of arms caches, sleepers, residents, and killers. In October 1983, the Jordanian ambassador to New Delhi was assassinated and his colleague in Rome wounded, in separate gun attacks; in November, a Jordanian official was killed and another seriously wounded in Athens, and three explosive devices were found and defused in Amman; in December, a Jordanian consular official was killed and another wounded in Madrid. In March 1984, a bomb exploded outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Amman, and in November of that year the Jordanian charge d'affaires in Athens narrowly escaped being shot when his attacker's gun jammed. In December, the Jordanian counselor in Bucharest was shot dead. In April 1985, there was an attack on the Jordanian embassy in Rome and on a Jordanian aircraft at Athens airport. In July, the Madrid office of Alia, the Jordanian airline, was machine-gunned, and in Ankara, the first secretary of the Jordanian embassy was shot dead.

This last operation was particularly costly for Abu Nidal. The Turks and the Jordanians got together, pooled their intelligence, and smashed his networks in both countries. Sixteen Palestinians, most of them members of his organization, were expelled from Turkey.

Syria in turn did not escape retaliation, almost certainly by Jordanian intelligence. In December 1984, a Syrian attache in Athens was attacked but drove off his assailant. In April 1985, the Rome office of Syrian Arab Airlines was bombed and three employees wounded; an attempt was also made to kill a Syrian diplomat in Geneva. In May, his colleague in Rabat was shot, while in June a bomb was defused outside the Syrian embassy in London. In July, large car bombs exploded in Damascus outside the offices of the Syrian Arab News Agency and the ministry of the interior, causing dozens of casualties. Of course, neither Assad nor Hussein would admit that they were waging a terrorist war against each other, but as their differences were well aired, it was public knowledge.

By mid-1985, Hussein decided the time had come for a truce. To Assad's satisfaction, Hussein publicly admitted the help he had given the Muslim Brotherhood and renounced all plans for direct negotiations with Israel toward a partial or separate settlement. Hussein even called on Assad in December 1985, his first visit to Syria since 1979. In keeping with this brotherly reconciliation, the Syrians made it clear to Abu Nidal that Jordanian targets were now off limits. A red line was put in place.

Like Iraq before it, Syria warned Abu Nidal that he was on no account to mount operations against Saudi Arabia. Damascus could not afford to offend one of its main benefactors: During the whole of the organization's stay in Syria, no attacks were made on Saudi targets.

But, as Abd al-Rahman Isa revealed to Abu Iyad in his taped debriefing, the Syrians did manage to get Abu Nidal to play a trick on the Saudis. As Isa recounted: "On one occasion the Syrians asked the organization to smuggle a quantity of arms and explosives into Saudi Arabia, to bury them in a suitable spot, and then give the Syrians the maps. Once the arms were in place, and making much of their concern for Saudi security, the Syrians told Riyadh that their intelligence had just uncovered a plot by a group of radicals to carry out sabotage operations in the kingdom. And here were the maps showing the exact location of the weapons! Lo and behold, the Saudis dug them up -- and handsomely rewarded the Syrians for the tip-off."


While working for Syria, Abu Nidal also worked on his own account in order to replenish his coffers. Syria was no rich sponsor about to put millions of dollars his way: The Syrian view was that giving him a home was reward enough. So by means of violence or mere threats of violence, Abu Nidal took to extorting money from the oil sheikhdoms of the Gulf. There was no pursuit of Palestinian interests in this blackmail. The superpatriot had become a highway robber.

Sheikh Zayid bin Sultan, ruler of Abu Dhabi since 1966 and first president of the United Arab Emirates (the federal state of the lower Gulf created in 1971), was well known for his generous donations to all manner of causes, the Palestinian cause among them. However, for Abu Nidal it was a source of constant frustration that he had not benefited from the sheikh's munificence. This was no oversight on Zayid's part, since one of Abu Nidal's gunmen had killed the Emirates' secretary of state, Saif al-Ghubash, at the Abu Dhabi airport in October 1977. The intended target, it is true, had been Syria's foreign minister, Abd al-Halim Khaddam, who was standing at Ghubash's side, but this hardly tempered Sheikh Zayid's indignation. Abu Nidal made repeated attempts to intimidate the sheikh into buying him off, but to no avail. Sheikh Zayid refused to be cowed.

Abu Nidal's approach was blunt. His habit was to send Gulf rulers threatening messages recorded on tape in his own voice. At first, the messages might be almost civil, on the lines of: "We are a revolutionary movement dedicated to the fight against Zionism and imperialism. We understand that you give money to the traitors of the PLO. We demand that you give us our own money or at the least a share of theirs! If you do not comply within six months, we will consider you our enemy and take action accordingly." If there was no response, the tone would soon become harsher and the message plainer: "I will kill you! I will kidnap your children and your princes! I will blow you up!"

When Sheikh Zayid still would not yield, Abu Nidal resorted to terror. On September 23, 1983, a Gulf Air Boeing 737 bound from Karachi to Dubai crashed in a mountainous region fifty kilometers from the Abu Dhabi airport, killing all 111 passengers and crew. A few days later, a news agency in Paris received a call on behalf of the "Arab Revolutionary Brigades," claiming responsibility. A defector from Abu Nidal's organization confirmed to me that the organization had put a bomb on board the aircraft and that the Brigades were a fiction Abu Nidal had invented for the occasion.

On February 8, 1984, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Paris, Khalifa Ahmad Abd al-Aziz, by all accounts a good man and a patriot, was shot dead by a lone gunman outside his flat near the Eiffel Tower. Once again the fictional Arab Revolutionary Brigades claimed responsibility. And they struck again on October 25, 1984, when the UAE deputy charge d'affaires in Rome, Muhammad al-Suwaidi, came under fire at the wheel of his car. He was critically wounded and his Iranian girlfriend, sitting by his side, was killed.

