The threats, and the response, were chilling. In the aftermath of simultaneous post-Christmas terrorist attacks at airports in Rome and Vienna that left 19 people dead and 121 wounded, the United States and Israel last week accused Libya’s leader, Col. Moammar Khadafy, of supporting the alleged organizer of the attacks, Abu Nidal. Then, both nations threat-
ened military reprisals. In Washington state department spokesman Charles Redman said, “Terrorism cannot go unanswered.” And in Jerusalem Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres declared, “Israel will act with all the means at its disposal.” In Tripoli Khadafy said that if the United States and Israel attacked Libya, “it would trigger a war that would include the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, and perhaps the whole world.”
The United States supported its charge of Libyan complicity by releasing a state department document prepared before the airport attacks which described Nidal and his guerrillas as “probably the best organized and the most effective of the radical Palestinian terrorist groups.” It said the concentration of Nidal’s activities in Eur-
ope “coincided with the strengthening of his links with Libya.” The document added, “The likelihood of Libyan financing, safe haven and logistical assistance should be very helpful to his future international terrorist operations.”
For his part, Peres accused Khadafy of running a “murder state.” He added, “From Libya come people with
silencer-equipped pistols, and to Libya return people who have committed cold-blooded murder.” Indeed, as European nations increased security around their airports, Israel and the United States last week called for economic and diplomatic sanctions against Libya. Peres appealed to world leaders to take concerted action to isolate Libya. Speaking to a small group of Western reporters at his barracks headquarters in Tripoli, the 43-year-old Khadafy, whose government has denied responsibility for the airport massacres, replied, “If an aggression on Libya occurs, then we
shall consider that the beginning of the end—we will chase Americans in the streets of America, and Israelis in the streets of occupied Palestine.”
At week’s end, as the well-armed U.S. aircraft carrier Coral Sea was on manoeuvres in the Mediterranean and in place to launch a retaliatory strike, Libya’s own forces were on full alert and anti-U.S. demonstrators paraded through the streets of Libyan cities. And Iran, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization declared that they would come to Khadafy’s aid if Libya were attacked. For their part, officials in Moscow charged that the United States and Israel had wrongly accused Libya of involvement in the airport attacks and said Washington was “trying to kindle new hot spots” in the world.
Past Israeli and U.S. attempts to isolate Libya have faltered over its position as a major oil supplier to Europe, with annual revenues of $30 billion. While the United States banned Libyan oil imports in 1982, it exports nonmilitary goods worth $200 million a year to Libya, | even though last July “ President Ronald Reagan included Libya with Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Nicaragua as members of “a new international version of Murder Inc.” Indeed, the state department document accused the Abu Nidal group of 20 terrorist actions in 20 countries in the first 11 months of 1985, including the EgyptAir hijacking to Malta in November and bombings in Europe. And last week Mohammed Sarham, 19, the sole survivor of the four-man attack squad at the Rome airport, told Italian investigators that he is one of 300 fighters from Palestin9 ian refugee camps being * trained with Libyan backing for suicide mis-
Armed guards at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport; Israel’s Peres (below): concerted action
sions in Europe, according to Italian newspaper reports. Since the airport assaults, police in Greece, Belgium and Spain have arrested 11 suspected Palestinian terrorists. According to Ariel Merari, an expert on terrorism at Tel Aviv University’s Centre of Strategic Studies: “Abu Nidal makes the infamous terrorist Carlos look like a Boy Scout by comparison. He has no equals.”
Still, until he was linked with the airport attacks, little was known about Abu Nidal, an adopted name that means “Father of the Struggle.” Intelligence sources say he was born Sabry al-Banna, the seventh son of wealthy Palestinian parents in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, sometime between 1935 and 1943. The family fled intensive Israeli shelling during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war following the creation of the state of Israel and eventually settled in Nablus, then part of Jordan, now on the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Later, he travelled to# Saudi Arabia where he joined Yasser Arafat’s AÍ Fatah group, founded in Kuwait in 1959. That group would become the leading guerrilla faction of the PLO.
Nidal established a PLO office in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1970. But by 1973 he had rejected Arafat’s policy of proposing negotiations with Israel to establish a Palestinian homeland. With the support of the Iraqi government, Nidal created his own group— the Fatah Revolutionary Council—and planned to kill Arafat. The PLO discovered the plan, expelled him in 1974 and sentenced him to death in absentia.
In the outpouring of information about Nidal last week from U.S., European and Israeli authorities, guerrillas working for Nidal were accused of assassinating five PLO representatives in Europe, the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov, in June, 1982, and the November hijacking of the EgyptAir Boeing 737, in which 60 people were killed by hijackers and in an Egyptian rescue attempt. One of Abu Nidal’s brothers, Mahmoud al-Banna, a merchant in Nablus, recalls asking Nidal about his terrorist activities. