Abu Nidal’s Polish Trail

The first news about his death came from Palestinian sources in the West Bank on Monday, August 19, 2002 as reported by Reuters: A senior Palestinian official said Abu Nidal, 65, had died in “mysterious conditions” and it was unclear whether he was killed or committed suicide . Such was the end of a man born in May 1937 in Jaffa (now in Israel), one of the 23 children of a wealthy Palestinian businessman, the man turned then the most  wanted Arab terrorist. His chosen nom de guerre é Abu Nidal é means: ” Father of the Struggle”. Now” Father” is dead and the struggle goes on without him. His whole life was full of terrible events he conceived, produced and took part in. An engineer by training, he worked for a short time as a teacher in Nablus on the West Bank and then in the Saudi oil industry, before joining Yasser Arafat’s militant group, Fatah (part of the PLO é Palestine Liberation Organization), in the early 1960’s. But soon he became Arafat’s bitter enemy, killing many of the PLO leaders and even trying to assassinate  Yasser Arafat. For Abu Nidal the complete liberation of Palestine (read: the destruction of Israel) was the only acceptable goal. In 1974 he formed his own organization é ANO (Abu Nidal Organization). Since then he and ANO has targeted terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens and Jews in other countries, as well as against PLO officials, moderate Arab states and the West. All attacks were brutal and ANO members “celebrated” them with the utmost cruelty and sang and danced after they had killed the victims. In total there were about 900 people killed or wounded by this bloody gang, in more than 90 terrorist attacks executed in 20 countries of the World. In spite of the death sentences in absentia pronounced against Abu Nidal in several countries and by the PLO he survived and continuously plotted more “revolutionary” actions from his headquarters and bases in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Lebanon. The ANO operated under many names, like the: Fatah Revolutionary Council, Arab Revolutionary Council, Arab Revolutionary Brigades, Black September or Revolutionary Council of Socialist Muslims. Seldom his fighters were caught and jailed. Abu Nidal narrowly escaped an execution in Iraq  (in the1980s) and an attempt at his life in Poland (in 1985). Since the late 1990’s the ANO, whose manpower shrunk from over 500 to mere 200, has not attacked any Western target. At the same time Abu Nidal himself disappeared and only rumors were circulated about his alleged hideouts in Yemen, Pakistan or Egypt. He was even said to have undergone a plastic surgery in a Cairo clinic run by a former East German STASI [secret police] doctor. Other sources hinted he was dying of cancer in a Cairo hospital, watched by police. But the Egyptian authorities denied ever holding him. Nobody seemed to know how he looked like. Finally, in 2000, the American CIA, the Israeli Mossad and the French DGSE received confirmed reports about Abu Nidal’s  whereabouts. To the surprise of the intelligence services, the arch-terrorist lived comfortably in Baghdad, at least from 1998, serving the same “Lord” who had expelled him in 1983: Saddam Hussein. . His very presence in Iraq raises the frightening question that Saddam is pushing to establish a terrorism network.”é said a senior member of the Israeli intelligence then. The fear was well justified, because as both the  CIA and the Mossad sources  said there was growing evidence that Nidal had “coached” bin Laden – and that Abu Nidal himself  was the real mastermind behind the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (on 7 August, 1998).  Counter-terrorism experts say their ground intelligence suggests that Nidal has solved a problem for Saddam: giving him what he lacks – a ready-made terrorist organization able to operate world-wide. é wrote Gordon Thomas, a known British intelligence specialist and writer. A global hunt for Sabri al Banna alias Abu Nidal  ended in Baghdad in August this year. Did Abu Nidal  kill himself out of despair? True,  he had to live with a terminal form of cancer, depending on pain-killing drugs. But there’s also an other possibility: he has been shot dead (reportedly by many bullets) at somebody’s order. Whose order? Perhaps Allah and Saddam Hussein may know. Or, somebody in the “cold” : a mysterious intelligence head who has just closed the Abu Nidal’s file with a sigh of relief.

