AL BANNA, Sabry Khalil (Abu Nidal)

Palestinian politician born in Jaffa in 1937 as son of a wealthy Muslim landowner. Exiled in 1948 together with his family, he lived in several Arab countries. In 1967, he joined the ranks of the Fatah movement.

Abu Nidal (« the father of struggle » in Arabic) lived as a teacher in Egypt and later in Saudi Arabia, but was expelled because of his political activities. In the early 70’s, he represented the PLO in Khartoum and later Baghdad where he split from the PLO leadership in 1974 and created the Fatah-Revolutionary Council, pretending to have legitimate representation of the major PLO organization. The Fatah-RC subsequently took possession of Fatah assets in Baghdad thanks to the Iraqi government’s good will which undoubtedly had the intention to take control of the Palestinian movements. Abu Nidal was therefore given a death sentence by the PLO.

During the following years, the Fatah-RC claimed the assassination of several PLO representatives « guilty » of taking up contacts with the sraeli pacifist left wing: Saïd Hammami in London (1978), Ezzedine Kalak in Paris (1978), Naim Khader in Brussels (1981). In 1983, the Fatah-RC claimed the assassination in Portugal of Issam Sartawi, who was charged by Arafat of maintaining contacts with the Israeli pacifist left.

Furthermore, his group specialized in anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish attacks such as the one against Jewish school children in Antwerp (1980) and that on the Rue des Rosiers in Paris (1982). The group also carried out several kidnappings. The group is also responsible for the wounding of the Israeli ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov, in 1982, which was used by Israel as a pretext to invade Lebanon.

Following pressure by Saudi Arabia which was giving financial aid to Iraq before the Gulf War, he was expelled to Syria in 1983.

In 1985 he claimed the attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports. That same year he was asked to leave Damascus and settled in Libya. Since then, attacks and kidnapping attributed to him were claimed by groups with various names, such as « Arab Revolutionary Brigades », « Fatah Revolutionary Cell », …

The group headed by Abu Nidal has probably been used, by Iraq, for the assassination in Tunis on January 14, 1991 of Abu Iyad (Salah Khalaf) – PLO « Second in Command » – who wished that the PLO clearly condemn the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.

Abu Nidal’s group is blamed for killing or wounding about 900 people in 20 countries since it was formed. He himself is considered to have been a mercenary, who worked at various times on behalf of Iraq, Syria and Libya and, it is claimed, even Israel. The group was once defined as « the most dangerous terrorist organisation in existence » by the US Department of State.

In 1992 it lost all its facilities in Libya where it detained the French-Belgian Valente-Houtekins family. Tripoli actually wanted to improve its image abroad. Most members or former members of his group have now supposedly settled in Sudan, in Iraq and in Lebanon.

He opposed the Oslo Agreements signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993.

In 2001 he was tried in absentia in Jordan for the assassination of a Jordan diplomat occurred in Lebanon in 1994.

At the end of the 1980s, dissidents from the Fatah-RC reported dozens of executions in the bossom of the group. Alleged internal disputes and the loss of support from traditional allies are the causes of the non activity of the group since the last deade. Its members are nowhere to be found despite all the efforts of various intelligence services (including the PLO).

In January 2000, the Austrian police announced the arrest of a female activist of the Abu Nidal group as she was trying to withdraw a huge amount of money, indicating that the group still had financial ressources.

Various rumours about the group and its leader have been spread but none were confirmed: According to different Arab and US sources, Abu Nidal was arrested and held by the Egyptian authorities in July 1998. This information was strongly denied by the Egyptian authorities. Following American sources, Abou Nidal has been hospitalized since December 1998 in a Baghdad clinic. Baghdad authorities have though never recognised the presence of Abu Nidal in its territory.

Abu Nidal was found dead from gunshot wounds in Baghdad in August 2002, at the age of 65. While according to some versions, he was alledgedly suffering from a serious disease and therefore committed suicide, others point out a possible assassination.