Abú Nidal llegó a ser el terrorista más peligroso

THE United States once described Abu Nidal as “the world’s most dangerous terrorist”. It was not an exaggeration. In a grisly campaign stretching over two decades and three continents, his Fatah Revolutionary Council (FRC) was responsible for the deaths of perhaps 1,000 people in 20 countries, usually at the behest and in the pay of this or that Middle East regime.
Sometimes the targets were Jews, as in the simultaneous attacks on Israeli check-in counters at airports in Rome and Vienna in December 1985, killing 19 people and wounding 120. Or the machinegunning of an Istanbul synagogue in September 1986 that left 22 dead. More often the slain were Palestinians, especially those who advocated peace with Israel in the days when it was brave rather than wise to do so. Abu Nidal’s worst single act of carnage was the downing of a TWA airliner en route from Israel to Greece in October 1974: all 88 people aboard died.
But the act that had the most significant consequences was the FRC’s attempted assassination in June 1982 of Israel’s ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov. This gave Israel’s Likud government of Menachem Begin, whose defence minister was Ariel Sharon, the pretext to, as they put it, “strike at” Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) through the invasion of Lebanon. Both men, even then, were aware that Abu Nidal was Mr Arafat’s mortal Palestinian enemy. In those days, as perhaps in these, it barely mattered. “Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal, they’re all the same,” was the judgment of Israel’s then army chief, Rafael Eitan.
Abu Nidal (Father of the Struggle) was the nom de guerre of Sabri al-Banna. He was born to a wealthy Palestinian family in a fine Arab house in the Mediterranean port town of Jaffa that today serves as an Israeli military court. The family fled in the 1948 war that saw Israel born and most of Palestine lost. Like thousands of his kin, he became a refugee in Nablus. He worked as a teacher and in 1960 joined Mr Arafat’s fledgling movement.
The falling out
He rose rapidly, becoming the PLO’s ambassador to Khartoum and then Baghdad. The higher he climbed the more he fell out with Mr Arafat’s stewardship of the Palestinian cause. In 1974, egged on by Saddam Hussein, then Iraq’s vice-president, he founded the FRC as a rival to Mr Arafat’s movement. That year the PLO had decided to try to establish a “fighting national authority” in any part of the liberated homeland as a “stage” to the recovery of Palestine as a whole. Abu Nidal viewed this, accurately, as the PLO’s first move away from the ideology of “total liberation”, and towards some sort of accommodation with Israel.
Over the next eight years, working usually out of Baghdad, the FRC turned their guns on any Palestinian official who tried to put that accommodation into practice, assassinating in 1978 the PLO’s representatives to London and Paris, Said Hammami and Izzadin Kalak. Both men had made pioneering efforts to forge a dialogue with sympathetic Israelis.
In 1982 Abu Nidal moved to Syria and set up home in Damascus. The FRC launched spectacular acts of terrorism whose sole purpose appeared to be to discredit Mr Arafat’s attempted rapprochement with Jordan and other acts of diplomacy whose direction was clearly towards creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Among its victims was a moderate PLO diplomat, Issam Sartawi, shot dead at a Socialist International conference in Lisbon in 1983.
Abu Nidal made efforts to join forces with an array of dissidents from the PLO that, under Syrian tutelage, were striving to prise the movement from Mr Arafat’s grip. Those endeavours came to a bloody end in October 1988 when Abu Nidal feared an attempt to oust him. In a purge of the FRC 156 of its members were murdered. It was a bloodletting from which Abu Nidal and his organisation never recovered. For the next decade, he plied his murderous trade for Libya and Egypt, among others. They gave him protection in return for services rendered, after which he and what was left of the FRC were moved on. He reportedly arrived in Baghdad in 2000: here, at least, he was still owed favours.
In January 1991, on the eve of the Gulf war, an FRC gunman shot dead Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad), who was second to Mr Arafat in the PLO hierarchy. He had been the most outspoken Palestinian critic of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and was contemptuous of Saddam Hussein’s attempts to “link” the aggression with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians are convinced Khalaf was shot on Baghdad’s orders.
It is unclear whether Abu Nidal was murdered by a gunman in Baghdad or took his own life because he had cancer. What is clear is his death is unmourned by Palestinians, whether in the occupied territories or beyond. Some believe he was in the pay of Israel, so routinely did his useless violence appear to besmirch Palestinian signs of moderation, particularly during the 1970s. Others are aware that no one else did quite so much to tarnish their struggle for freedom with the blight of terrorism. “He defamed our cause,” said Abbas Zaki, a veteran Palestinian leader.

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