The Polish Trail

At least from the 1960s, the communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe were a safe haven to many terrorists. The policy of the Soviet Union, carried out by its two most powerful intelligence agencies: the KGB and the GRU, aimed at stirring dissent and trouble in the West and (since the 1967 war) also targeted Israel as a “Zionist enemy”. Palestinian Arabs turned their “national liberation struggle” into a continuous terrorist strategy. The communist countries overtly supported Yasser Arafat’s PLO but covertly dealt with  more radical organizations, like the Black September of Abu Daoud or the ANO of Abu Nidal. These organizations respected no laws or international treaties killing people, hijacking planes and ships, bombing Jewish synagogues, attacking overseas military outposts and diplomatic missions of Israel, the U.S.A. and a number of other states, including some Arab and Muslim countries. The Soviet Intelligence HQ singled out several European communist countries to support the clandestine terrorist organizations. Poland was included in that number but never was so significant as the GDR [East Germany], Czechoslovakia or Bulgaria. The last three states, or better their secret police, intelligence and counter-intelligence services and the military establishment provided specialized training, sold weapons and munitions, gave logistic support or sheltered and used  terrorists from many parts of the World, including those from the Arab countries. Poland had a lesser but still important part in this game. Under the protection of the secret political police (SB) and the military counter-intelligence (WSW) several notorious terrorists took refuge in Poland, many Palestinian and other “liberation fighters” were treated for wounds in Polish military hospitals, many other received vocational education and military training. The Arafat’s PLO openly recruited Palestinian students in Poland for the war in Lebanon in the 1980s. Poland also sold light arms, grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons and munitions to  Palestinian militant groups and to  other terrorist groups. These relations developed the best at the time of the military rule in Poland (1981 é 1985) but were continued until  1990 and afterwards (in  half-legal or illicit ways).

Abu Nidal and his close family and aides came to  Poland in 1981 and stayed there (moving to and from Poland)  until 1985 or, according to some reports, until December of 1986. With his wife and children he lived in a small town, Pabianice in Central Poland, in one of three villas  guarded by the secret police (SB). Local people took  the Arabs for Gypsies, as there were many Roms living in that area . The Arabs drove three cars with police escorts.   Abu Nidal decided to stay in Poland after his expulsion from  Iraq in 1983. Under a different name, using several passports and protected by the communist secret service he  could safely  stay in Poland and organize ANO’s activities from there. He could also make money for himself and ANO  through an Arab business company, SAS Trade and Investment, owned by Samir Hassan Najmadeen. The company was one of the “frontline” firms for financing the terrorist activity in Eastern and Western Europe. It was closed down by the Polish authorities, under the  American pressure, only in 1987 and its two Palestinian managers  were expulsed.  Abu Nidal  spent some time also in Hungary, in Budapest where he used to stay at the spa hotel “Thermal” on the Margaret Island, guarded by 8 Hungarian secret service men. In Warsaw Arab terrorists met at the Warsaw best “Victoria” hotel, where from 1980 to 1987 resided Monzer al-Cassar (known as “The Prince of Morbella”), a Syrian  arms trader supplying weapons from Eastern Europe to several  terrorist networks .His business partners were the official trade companies in Poland, including the state-licensed weapons trader “Cenzin”. In Poland Monzer al-Cassar lived in the lap of luxury. Later on in Madrid, during Monzer’s trial in 1995, one of the witnesses (Ahmed Boumershed) told the jury that Abu Nidal had been helped and protected in by three Polish Army generals. One of them was the head of the Military Intelligence (ZII WSW). Another Palestinian guest of the Polish communist authorities  was  Abu Daoud (Tariq Shaliq Mahdi), one of the leaders of Black September (part of the Fatah), the man  responsible for the  bloody massacre of the Israeli sportsmen at Munich, during the Olympic Games of 1972. Abu Daoud stayed in Poland at least one for year, from 1980 to August of 1981, when he survived an attempt at his life at the “Victoria” hotel in Warsaw [he was hit by 6 gun bullets but survived the attack and soon left Poland for East Germany]. Daoud had a Syrian passport for the name: Tariq Shafiq Mahdi. Still other famous terrorist, Carlos (Iliych Ramirez Sanchez, now serving his jail term in France) also spent some time in Poland in the years 1985 é 1986. He wanted to settle down there but Abu Nidal persuaded him not, for security reasons. Abu Nidal was right as he,too, narrowly escaped an attempt at his life at the same “Victoria” hotel, in  1985. In both cases, of Abu Daoud (1981) and Abu Nidal (1985) the credit for the aborted aexecutions was easily given to the Israeli intelligence but the perpetrators had never been found. They could as well be Palestinians from the rivaling terrorist organizations.

