ATbar Abu Nidal: Coming in from the Cold?

Abu Nidal: Coming in from the Cold?

16/01/2000 | by Paz, Reuven (Dr.) Z"L  
On Friday, January 14th 2000, the Austrian Police announced the arrest of a female activist of the Abu Nidal group, Fatah - Revolutionary Council (FRC). The activist, Halima Nimer, was arrested while attempting to withdraw the sum of about 7.5 Million US dollars, equivalent of nearly 80 Million Austrian Shillings, from a bank in downtown Vienna. Several newspapers claimed that Nimer was responsible for the finances of the terrorist group, but no further details were reported.

The Abu Nidal group, once defined by the US State Department as “the most dangerous terrorist organization in existence,” has not been active in the past decade. This is due to the loss of support of Iraq and later of Libya, as well as the serious illness of its leader Sabri Khalil al-Bana a.k.a. “Abu Nidal.” There has thus been very little information about the group, its leadership, and the nature and location of its activities. In the period of 1973-1994 the group carried out numerous terrorist operations, in which more than 200 people were killed and about 700 wounded. The targets of this group included Israel, Jewish individuals and institutions, Arab individuals and institutions, Palestinian leaders and foreign individuals. One of the last operations included the kidnapping of seven Belgian passengers on a yacht near Lebanon in 1987, and the murder of a Jordanian diplomat in Beirut in January 1994. The hostages that were held in Lebanon were released in stages between 1988-1991.

From time to time there have been rumors and reports about the group, but only rarely in the past decade was one of its activists discovered or arrested. In October 1993, six members of the group were sentenced in Lebanon to up to life imprisonment for their part in the murder of the Jordanian diplomat. In February 1995, the Lebanese authorities arrested Mahmud Khalid `Aynatur, a.k.a. Abu `Ali Majid, who was head of special operations for the group. He was accused of orchestrating the kidnapping of the Belgian passengers and sentenced to imprisonment.

In August 1998, there were numerous rumors and reports that Abu Nidal was seriously ill will leukemia and undergoing clandestine treatment in an Egyptian hospital, after he was expelled from Libya. The Egyptian authorities have since obstinately denied his and there is no official or solid information about his whereabouts since then. Since most security apparatuses in the world haunt the man, any information about him or his followers brings about waves of rumors and guesses as to his whereabouts. Among those actively seeking his arrest are the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. Abu Nidal is responsible for the murder of several prominent Palestinian figures, such as `Issam Sirtawi, Salah Khalaf “Abu `Iyad” and Hail `Abd al-Hamid “Abu al-Hol,” between 1983-1991. He is responsible also for the serious injury of then Israeli ambassador in the UK, Shlomo Argov, on June 1982, which led Israel to invade Southern Lebanon in order to oust his and the other Palestinian terror organizations from their bases there.

On January 19th 1999, the London-based Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported some conflicting rumors about Abu Nidal, his whereabouts, his illness and his relations with several Arab states. On December 12th 1998 in Damascus, a member of the FRC read a message from Abu Nidal at convention of the Palestinian groups opposed to Arafat. In March 1999, the London-based Arab daily Al-Hayat quoted the eminent British Middle-East expert Patrick Seale, that Abu Nidal “was well and living in Cairo.” The report was categorically denied by Egyptian Interior Minister Habib al-`Adli. Seale has since set off another wave of rumors, concerning a proposal of Abu Nidal and his group to assist Western and Arab security services in their fight against Islamist terrorism, including Osama bin Ladin and his group.

On October 1999, Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that FRC had sent a note to President Mubarak asking him to intervene to stop the measures taken by the Egyptians against the group. The Egyptians had closed the organization’s office in Cairo and frozen its assets, equivalent to the sum of $4 Million. The message was signed by Abu Nidal. The daily claimed it verified the authenticity of the message through FRC central committee member Muhammad Mustafa in Beirut. The message inferred that the FRC maintained constant relationship with the Egyptian intelligence service. The FRC also accused the Libyan authorities of arresting its members and deporting them to the Palestinian Authority.

The FRC has always been regarded as a very wealthy organization due to contributions it received from Iraq and Libya and judicious management of its assets. In recent years the group was very busy moving money between bank accounts in various places in Europe and the Arab World, and was not involved in terrorist operations. The arrest of Halima Nimer in Vienna probably occurred in the framework of the normal financial activities of the group. The sum of money claimed by the Austrians may hint at the group’s wealth, beside of many assets in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Libya, which were allegedly confiscated. The arrest in Vienna, on which there is no further information so far, may hint also that the group is breaking up and that certain members of the organization are trying to put a hand on the group’s wealth.

In any case, the mystery surrounding the Fatah – Revolutionary Council, and Abu Nidal himself remains. From time some information surfaces. For now it seems that FRC is still alive, and should remain on the lists of every security and intelligence service in the world.