LONDON (Mar. 16)
Top international terrorist Abu Nidal is alive and well and living in Cairo, according to an article in the London-based daily Al- Hayat on Tuesday.
Noted Arabist Patrick Seale, a biographer of Syrian President Hafez Assad and reportedly close to the Syrian regime, said Abu Nidal — the nom de guerre of Jaffa-born Sabri al-Banna — left his safe haven in Libya after falling out with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Seale flatly denied reports in both the Arabic and Western media that Abu Nidal was dying of leukemia and had been moved to Iraq.
Such reports, said Seale, were probably a concoction of Egyptian intelligence “to conceal his presence in Cairo and give themselves time to decide what to do with him.”
Abu Nidal is reportedly now seeking to trade his extensive knowledge of radical Islamic groups, and of the inner workings of the regimes in Sudan, Yemen and Libya, for Egyptian protection.
“In particular, he is trying to sell his services to Egyptian State Security in its war against militant Islamic networks such as Gihad and Gama’a al-Islamiya, which have been responsible for numerous attacks in Egypt against tourists and other targets,” wrote Seale. “There is no suggestion that Egypt has taken up Abu Nidal’s offer.”
Although some Egyptian — and perhaps American — intelligence officers might be tempted to use Abu Nidal, Seale noted, Western diplomats believe that the revelation of his presence in Cairo could prove a grave embarrassment to Egypt and damage its international standing.
“But Abu Nidal is clearly hoping to relaunch his dormant terrorist career under the protection of a new state patron.”
In another startling revelation, Seale claimed that Israel had comprehensively penetrated Abu Nidal’s Fatah Revolutionary Council.
And he said top Abu Nidal defectors who renounced terrorism and recently settled in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the permission of the Israeli authorities include two former terrorists who were involved in high-profile atrocities against Israeli targets.
Among those named by Seale as having settled in the Palestinian-controlled areas are Ali al-Farra and Hisham Harb.
Al-Farra, according to Seale, is a former head of external intelligence for the Fatah Revolutionary Council and was involved in planning the attempted assassination of former ambassador to London Shlomo Argov on June 3, 1982, an event that provided a pretext for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
Harb is described as having been a key member of Abu Nidal’s Special Missions department and played a major role in the simultaneous attacks on El-Al ticket counters at the Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985.
Among other senior Abu Nidal defectors who have settled in the West Bank and Gaza, wrote Seale, are:
Wasfi Hannun, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council’s political bureau and a former head of the People’s Army, Abu-Nidal’s militia in Lebanon, which was responsible for many killings;
Zakaria Ibrahim and Mounir Ahmad, both former members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council’s political bureau;
Zaydan Abdelkarim, a former member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council’s central committee, Iyad Mohammad — who is married to a niece of Abu Nidal — and Ihsan Sadiq, all of whom are described as important cadres of the organization.
“According to reliable sources,” added Seale, “none of these men has been arrested or interrogated by the Israelis, leading to renewed speculation that the group was already well-known to Israeli intelligence — indeed, that Israel had penetrated, and at least partially controlled, Abu Nidal’s organization for much of its violent career.”
Abu Nidal was the PLO’s chief representative in Iraq when he broke with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement in 1974 to protest the PLO’s flirtation with diplomacy rather than violence.
His Fatah Revolutionary Council claimed hundreds of lives and was regarded as one of the most dangerous and savage of international terrorist organizations.
But while he attacked Israeli and Jewish targets throughout the world, Abu Nidal is believed to have been responsible for even more killings of Palestinians.
He ordered the assassinations of the PLO’s most dovish diplomats, including Sa’id Hammami in London, Ali Yassin in Kuwait and Izzeddin Khalak in Paris, all three in 1978. He was also responsible for the killings of Naim Khodr in Brussels in 1981 and Issam Sartawi in Lisbon in 1983.
One of his more recent Palestinian victims was Abu Iyad, the nom de guerre of Salah Khalaf, Arafat’s intelligence chief and one of the closest confidants of the Palestinian leader, who was assassinated in January 1991, just before the start of the Persian Gulf War