Terror Leader Abu Nidal Found Dead
Aug. 19, 2002
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Abu Nidal, the Palestinian renegade whose name became a byword for international terrorism, was found dead in his Baghdad apartment with multiple gunshot wounds, Palestinian officials said Monday.
Abu Nidal's body was found three days ago, said two senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah who spoke on condition of anonymity. They said the reports they received from Baghdad suggested Abu Nidal had committed suicide but did not explain how that was possible when there was more than one bullet wound.
There have been reports Abu Nidal was ill, and illness might have led him to take his own life, said Yossi Melman, an Israeli terrorism expert who wrote a book on Abu Nidal.
But Abu Nidal could also have been assassinated, perhaps by one of his own men in the internal feuds for which his organization is known _ or perhaps by an Iraqi government fearful he knew too much about its operations.
Aby Nidal's presence in Baghdad has fueled the U.S. labeling of Iraq as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The United States once branded Abu Nidal's splinter group, the Fatah Revolutionary Council, the world's most dangerous terrorist organization. It was blamed for killing 300 people and wounding 650 in 20 countries since 1973, though U.S. officials say its activities had largely stopped in recent years.
Word of his death came from his rivals _ in the mid-1970s, Abu Nidal accused Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization of softening in the struggle against Israel and made the PLO his prime target. His gunmen picked off Arafat's most trusted lieutenants.
Abu Nidal's death was reported Monday in the Palestinian daily Al Ayyam. In Baghdad, the deputy Palestinian ambassador, Nejah Abdul-Rahman, said he had no information regarding what he described as rumors of Abu Nidal's death.
Abu Nidal spokesman Ghanem Saleh, speaking in Lebanon, said he had only heard the report from news media and had no immediate comment.
Abu Nidal, whose real name is Sabri al-Banna, has been one of the key figure in Middle East terror for the past quarter century, often switching among Arab nations looking for patrons. An Israeli analyst said Monday he had been sidelined in the last few years.
``In the last few years he lived in Baghdad with his men, it could possible have been a one-man show,'' said Ephraim Inbar, an expert on terrorism at the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry refused comment, saying it was an internal Palestinian matter.
In 1982, Abu Nidal gunmen shot and critically wounded Israel's ambassador in London. Israel blamed Arafat's PLO and launched a huge invasion of Lebanon, driving Arafat and his forces out of the country.
Abu Nidal _ a nom de guerre that means ``father of the struggle'' _ was born in Jaffa in 1937 when the area was part of British-governed Palestine. The family later moved to Nablus, and he left the area to organize opposition to the establishment of Israel.
The shadowy guerrilla masterminded the killings of both Jews and fellow Palestinians who opposed him. He flitted from one lair to another to avoid capture and switched backers from Iraq to Syria to Libya over the years. Officals accused him of running an international extortion racket running into millions of dollars, shaking down governments with threats of attacks, as well as dealing in arms and serving as a hit man for his various Arab backers.
The chain-smoking schoolteacher-turned-terrorist struck targets from Paris to Pakistan. His followers bombed American airliners, mowed down travelers in airports, machine-gunned sidewalk cafes and synagogues and blew up hotels. His most notorious _ but not most fatal _ attacks were twin assaults on the Israeli airline El Al's ticket counters at Rome and Vienna airports on Dec. 27, 1985. Eighteen people were killed and 120 wounded.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, Abu Nidal's brother said Monday he had no information to indicate his brother had died in Baghdad _ but added he had not heard from him in 38 years.
Mohammed al-Banna, a fruit and vegetable merchant, told Associated Press Television News that it was not the first time rumors have circulated concerning the death of his brother.