For the Emirates, this was the breaking point. Abu Iyad, whose business it was to keep abreast of such matters, later told me that under great pressure from such criminal attacks, Sheikh Zayid finally agreed to pay Abu Nidal $17 million, in three installments -- 10 million; $5 million, and $2 million.

Abu Nidal considered Kuwait one of his most important "stations." Not only was there a large Palestinian population there, but in the 1980s, he also began to transfer large sums of money to Kuwaiti banks, when he feared that Western governments might try to seize his assets in Europe. To protect his interests in Kuwait, Abu Nidal resorted to his usual method of putting physical pressure on the Kuwaiti authorities. In May 1982, two of his members were arrested for bringing in large quantities of explosives from Iraq and were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. On June 4, the first secretary at the Kuwaiti embassy in New Delhi was killed; this was followed on September 16 by the assassination of the first secretary at the Madrid embassy, and on the same day an unsuccessful attempt was made to kill the Kuwaiti consul- general in Karachi.

To spare themselves such headaches, the Kuwaitis started a secret dialogue with Abu Nidal and agreed to pay him a monthly stipend. He was even allowed to keep a clandestine representative in Kuwait to oversee his deposits and carry out intelligence tasks. According to my sources, the last person known to hold the post, in the late 1980s, was a certain Nabil Uthman (code-named Hamza Ibrahim).

Whenever the Kuwaitis attempted to harden their position and arrest or expel his members, Abu Nidal would remind them just what he was capable of. On April 23, 1985, Ahmad al-Jarallah, editor-in-chief of two Kuwaiti dailies, al-Siyassa and the Arab Times, narrowly escaped death when a gunman opened fire on him outside his offices. Once more the elusive Arab Revolutionary Brigades claimed responsibility. Less than three months later, on July 11, the same Brigades bombed two seaside cafes in Kuwait City, patronized almost exclusively by Kuwaiti families rather than by Palestinians. Nine people were killed and eighty-nine were wounded. This was another example of terror for purposes of extortion. It was certainly not calculated to improve Kuwaiti-Palestinian relations.


Early in 1982, Abu Nidal's intelligence chief, Abd al-Rahman Isa was joined in Damascus by another senior cadre who had distinguished himself on the military side of the organization. His name was Mustafa Murad (code name Abu Nizar), a tall, bald man with a round face, fair skin, and a polite, cheerful manner, who was soon to be promoted to become Abu Nidal's deputy. His orders from Abu Nidal were to start infiltrating men from Syria into Lebanon to set up an independent base there.

At first, this had to be done in small numbers and with very great care. Lebanon was a Fatah stronghold. If any of Abu Nidal's men were discovered there, they risked being put to death. For this reason, the early infiltrations were made under the wing of a small Lebanese political faction that Abu Nidal had befriended. Called the Party of Socialist Action, it was an armed Marxist offshoot of the PFLP, one of the many fighting groups that had emerged in the ideological free-for-all of Lebanon. (Its leader, Hashim Ali Muhsin, was to die in a Bulgarian hospital in 1988.) It agreed to lend its name to Abu Nidal's men and gave them the run of its camp in the Bekaa Valley.

Israel's second invasion of Lebanon, of June 1982, was a great boulder thrown into the Palestinian pond, a far greater disturbance than the more limited 1978 incursion. Fatah's control over Lebanon was broken. Its forces were expelled or dispersed. By 1983, thousands of men found themselves adrift in the Bekaa Valley or in and around the northern refugee camps. All over the country, Palestinian families buried their dead and struggled to rebuild shantytowns ravaged by Israeli bombardment. The Israeli invasion also posed a great threat to Syria, stretching its resources and its attention to the limit. Syria was in desperate need of allies and proxies to stem the Israeli advance, and it was not fussy about who they were. Here was Abu Nidal's opportunity. His men could now begin to trickle into Lebanon from Syria more confidently and in greater numbers and set up their own camps under their own name. Emerging from the clandestine cocoon in which it had wrapped itself in Iraq, the organization started to make itself known.

An event then took place that was also hugely to Abu Nidal's advantage. A group of Fatah officers, based in Lebanon and Syria, rose in rebellion against Arafat in the spring of 1983. Three Fatah colonels -- Abu Musa, Abu Salih, and Abu Khalid al-Amli -- had been outraged by Arafat's decision to evacuate Beirut in September 1982 rather than carry on the fight against Israel, and they resented the protection he had given to a number of cowardly officers who had failed the test of battle. Such a one was Colonel Isma'il, the commander of Fatah's forces in South Lebanon, who, when Israel marched in, had gotten into his car and driven off to the Bekaa without even bothering to inform his troops. Instead of court-martialing him, Arafat had actually promoted him.

Beyond these specific issues was the old quarrel that had divided Fatah since 1974: armed struggle versus diplomacy. The mutineers were suspicious of Arafat's flirtation with "peace plans" and of his talks with King Hussein to establish a common negotiating stance. They wanted Arafat to sack the cowardly officers; to share power with them in a "collective leadership"; to smuggle back into Lebanon the Palestinian fighters who had been dispersed abroad; and to opt unequivocally for armed struggle rather than political compromise.

When, in May-June 1983, the rebels attacked Fatah's arms depots in the eastern Bekaa and seized supply lines from Syria, Arafat hurried to rally his supporters. But Syria's President Assad, who had no love for him and no confidence in the plans he was cooking up with King Hussein, threw his weight behind the rebels. Screaming foul, Arafat accused Syria of taking sides, whereupon he was unceremoniously expelled from Syria on June 24, 1983 -- a move that dramatized the Assad-Arafat breach, underlining Assad's ambition to wrest the key to a solution of the Palestine problem from an independent PLO.

