LONDON, Jan. 18 (JTA) Abu Nidal’s terrorist network has suffered a crippling financial blow with the arrest of a senior member, according to a journalist familiar with the organization.
Patrick Seale, a biographer of Abu Nidal and a close confidant of Syrian President Hafez Assad, wrote this week in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat that Palestinian Halima Nimr, who was said to have been using a fake Jordanian passport, had been arrested in Vienna when she attempted to withdraw some $7.4 million from an Austrian bank.
Seale quotes intelligence sources as saying the loss of the Vienna account will greatly curtail the freedom of Abu Nidal the nom de guerre of Jaffa-born Sabri al-Banna.
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, which carried out a series of attacks in European capitals during the 1970s and 1980s, claimed hundreds of lives and was regarded as one of the most dangerous international terrorist organizations.
Among Abu Nidal’s most high-profile attacks were the simultaneous gun-and-grenade attacks on the El Al passenger counters at Rome and Vienna airports in 1985 in which 17 people were killed, and the assassination of the PLO’s intelligence chief in 1991. His group has tried several times to kill Arafat.
Abu Nidal had been struggling to regroup his organization after a series of damaging splits and defections, as well as the expulsion of both himself and members of his organization from Libya and Egypt.
Nimr, now in custody in Austria, is the wife of Samir Najmeddeen, who was largely responsible for managing Abu Nidal’s overseas assets during the 1980s, Seale writes.
From a base in Warsaw, Najmeddeen ran the “SAS Foreign Trade and Investment Company” as a front for Abu Nidal’s arms dealing.
In the late 1980s, however, he was stripped of his powers and recalled to Libya, then Abu Nidal’s main base. Little has been heard of him since, and he is thought to be either still in Libya or to have moved to Iraq.
Abu Nidal suffered another financial blow in the mid-1990s, according to Seale, when the Swiss authorities froze an account in a Zurich bank that contained $18 million in the name of Hiyam al-Bitar, Abu Nidal’s estranged wife.
After her Swiss lawyers contested the ruling, she was allowed to keep $8 million, but Seale notes that sources close to the organization say she returned $4 million to Abu Nidal and kept $4 million for herself, her two daughters and her son.
Senior members of the Abu Nidal organization, such as Nimr, travel on Jordanian passports that were forged in the past with the help of the Beirut cell of the Japanese Red Army.
This cooperation came to an end when five members of the Japanese Red Army were arrested by the Lebanese authorities in March 1997.
However, the leader of the cell, a woman code-named “Mariam,” escaped from Beirut and is believed to be in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.