Black September é Poland é and the Nukes for Saddam

From June 1989 (Poland) to December 1991(USSR), the whole communist system in Eastern Europe and beyond the Urals collapsed without a war or an armed resistance. The partition of the Soviet Union and the peaceful liberation of Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary and other former communist states as well as the pulling out of the Soviet troops and the military equipment from East Germany and Poland (then from other countries) created a unique historical situation: an occasion to hunt for  weapons, materials, products and technology that had been considered as top secret in the communist empire. Also for  nuclear weapons and radioactive materials or products that started to flow illegally out from the ex-Soviet arsenals, factories and labs to  “end users” in many countries of the World. In the  1990s,  the illegal nuclear trade was dominated by the intelligence services, by military- industrial complex and the new mafias, developed from the ex-Soviet and  other (Polish, too) secret  former intelligence groups turned into criminal organizations. There are many reasons to believe that many dangerous nuclear materials, parts of the weaponry or even some nuclear weapons (like the famous “suitcase bombs” or nuclear demolition ammunition) slipped out from the Soviet hands into the hands of some terrorist organizations, like the notorious al Qaeda or, more sure, were bought from Russia and from some post-Soviet countries by the  states aspiring to become nuclear powers. 

At least from 1992 to the end of 1996, in Poland and the former GDR,  the Ukraine, the Baltic States, in Czechoslovakia (then split into two states), Hungary and Bulgaria there operated many intelligence organizations of Arab and Muslim countries, looking for nuclear materials, products and know-how and recruiting former Soviet specialists. The same action was undertaken in several ex-Soviet states of Central Asia (specially in Kazakhstan) and in the Russian Siberia. In Poland Libyan and Iraqi intelligence officers, disguised as diplomats and businessmen, hunted for  nuclear materials including the weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, strontium and a  Soviet secret product used as  detonator for  nuclear missile warheads. The Iraqi intelligence envoys to Poland operated mainly  through Palestinian go-betweens. One of them was a member of Black September [just another name for Abu Nidal Organization, ANO). His meeting place was the new “Marriott” hotel  and some Arab business offices downtown Warsaw. His task was to find out possible suppliers of the wanted materials, to examine the samples and to negotiate the prices and the commissions. He  had a Jordanian passport. Later on, when the American intelligence put some pressure on the Polish special services, that terrorist linked to Abu Nidal moved to Kiev in the Ukraine and continued his activity there, until 1995.

There were dozens of other “nuke-hunters” from many countries, operating in Poland in the 1990s. Some of the names were well known to the Polish intelligence and counter-intelligence services but they had not  been disclosed  for operational and state security reasons. One of the more spectacular efforts to obtain special nuclear products from Russia via Poland had been noted in 1996. The mediators for the Iraqi Intelligence were Palestinians living in Poland and a private trade company, co-owned by  Polish and Iraqi  businessmen.  The go-betweens were some Jordanian sheiks. The alleged purchaser was supposed to be “The King of Saudi Arabia”. Again, the names of the people involved had to be kept secret as it wasn’t the last operation of that kind. Earlier, in France, the C.I.A. station in Paris was informed of a large (multi million dollar) nuclear transaction sought between a Russian military establishment and an unidentified Arab state. Members of Abu Nidal Organization were also part of that deal and the transit country was supposed to be Poland.

Was Abu Nidal Assassinated?

The man who  organized over 90 terrorist actions making his name by killing hundreds of innocent people, deserved the same cruel death. And probably he got that. Reports from Palestinian sources and Arab countries tend to present Abu Nidal’s end as a “suicide” or “euthanasia”. But people who knew him wouldn’t confirm the suicide version. They said he wasn’t the type of man to kill himself. Intelligence sources, specially the Israeli ones, say Saddam authorized his assassination – “possibly by lethal injection” – because Nidal had no further role to play in Saddam’s war plans. [Yvonne Ridley and Gordon Thomas]. If in 1998 Abu Nidal could be still useful to “coach” al Qaeda, in 2002 he was a dying man with no future. In the past he was kicked out of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and also from Iraq as a “persona non grata”. His “unlimited” terrorist actions and his stubborn behavior put many Arab leaders into embarrassment. For the “Butcher of Baghdad” (Saddam Hussein) the life of that old warrior had no value at all. Therefore one could suppose that Abu Nidal’s end was rather an execution than a suicide. To cover up the real cause of his death, his body had been pierced by bullets. And that’s all.

Mr. David M. Dastych contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Poland. He has worked as a journalist and international correspondent in Europe & Asia for 40 years. Nowadays, He writes as an analyst in international terrorism and nuclear threats.