Abu Nidal had by this time built up a sizable enough force in the Bekaa to fight alongside the Fatah rebels against Arafat's loyalists. Calling in more guerrillas from Syria, he also took part in Arafat's dramatic finale at the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli in December 1983, when, under heavy shelling from the Fatah mutineers and their allies, the PLO leader was forced out of Lebanon altogether. To reward Abu Nidal for helping defeat Arafat, the grateful Syrians now allowed his organization to set up an official presence and operate in the Bekaa and in northern Lebanon.

In Damascus, Abu Nidal's organization's prestige was high. It was given all sorts of facilities, with air force intelligence remaining the main conduit for Syria's favors. Inside the organization, the link with this intelligence service was described as the "central relationship" and was given very special attention. Abu Nidal appointed one of his nephews, Abd al-Karim al-Banna (code name Husam Mustafa), a graduate of the Baghdad College of Law and Politics, to take charge of it.

Soon Abu Nidal's members were allowed to fly in and out of Damascus airport simply on the strength of a telex from air force intelligence, a very special privilege, since other Palestinian groups needed the permission of al-dabita al-fida'iyya, a department of military intelligence renowned for its strict handling of guerrilla affairs. For road travel between Syria and Lebanon, air force intelligence gave the organization a dozen cars with official number plates, which allowed its members to sail across the border with no other formality than giving their code names. Members of other Palestinian groups had to produce genuine identity cards with their photographs on them.

Such an easygoing system was open to abuse -- and Abu Nidal was quick to abuse it. The cars provided by air force intelligence proved a dangerous loophole. They were used to transport to Lebanon, against their will and without the Syrians' knowledge, dozens of people arrested or kidnapped by the organization in Damascus. The victims would usually be told they were being sent on a training course, only to be murdered in the Bekaa. If their families or the Syrians made inquiries, the organization would tell them that they had been sent abroad on a mission. If someone refused to go quietly, he would be drugged and carried to Lebanon in the trunk of a car. On occasion the organization killed its victims in Syria and buried them on one of its farms. Cars returning from Lebanon were used to smuggle weapons back into Syria in secret compartments. Routine checks by the Syrians at the border revealed nothing.

Members of the organization who were selected to take part in foreign operations were taken to Lebanon for training in an air force intelligence car, then brought back and sent on their mission from the Damascus airport. If they were arrested abroad, a Syrian stamp would be found in their passports, showing that Damascus had been their point of departure. Under interrogation, they would confess to having been trained in the Bekaa, thus suggesting that they had been under Syrian control. In each case, Syria would be blamed. Abu Nidal's strategy was to leech on to the host country he was in -- offer it his services so as to seem indispensable and then implicate it in his violence so as to render it vulnerable to future blackmail by him. "Betray me," he was saying in effect, "and I reveal all."

Abu Nidal benefited from the Fatah mutiny and benefited again from the mutiny's collapse. The rebel colonels started squabbling among themselves almost immediately after their coup. Months before the mutiny, in 1982, Abu Nidal had secretly met Colonel Abu Khalid al-Amli in Prague, given him half a million dollars, and discussed with him plans to oust Arafat. They agreed to form a joint command in which Abu Nidal would figure prominently. But Colonel Abu Musa knew nothing about these arrangements and, anyway, did not want to be associated with what was considered a terrorist outfit. Tiring of these quarrels, Abu Salih, himself a candidate for the leadership, went to Beirut, quit politics, and withdrew from the fray.

Meanwhile, as the colonels quarreled, their common enemy, Arafat, was far from finished. He had been expelled from Beirut by the Israelis, from Damascus by the Syrians, and from North Lebanon by the Fatah rebels. He had nevertheless managed to preserve his freedom of maneuver by strengthening his links with Egypt and Jordan. In the occupied territories, he was still the supreme symbol of Palestinian nationalism. The more the mutiny came to look like a Syrian plot to down him, the less popular support it got. In due course, the anti-Arafat rebellion collapsed in acrimonious exchanges. Short of money, of organization and coherent leadership, it would fail to become an effective Palestinian rallying point.

Here was Abu Nidal's opportunity to fill the vacuum. He had arms; he had money -- he could even pay in dollars; and he had Syrian air force intelligence facilities, which gave him great freedom of movement. Men who had defected from Arafat's ranks in 1982-83 to join the Fatah rebels defected again to Abu Nidal's group, including several hundred of Abu Salih's best fighters.

Most of these changes took place more or less spontaneously, under the pressure of events, while Abu Nidal was away in Poland. He did not view the changes with much enthusiasm. His instinct was not to come aboveground and into the open. Moreover, some of the new men who joined at this time had no sympathy for his terrorist methods or his ties with Arab intelligence services. Now that they were within gunshot range of Israel, they could see no point in his terrorist operations in Europe and further afield.

To keep an eye on things, Abu Nidal visited Syria from Poland a number of times in 1984 -- unbeknownst to the Syrians. He simply entered under a false name, with a Libyan passport. Because of the good relations between Syria and Libya at the time, Libyan passport holders could enter Syria with no questions asked. Or perhaps the Syrians simply preferred not to know.
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Re: Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire -- The Secret Life of the Worl

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

Chapter 7: The Colonel's Crony

On a cold, bright day in February 1984, two Arabs were having a long confidential conversation over lunch in a hotel in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital. One was a Palestinian, a small, round, dark-skinned man who walked with a slight limp, the result of beatings he had suffered in Jordanian jails in 1970. This was Abu Nidal's long-serving intelligence chief, Abd al- Rahman Isa. The other was a tall, elegant, sharp-witted Libyan, Ibrahim al-Bishari, Qaddafi's head of external intelligence (and, at the time of writing, his foreign minister). They had come to prepare the ground for a meeting of their principals.

