ABU NIDAL’S NEMESIS: Terror As a Thriving Business

Abu Nidal – once Yasser Arafat’s best friend; later turned fierce foe – was shot dead early Friday, August 16 by gunmen who burst into his home in Baghdad. debkafile‘s intelligence and counter-terror experts have no doubt that the ailing 65-year old terrorist was murdered by Iraqi military intelligence.
Sabri al Banna, who went under the nom de guerre of Abu Nidal – Father of the Struggle, self-appointed secretary-general of the “Fatah Revolutionary Council” – was the leading evil genius of the terrorist world in the last quarter of the 20th century. From 1974, this exceptionally ruthless murderer accounted for hundreds of deaths in 20 countries. In recent years, incapacitated by leukemia and a heart condition, Nidal lived in virtual retirement on a select estate situated on the banks of the Tigris reserved for senior terrorists and pensioned-off assassins, whether Egyptian, Syrian, Saudi and Yemeni, or Iraqi intelligence agents who once handled terrorists in the line of duty. The gates of the walled estate are guarded by Iraqi military intelligence agents in plain clothes.
His murder raises some intriguing questions:
1. Why would Iraq want to dispose of a sick, clapped out terrorist who once performed services for Saddam Hussein?
2. Does his liquidation have any bearing on the approaching American military attack on Iraq?
3. Is it related to the intricate trade-off relations between Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat? Iraqi military intelligence and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades? Or the networks currently engaged in preparing a mega attack in Israel?
Some of the answers will be found in Abu Nidal’s singular modus operandi as defined here by debkafile‘s terror experts:
A. Sabri al Banna was above all a mercenary, hiring out for a fee. His clientele spanned Yasser Arafat in the early seventies – before they fell out over their conflicting orientations; Libya’s Muammar Qaddafii in the late seventies, early eighties, for whom he carried out strikes in West Europe; Iranian intelligence, which used him as its surrogate overseas liquidator and, most of all, Saddam Hussein. Abu Nidal’s fee per operation ranged from $1 million to $3 million.
B. A sharp businessman, Abu Nidal may have been the only international terrorist to diversify openly into commerce, selling arms and trafficking in fellow terrorists’ secrets from a business base he set up in Soviet East Europe in the mid-1970s. The chain of companies he established there collaborated with his hosts’ intelligence services.
The Fatah Council’s Warsaw firm sold and leased weapons and ammunition to terrorist networks and paramilitary militias, such as the Irish Republican Army, the Japanese Red Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Unbeknown to these purchasers, Abu Nidal retained clerks to note down the serial numbers of the sold or rented war materials, enabling him to track their disposition and sell the information to the highest bidder.
C. The dreaded Abu Nidal did not execute all the attacks credited to him. He may have claimed some to build up his reputation and raise his fee; sometimes, rival terror groups borrowed his name. But most of all, he found that, on top of his pursuits as terrorist, gun for hire, gunrunner and super-grass, he could turn a pretty penny by renting out the name of his organization. For a fee therefore, the Fatah Revolutionary Council, might claim a terrorist operation in order to cover up the real perpetrators.
Our terror experts reveal for instance that, contrary to general belief, Abu Nidal did not carry out the attempted murder of the Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov in London in June 1982, which prompted Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and led to the destruction of Arafat’s military infrastructure in south Lebanon and his own expulsion. This operation was carried out by a seven-agent Iraqi military intelligence team. Saddam paid Abu Nidal a quarter of a million dollars to attach his name to the crime.
Nine years later, Iraq paid him handsomely to say his men had murdered two of Arafat’s top aides, Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) and Hayel Abdel-Hamid, two days before the Gulf War began in 1991. Both men opposed Arafat’s alliance with Saddam.
In his capacity as super terrorist, he staged the simultaneous attacks on El Al ticket desks at Rome and Vienna airports on December 27, 1988, killing 18 and wounding 120. However, the slaying of 22 Jewish Shabbat worshippers in Istanbul’s Neveh Shalom Synagogue in September 1986 was the work of Imad Mughniyeh, as was the bomb explosion aboard the TWA Boeing as it approached Athens airport on December 27, 1985.
In both cases, Abu Nidal’s name was borrowed or bought.
Al Banna moved to Libya in 1986 when the Soviet bloc started crumbling, along with the intelligence services who employed and protected him – especially the Russian KGB, the Polish military intelligence and East German Stasi. With an international warrant out for his arrest, Abu Nidal sheltered for 12 years under Gaddafi’s aegis. Not much is known about that period except that he set up as a consultant on terrorist tactics, conducted a brisk trade in covert information and had his hands full coping with factions in his group who fought for control of the organization and its wealth.

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