ABU NIDAL’S NEMESIS: Serving Americans, al Qaeda et al.

After 12 years of obscurity in Libya, Abu Nidal surfaced in late 1997, taking up residence in Cairo with a small band of trusted partisans. What was Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak thinking of when he opened the door to this notorious purveyor of death? Thereby hangs an extraordinary tale, which debkafile reveals here for the first time.
Faced with virulent threats from extremist Islamic terror groups, Egyptian political and security leaders persuaded their opposite numbers in Washington that groups like Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda and Dr. Ayman al Zuwahri’s Egyptian Jihad Islami could only be penetrated and fought by terrorists of the same ilk. Therefore, they proposed hiring arch terrorist Abu Nidal to extinguish the two rising fundamentalist menaces. debkafile‘s Washington sources recall that the Clinton administration agreed to go along with the project – albeit passively – after some agonizing in the National Security Council headed by Samuel Berger over the morality of hiring a wanted terrorist to fight Bin Laden.
For two years, Egyptian intelligence employed Abu Nidal and his organization to track down, penetrate and destroy al Qaeda and Jihad Islami cells in Yemen, Sudan, Albania, Kosovo and Egypt. Washington asserted control from afar.
Our sources report that in 1998, Abu Nidal’s men were among the American and Egyptian special forces purging bases in Tirana and other Albanian towns of al Qaeda units, to prepare the ground for NATO landings in Kosovo. There were also unconfirmed claims in Middle East circles that his men had turned up also in Chechnya.
The Americans and Egyptians put a stop to the Abu Nidal project in mid-2000 after picking up signs that he was at his old tricks of peddling information on his own client to the opposition, grassing to al Qaeda on American and Egyptian secret tactics in their efforts to combat the Islamic extremists. Before he could be nabbed, the terrorist had slipped out of Cairo – heading first for Tehran, then Baghdad.
Clinton called off the investigation against him before the CIA had a chance to establish exactly what secrets Abu Nidal had sold to Osama Bin Laden. This omission is viewed in retrospect by many counter-terror experts as an error that left the Bin Laden-Zuwahri duo free to go ahead with their plan to launch the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The Iranians wanted no truck with the runaway, having acquired their own master terrorist, the Lebanese Imad Mughniyeh. Saddam Hussein welcomed him with open arms, eager to exploit this source of information to find out exactly how much the Americans and Egyptians knew – or didn’t know – about al Qaeda. The Iraqi leader needed this information before deciding how far he could prudently play ball with Bin Laden’s network without laying himself open to American retaliation. Abu Nidal must have given Saddam what he wanted, because not long after he reached Baghdad, in July or August 2001, al Qaeda fighters began arriving in the pro-Iraqi fundamentalist Kurdish towns of Biyar and Tawil in the Shoman district of northern Iraq. Iraqi military instructors trained them there in the use of bombs and devices containing chemical and biological agents and possibly also in the handling of nuclear devices. debkafile‘s intelligence sources say that at the end of their courses, the al Qaeda trainees left Iraq via Syria and Lebanon. Some made for Afghanistan and Pakistan, others for countries in East and Central Europe, or even the United States. Those camps have been taking in fresh intakes ever since.
This week, American ABC and CNN TV stations reported the discovery of a chemical weapons program run by al Qaeda members in northern Iraq, plus the fact that Washington had been planning a covert operation against it, which the President called off late last week.
According to debkafile;s intelligence and counter-terror sources, those facilities have been there since summer 2001 and between 150 and 250 al Qaeda trainees have passed through them. This joint Iraq-al Qaeda WMD training project was first exposed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue No. 54 on March 22, 2002.
The Bush administration held off acting on the information partly to wait for its verification beyond doubt, but mostly for fear of letting the cat out of the bag on Abu Nidal’s role in the Bin Laden-Baghdad connection and how Saddam Hussein used that role to dig out Washington’s hapless involvement.
But this constraint may have been superseded, providing the Iraqi ruler, who is perfectly aware of the approaching US threat to his regime, with a pressing need shut Abu Nidal’s mouth. He saw the US president under mounting pressure from critics of the coming offensive against Iraq to come up with proof of a direct link between Saddam and terrorists as justification for the offensive. Under this pressure, he feared Bush would jump in one of two ways: He could have sent a covert American force to secret northern Iraqi training bases to snatch al Qaeda trainees with their Iraqi WMD instructors red-handed. Alternatively, American special forces might have abducted Abu Nidal and brought him to America with his damning testimony against Saddam.
Both options boded grave danger to the Iraqi ruler, but neither is any longer available to Washington.
Tipped off to their potential as President Bush’s cassus belli against Baghdad, the al Qaeda and Iraqi birds have flown Biyar and Tawil, while Abu Nidal’s mouth was permanently shut five days ago by four bullets.
By disposing of one terrorist, Saddam Hussein issued a graphic warning to another – Yasser Arafat – as to the fate awaiting collaborators with Washington – whether Abu Iyad in 1991 or Abu Nidal in 2002.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email