Abu Nidal and Qaddafi were not yet personally acquainted, but they had had dealings with each other over the years and their relationship had known a number of false starts. However, it was only a matter of time before these two mavericks of Arab politics, two men who lived by their own rules, gravitated toward each other. They had much in common -- a neurotic suspicion of the outside world, an inferiority complex -- but they also shared the belief that they were men of great destiny. Qaddafi, ruler of a handful of desert tribes on the Mediterranean seaboard, was convinced that he was born to leave his mark on Arab history. (In an interview in the late 1970s, I heard him say without a hint of irony that the model of society he had outlined in his Green Book, a small volume of eccentric maxims, should serve the whole of humanity.) In turn, Abu Nidal, a professional subversive who made it his business to challenge the established order, saw himself as the natural leader of world revolution. Behind their usually calm and reserved exteriors, both men were also extremely aggressive, ever ready to pounce.


In May 1984, accompanied by the faithful Isa, Abu Nidal traveled from Warsaw to Tripoli, the Libyan capital, for his first encounter with Qaddafi. It took place in the multicolored Arab tent, pitched incongruously among the billets and guardrooms of the Bab al-Aziziyya barracks, that serves as the Libyan leader's office and reception room. By all accounts, they got on famously and their talks lasted for hours. It was a meeting of like minds.

Qaddafi's paranoia, his sense of being under siege, was more than usually acute at this time. A few weeks earlier, one of his security men inside the Libyan People's Bureau in London's St. James's Square had crazily opened fire from a first- floor window on a crowd of anti-Qaddafi demonstrators, killing a young British policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher. Britain broke off diplomatic relations and, after a nine-day siege of the People's Bureau, expelled the whole of its staff. Several Western leaders called for a joint strategy to combat Libyan-sponsored terrorism, prompting Qaddafi to retort defiantly that he would "hurt" countries that conspired against him. "Each country has its sensitive areas where we can put pressure!" he warned.

In security matters, Qaddafi's mind was parochial: His attention was focused on the small pockets of Libyan exiles -- defectors from his Free Officers movement and from his diplomatic service, students who failed to return home, and the like -- most of whom had taken shelter in the United States, Britain, Egypt, Morocco, or the Sudan. There and elsewhere, they had formed opposition movements, ranging from the democratic to the Islamic, all largely ineffective, with names like the National Front for the Salvation of Libya; the Libyan Constitutional Union; the Libyan Democratic National Rally; and the Islamic Association of Libya. From time to time, Qaddafi sent hit men to disrupt and intimidate them and, between 1980 and 1984, managed to have no fewer than fifteen exiles murdered. His main fear was that one or another of these groups would one day secure the backing of a foreign government to mount a coup against him.

It so happened that the international outcry over the killing of Yvonne Fletcher encouraged one of these opposition groups, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, to try to topple Qaddafi -- a bid that, by coincidence, reached its climax when Abu Nidal was in Tripoli meeting with the Libyan leader. The head of the National Front's military wing, a former Libyan officer called Ahmad al-Hawwas, had managed to infiltrate a group of armed men into Libya and to entrench them in a building immediately opposite the entrance to the Bab al-Aziziyya barracks. But Hawwas himself was not so fortunate. He entered Tunisia on a Sudanese passport, preparing to join his men in Tripoli, but Libyan intelligence was tipped off and he was intercepted and killed at the Tunisian-Libyan border. His armed cell in Tripoli was discovered. It was attacked by the Libyan army and overwhelmed.

Abu Nidal had spent long hours with Qaddafi a day earlier, and was actually in a nearby guest villa, waiting to take his leave of Libya's intelligence chiefs before driving to the airport, when the shooting broke out. According to Abd al-Rahman Isa, who witnessed the scene, the gun battle threw Abu Nidal into a total panic. "Get me out of here!" he shouted. He calmed down only when he managed to fly out of Libya a day later. This master terrorist, who glibly sent men to their death and who had just sold his services to Qaddafi, was terrified of being exposed to any violence.

The National Front's attack, abortive though it proved to be, helped convince Qaddafi that he needed someone to take on the external enemies of his revolution, the "stray dogs" as he referred to them, as well as the "imperialists" who were giving them protection and support. Abu Nidal was obviously his man. The colonel was impressed by Abu Nidal's reputation as a ruthless operator with a worldwide organization at his command -- and Abu Nidal was never modest in trumpeting his capabilities.

Many Arab states have tried to recruit Palestinians into their intelligence. Dispersed about the world, skilled and educated but not always finding it easy to make a living, they are often open to recruitment. For Qaddafi, a Palestinian on the trail of a dissident Libyan in Europe or the United States might be less suspect than another Libyan. In their pursuit of exiles, his own Libyan agents had often proved incompetent and had blackened his name in foreign capitals. He now needed a professional.

When, in earlier years, he had been on good terms with Arafat, Qaddafi had tried to get Fatah to do his dirty work for him, but Fatah had turned him down. The very last thing the PLO leaders needed was to be further tarnished by providing Qaddafi with "death squads." George Habash's PFLP and Ahmad Jibril's PFLP-General Command had also been approached, but they too had enough sense to refuse Qaddafi's contract. Abu Nidal, on the other hand, had no such inhibitions. In exchange for protection and facilities, he was ready to render whatever services were asked of him. He had worked for the Iraqi government against the Communists, against moderate Palestinians, and against Syria; he had worked for Syria against King Hussein. He was now ready to work for Qaddafi against the Libyan opposition and to stage spectacular operations for him against American, British, and Egyptian targets.

Qaddafi felt he needed Abu Nidal. Abu Nidal, in turn, needed Qaddafi. His relationship with Syria had not fulfilled his expectations, and his expansion into Lebanon was starting to cost him a great deal of money. He reckoned that a move to Libya might, at a stroke, solve both problems. So Abu Nidal, in 1984-85, latched on to Qaddafi with great eagerness, treating him with sycophantic respect, giving him presents of inlaid swords whose blades he had had inscribed with fulsome tributes to the "Arab hero."


The changes being wrought in his organization in Lebanon posed problems for Abu Nidal. To accommodate the new recruits who had flooded in after the collapse of the Fatah mutiny -- to feed, clothe, house, and arm them -- his organization had created a People's Army Directorate, with branches all over Lebanon. As Israel's armies, harried by the Lebanese resistance, fell back toward the border, Abu Nidal's men pushed south as far as Sidon, adding all the while to their numbers as they went along. The original tightly knit, secretive terrorist organization had suddenly come aboveground and rejoined the Palestinian mainstream. While Abu Nidal was abroad in Poland, his organization had taken on a different life and character, presenting him with a number of critical choices: What sort of movement did he wish to command and what sort of leader did he wish to be?

The main impetus for the organization's transformation was the so-called War of the Camps, a pitiless struggle between Palestinians and Shi'ites, which lasted from 1985 to 1987, leaving countless thousands dead, wounded, or uprooted from their homes. Traditionally the underdogs of Lebanese society, the Shi'ites of South Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley were victims of exploitation and neglect. They endured still worse suffering when Palestinian guerrillas moved into Lebanon and brought down ferocious Israeli reprisals on their own heads -- and on those of the unfortunate Shi'ites living alongside of them. As a result of Israeli bombing, tens of thousands of Shi'ites abandoned their villages and fled north to shantytowns around Beirut.

This unhappy situation led to Shi'ite mobilization under the Imam Musa al-Sadr, a charismatic cleric of Iranian-Lebanese descent who founded his Movement of the Disinherited in 1974, followed in 1975 by a self-defense force called Amal (Hope). As fellow sufferers, Shi'ites and Palestinians were natural allies, but there were tensions between them: The Shi'ites blamed the Palestinians for their plight, so when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, many Shi'ites welcomed them as deliverers from the Palestinians and their women even threw rice at the invading Israeli soldiers in a gesture of welcome.

But the Israelis soon outstayed their welcome. And when they sought to impose Maronite rule on the country, the Shi'ites moved into outright opposition. Turning to Syria and Iran for help, they harassed and ambushed the Israelis, eventually forcing them back toward their frontier. The Shi'ite spirit of martyrdom made them particularly adept at suicide attacks, which took a heavy toll of Israeli lives. And once the Israelis had fallen back on their self-styled "security zone" in South Lebanon, the Shi'ites moved in to fill the vacuum. They were determined to recover their villages and fight off all newcomers -- including the Palestinians. They could no longer accept the return of an armed Palestinian presence, which, they feared, would start the whole cycle of Israeli reprisals and Shi'ite suffering again.

So when Arafat started infiltrating men back into Lebanon in the mid-1980s and rearming the refugee camps -- from his point of view a justifiable measure of self-defense -- Amal laid siege to the camps and attempted to subdue them. The Palestinians put up stiff resistance. They even carried the fight into the enemy camp by shelling Shi'ite suburbs of Beirut. Violent battles ensued in May/June 1985. The War of the Camps had begun. Shi'ites and Palestinians believed their very survival was at stake. No quarter was given, and each round of fighting had its brutal accompaniment of slaughter. Defenseless civilians perished in large numbers during this terrible confrontation.

Over the next two years, the fighting would die down only to flare up again, because the fundamental problem was not resolved: The Shi'ites wanted to be masters in their own house. They could not tolerate a Palestinian force able to act independently. For its part, Syria too could not tolerate the restoration of Palestinian power, which might challenge its own position in Lebanon or expose it to danger from Israel. As Lebanon was vital to Syria's security, Assad supplied the Amal group with arms --- including tanks -- with which to control the Palestinian camps. But Arafat, too, needed to protect his civilians. He was also anxious to show that the PLO was still a force to be reckoned with and that Israel's attempt to smash it had failed.

Such was the dilemma confronting Abu Nidal's organization in Lebanon: Should it side with its Syrian patron against the Palestinians? Or should it defend the Palestinian refugee camps besieged by the Syrian-backed Shi'ites?

In fact the organization had no choice, because events had already dictated its position. Its very success, since the Fatah mutiny of 1983, in drawing into its ranks hundreds of Palestinian fighters and dozens of political cadres, meant that it could no longer stand by and watch Amal wreak havoc on the refugee camps, and it went to their defense. The War of the Camps was in fact the catalyst that drew the organization out of its shell and caused it to fight beside Arafat's men. The years of hatred and blood that separated them were set aside. This unexpected alliance was spontaneous, forged in the heat of battle and decided by the organization's rank and file, without waiting for word from Abu Nidal.

These dramatic developments owed a great deal to one man, Atif Abu Bakr, who defected from Fatah to join Abu Nidal's organization in 1985 (and whom I interviewed over several weeks in Tunis after his break with Abu Nidal). As has been mentioned, he had served as a PLO "ambassador" in Eastern Europe from 1974 to 1984 and was well known as a highly articulate political ideologue and poet. Always a radical, Abu Bakr had watched Arafat's slide toward concession and compromise with growing alarm. For him the breaking point came in November 1984, when Arafat called a meeting of the Palestine National Council in Amman, apparently signaling his acceptance of King Hussein's ideas for a settlement with Israel. A few months later, in February 1985, Arafat and Hussein signed an agreement that seemed to give the king a mandate to negotiate with Israel on the Palestinians' behalf. The radicals were outraged at what looked like a sellout. Abu Bakr went to Syria, resigned from the PLO, and joined Abu Nidal's organization -- one of many to do so at the time.

