LONDON (Jan. 10)
Fearful that he may be handed over to a Western government, a Palestinian terrorist said to be responsible for killing or wounding 900 people in 20 countries has moved from Egypt to Iraq, according to news reports here.
Quoting diplomatic sources, the Guardian newspaper said Abu Nidal fled to Baghdad from a Palestinian hospital in a Cairo suburb, where he had been receiving treatment for leukemia.
Now aged 61, and reportedly dying, Jaffa-born Sabri al-Banna adopted the nom de guerre Abu Nidal when he joined the Palestine Liberation Organization. After a meteoric rise through the group’s hierarchy, he broke with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in the early 1970s to oppose the possibility of a negotiated settlement with Israel.
Later, as head of his own Fatah Revolutionary Council — once described by the U.S. State Department as “the most dangerous terrorist organization in existence” — he was, at times, backed by Iraq, Syria and, most recently, Libya, where he had lived until arriving in Cairo last July under a false name and carrying a Tunisian passport.
Since 1974, Abu Nidal’s death squads struck at Israeli, Jewish and Western targets, as well as PLO officials who were regarded as moderate.
Among Abu Nidal’s most recent high-profile attacks were the simultaneous gun- and-grenade attacks on the El Al passenger counters at Rome and Vienna airports in 1985 and the assassination of the PLO intelligence chief in 1991.
Abu Nidal is believed to have moved to Iraq in mid-December and is reportedly being treated in one of the lavishly equipped clinics reserved for Saddam Hussein and his inner circle.
Arab sources were quoted as saying the Libyans, already facing Western pressure over its refusal to extradite two bombing suspects from the 1988 Pan Am 103 crash in Lockerbie, Scotland, wanted to find another country where Abu Nidal could spend his final days. For their part, the Egyptians sought to end an embarrassment for President Hosni Mubarak.
“It is entirely credible that he is in Iraq,” said a veteran Middle East analyst. “Saddam doesn’t forget a friend, just the same way as he doesn’t forget an enemy.”
Abu Nidal served as PLO representative to Baghdad in the 1970s.
He is thought to have feared that Egypt would succumb to the sort of pressure that led Sudan to hand over the international terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, who was seized in 1994, taken to France and convicted of murder charges.
Abu Nidal’s organization, broken by internal feuds as its leader became increasingly enfeebled, is no longer considered an active terrorist threat.