For Abu Nidal's organization, Atif Abu Bakr was a very considerable catch. Not since the days of Naji Allush could it boast of an intellectual of any stature. Within a very short time Abu Bakr was assigned to the organization's top institution, its Political Bureau, and was appointed head of the Political Directorate, as well as official spokesman.

But what Atif Abu Bakr really became was the spokesman for the new spirit that swept through the organization in Syria and Lebanon in the mid-1980s, at a time when Abu Nidal, flitting between Warsaw and Tripoli, was engrossed in other things. In his absence, a reconciliation began to take effect between comrades who, ever since the great Fatah split of 1974, had been bitter-at-odds. Past feuds were set aside, and recent defectors from Fatah like Atif Abu Bakr could embrace old defectors like Abu Nizar. Were they not, after all, sons of Fatah? Did they not spring from the same root? Together, Atif Abu Bakr and Abu Nizar drew into the new-style organization many men, both cadres and fighters, who had lost their bearings in the various Palestinian splits and rebellions. Committing these men to the defense of the camps against the assaults of Amal created an atmosphere of revival, of true nationalist struggle.

A new joint command was set up. Breaking with the past, it wanted to put an end to intra-Palestinian killings; to give up "foreign operations"; and to build bridges to Fatah, the mother organization from which it had strayed. These men had no love for Arafat, but who actually was in charge no longer mattered. What was important, Atif later told me, was to rebuild a united resistance movement. Propaganda against Fatah, once the staple ingredient of the organization's communiques and publications, was abandoned and the old accusatory language was dropped. In Abu Nidal's magazine, the PLO, which had hitherto been considered irredeemably treacherous, was now described as a "Palestinian house" that all those could enter who wished to confront the common enemy. Such were the views that Atif Abu Bakr passionately promoted.

A parallel change took place on the military side. Swollen with new recruits, the People's Army formed five regional commands, covering Lebanon from far north to far south. Still financed (by now rather reluctantly) by Abu Nidal, it became a very visible body, creating infrastructures that could provide its fighters with food, uniforms, and weapons, as well as medical services and political education. Instead of the assassin armed with a bomb or a sniper's rifle, the organization now had men who could drive armored vehicles or could fire missiles, former Fatah officers with years of experience behind them and considerable military skills. The People's Army became the second largest Palestinian fighting force in Lebanon, second only to that of Fatah itself. It was estimated that in 1986 it was costing about $1.5 million a month to run. Instead of being a small, closed, clandestine outfit that Abu Nidal could direct by remote control, the organization was developing into a mass movement with its own strong leaders and cadres. A new power base was being formed inside Abu Nidal's outfit.

Swept along by their own enthusiasm, the reformers believed that Abu Nidal would welcome the chance to lead a now popular and powerful faction that had won a new acceptance among Palestinians because of the "national role" it was playing. But they had forgotten the nature of the man and did not yet grasp what he was up to in Libya. They were very soon to be disabused. As we shall see in due course, Abu Nidal was to use the move to Libya to destroy them.

Abu Nidal felt that the transformations that had occurred in Lebanon were a grave personal threat to him, so he conspired to reverse them and return the organization to its old fanatical mold. He had by now given up Poland and was traveling back and forth between Tripoli and Damascus -- but it was in Tripoli rather than Damascus that he felt wanted, appreciated, and at ease. His movements to and from Syria were undertaken with Libyan aid and approval, with Libya supplying the carrier, the money, and the passports. And astonishingly enough, they were usually undertaken without the knowledge of the Syrian authorities. The man who escorted him in and out of Syria was Muftah al-Farazani, a Libyan intelligence officer and head of the Libyan People's Bureau in Damascus, who was in direct touch with Libya's intelligence chiefs, Ibrahim al-Bishari and Abdallah al-Sanussi (the latter a particularly powerful figure because of his marriage to Qaddafi's sister-in-law).

What Abu Nidal always looked for was a secure base in an Arab country and, with it, the protection of an Arab intelligence service to complement his own elaborate arrangements. When this was not forthcoming, he preferred to withdraw from the Middle East altogether and to live as a recluse abroad, as he did when he went to Poland in 1981, between his falling out with Iraq and his organization's move to Syria.


A key to Abu Nidal's longevity as a terrorist is the extraordinary attention he pays to his personal security. Watchfulness has become second nature, together with a morbid suspicion of everyone and everything. Constantly on the move, he can congratulate himself on never having been caught. He is skillful at disguises, cultivates a nondescript appearance, and travels on an array of Arab passports, some forged and some genuine, preferably ordinary rather than diplomatic ones, because they attract less attention. His bodyguards are totally loyal, and he has known them for years. While parts of his organization are overt and more or less visible -- in Lebanon he even boasts an official spokesman -- he himself remains well in the background, his exact whereabouts at any one time known only to a handful of his associates. It is part of his passion for secrecy that in the course of a long career, he has given only five interviews -- in 1974, 1978, and three times in 1985, which, for a man of his undoubted conceit, suggests a measure of self-denial. (However, petty vanities show through: Although he had little formal education, he likes to be called Doctor -- Dr. Sa'id in the early days, and later Dr. Muhammad.)

In the early 1980s, Syria had taken him in and protected him. But the Syrians disappointed him. Even when his organization was well established there, Syria never made him feel as secure as he had felt in Iraq. In Damascus, he was not allowed to meet let alone befriend Syria's political leaders, nor could he match the close relations he had once enjoyed in Baghdad with President Bakr and Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. He tried repeatedly to get himself officially invited to Damascus, but the Syrians continued to be evasive. Despite the services he rendered them in the terrorist campaign against Jordan, Syrian leaders refused to receive him in person. Theirs was no intimate, formally acknowledged relationship: There was no joint operations room; he had no access to Syrian embassies and diplomatic pouches. A strict ceiling was put on his activities. His organization's contacts remained restricted to General Muhammad al-Khuly's air force intelligence, the more disreputable, strong-arm end of Syria's intelligence apparatus. When he proposed coordinating anti-Iraqi operations with Syria's external intelligence service, headed at the time by General Adnan al-Hamadani, the Syrians declined.

What Abu Nidal found particularly frustrating and offensive was the Syrians' refusal to recognize that he had any political legitimacy. No doubt wishing to distance themselves, at least outwardly, from terrorism, they wanted their relationship with him to remain deniable. Syria's veteran defense minister, General Mustafa Tlas, once went so far as to dismiss Abu Nidal as a CIA agent, while President Assad himself could tell foreign visitors in all candor that he had never even seen Abu Nidal. Such circumstances were not calculated to reassure him. On the contrary, Abu Nidal felt threatened, haunted by the thought that in a bid to improve their relations with the West, the Syrians might betray him to the Americans. On his occasional furtive visits to Damascus, it was clear to him that the Syrians preferred not to know he was there.

Far away most of the time in the Polish countryside, he could not fully grasp what was going on inside his organization, and his secret policeman's mind brooded over the possibility of conspiracies hatching against him. He insisted on being kept informed of the most minute and trivial details.

Once a week, a special messenger would arrive in Poland from Damascus, carrying the organization's mail for him to study and respond to. His colleagues Abu Nizar, Abd al-Rahman Isa, Dr. Ghassan al-Ali were shouldering the daily burden of running an increasingly complex machine. Men had to be trained and briefed and sent on missions. The work of foreign stations had to be monitored. Funds had to be accounted for and archives kept up to date. The growing militia in Lebanon had to be supplied. Accordingly, the letters Abu Nidal sent back to the leadership in Damascus caused great irritation and rumblings of discontent. He would bombard his hard-pressed colleagues with bullying memoranda. Why, he wrote on one occasion, is so-and-so spending so much on apples? The return to Damascus of the weekly messenger was an anxious moment for members of the leadership as they wondered what further importunate demands their chief might make on them.

From time to time, to catch up on fast-moving events, Abu Nidal would summon his top aides to a conference at his house outside Warsaw. His harangues would be recorded on tape and would, on his instruction, be played back to those members of the command who had remained behind in Damascus. Abu Nidal's tactic was invariably to be bad-tempered and critical, to set one man against another, to play on differences between them, to reveal what X had said about Y, to stir up trouble. The return of his colleagues to their work in Damascus was always ridden with tension.

In early 1985, alarmed at the growth of his organization in Lebanon, Abu Nidal decided to return permanently to the Middle East. He moved his wife and children to Damascus and took a ground-floor apartment in the same building as his chief military colleague, Abu Nizar. But not daring to remain long in any one place, for fear of drawing attention to himself, he moved again within a few months to the small town of Zabadani, some forty minutes by road from Damascus, where, away from the public gaze, he bought two adjoining houses set in a large field. For added protection, he hired half a dozen Alawite peasants, said to be relatives of his mother, to work the land and look after the property. Abu Nidal's wife, Hiyam, did not like the isolation, especially as he was away a good deal, traveling continuously between Poland and Libya.

Late in 1985, a violent incident took place that was to have a dramatic impact on their relationship. Hiyam and her brother, Hussein al-Bitar, who lived in Jordan, jointly owned a substantial house and garden in Amman that was valued at a million dollars. Although the property was registered in their names, Abu Nidal claimed it was his, and he may indeed have helped finance its purchase. A bitter family quarrel ensued. Tiring at last of the arguments, Abu Nidal decided to resolve the matter once and for all -- by killing his brother-in-law.

Because relations between Jordan and Syria had by now been patched up, he thought it wiser to mount the operation from Kuwait rather than from Damascus. Accordingly, three assassins, traveling on Jordanian passports, were sent into Jordan from Kuwait. On November 24, 1985, Hussein al-Bitar and his five-year-old son, Muhammad, were murdered. In a characteristic communique, Abu Nidal brazenly claimed that Bitar had been killed because he worked for Jordanian intelligence and supported Yasser Arafat.

These killings led to a traumatic emotional separation between Abu Nidal and his wife. She demanded a divorce, but he would not consent to it. They continued to live in the same house but began to lead separate lives. Inside the organization, some people said that she stayed because of the children, others that she put up with him because a good deal of the organization's money was deposited in banks in her name. In any event, she started traveling, taking their three children on trips abroad, often to Austria and Switzerland, simply to get away.


It was about this time that Abu Nidal moved triumphantly to Libya. His relationship with Qaddafi really took off in 1985, but it had not always been cloudless between them before. A decade earlier, in 1975, Abu Nidal had sent some junior cadres, mainly students and teachers, to live covertly in Tripoli and Benghazi, where they were to spread the word and distribute his literature. In 1977, when Libya and Egypt came to the brink of war, these people supported Libya and some even volunteered to be sent to the front, a display of loyalty that induced the Libyans to allow Abu Nidal's organization to open an office on Umar al-Mukhtar Street in Tripoli.

Perhaps more to the point, Qaddafi was then on poor terms with Fatah, and especially with Abu Iyad, following a row they had had when they were both being entertained by President Boumedienne in Algiers. Qaddafi had urged Fatah to adopt his Green Book as its ideological bible. But Abu Iyad, as he told me later, could not help laughing at the suggestion. "It's no book at all," he told Qaddafi. "Whoever wrote it for you did you a great disservice!" Qaddafi was so angry that in 1977-78 he cut off his aid to the PLO, which was then running at $12 million a year in cash and another $50 million in stores and equipment. Another, perhaps more important, source of coolness was Fatah's refusal to fall in with Qaddafi's request to kidnap or kill a prominent Libyan opposition figure, Abd al-Mun'im al-Huni, one of the original Free Officers and a former head of Libyan intelligence, who had fallen out with Qaddafi and taken refuge in Egypt and whose head the colonel wanted.

So for a moment in 1977-78 Abu Nidal's people were in favor in Tripoli. But this did not last long. When, as we shall see, Abu Nidal started killing PLO moderates in 1978 -- Sa'id Hammami was killed in London in January and Ali Yassin in Kuwait in June -- Fatah retaliated by attacking the organization's Tripoli office in July, killing two of Abu Nidal's men. (It was said that this was done. with the complicity of Libya's minister of the interior, Colonel Khwaldi al-Humaidi, whose sympathies were with Fatah.) The Libyans decided to close down the organization's office and evict its members. Cells they had formed were dismantled. To try to patch up relations, Abu Nidal paid a flying visit to Tripoli on December 30, 1979, to see Libya's prime minister, Abd al-Salam Jallud, but he was not invited to see Qaddafi. In spite of his tiff with Abu Iyad, Qaddafi had no interest in seriously alienating Arafat or in muscling in on Iraq's turf, for Abu Nidal was, at that time, thought of as an Iraqi creature.

Abu Nidal had to wait until 1982 for another chance to make his mark in Libya -- and once again it was as a result of a breakdown in Libyan-Fatah relations. During Israel's siege of Beirut, when the Palestinians were holding out under intense bombardment, Qaddafi sent Arafat a now famous telegram in which he urged him to commit suicide rather than allow Israel to expel him. Arafat replied that his fighters were ready for the supreme sacrifice provided that Qaddafi joined them. Acidly, he added that his present circumstances would not have been so desperate had Qaddafi delivered the weapons he had promised. Affronted, Qaddafi cooled toward Arafat, and when the Fatah mutiny occurred in 1983 and a Syrian-based "National Salvation Front" emerged, grouping most of Arafat's Palestinian opponents, Qaddafi was quick to lend it his support. Conditions were now propitious for Abu Nidal's reentry into Libya.

This was the background to his arrival there in 1985. Now it was done properly. Abu Nidal began by appointing Hamdan Abu Asba (code-named Azmi Hussein), a cadre from the Intelligence Directorate, as his personal liaison officer with Libyan security. Asba was followed in Tripoli by Ali al-Farra (code-named Dr. Kamal), one of Abu Nidal's most trusted associates: His residence in Libya signaled that Abu Nidal had now made Libya his principal base. More cadres from other directorates were soon in place. Libyan planes and embassies, passports, diplomatic pouches, and communications were put at Abu Nidal's disposal. And as the relationship expanded and grew warmer, Qaddafi gave Abu Nidal villas and apartments in Tripoli, housing outside the capital, and two farms -- all free of charge. Most of these properties had been expropriated from members of the Libyan opposition who had fled abroad.

The Libyans were generous with air tickets, travel expenses, and hospitality of all sorts, putting up in hotels or private villas members who were passing through. A year later, in 1986, Libyan intelligence also provided the organization with international telephone lines, then a precious commodity because, after the American attack on Libya of April 1986, direct dialing was discontinued and all outgoing calls had to be routed through an operator. The Libyans not only provided the lines but also paid the bills.

More significantly, from 1985 onward the Libyans helped the organization transport weapons into Libya to store them there; also, to transport weapons out of Libya and hide them in caches in Europe, Africa, and Asia. In some cases arms were handed by the Libyans to members of the organization when they were already on board aircraft at Tripoli airport; in other cases, arms were sent abroad by Libyan diplomatic bag and handed to members of the organization at Libyan embassies. For all practical purposes, Abu Nidal had ceased to be an independent operator. His main places of residence and of work, as well as those of his organization, and the facilities that made his sort of work possible were gifts from Libyan intelligence. He had become so closely involved with Libyan intelligence that it had become impossible to tell them apart.

A pet idea of Qaddafi's was the National Command of Arab Revolutionary Forces, which he set up at this time in an attempt to assert his leadership of radical movements throughout the area. This was the body through which other Palestinian factions, such as Ahmad Jibril's or Abu Musa's, were obliged to deal with the Libyan government. In contrast, Abu Nidal's organization dealt direct with Libyan intelligence. It was the only Palestinian organization to do so.

Abu Nidal was quick to grasp that Libya had very poor resources for intelligence gathering. Staffed by badly trained amateurs, its networks were virtually useless. Its officers were lazy and easily became dependent on others to do the work for them. As one source put it: "If you said to the Libyans, 'I will get you information about Chad,' they would stop all inquiries of their own and wait for you to hand them a file on a plate." So in addition to the surveillance, harassment, and assassination of the Libyan opposition abroad, Abu Nidal put his organization to work collecting information on Libya's behalf. Immersing himself in the task, he was soon to gain virtual control of Libya's intelligence apparatus.

For Abu Nidal, the years 1985-87 were a time of fruitful ambiguity in which he found himself situated between Syria and Libya. But there was no doubt which of the two he preferred. Qaddafi had invited him into the very heart of the Libyan system, where Abu Nidal loved to be. The Libyans allowed him to organize and proselytize in the resident Palestinian community, to conduct an energetic publicity campaign for his organization -- in short, to be politically active.

Qaddafi and Abu Nidal had now become partners. Insiders who attended their many meetings at this time reported that they hugely enjoyed each other's company and happily spent their time together abusing their enemies -- before plotting how best to destroy them.
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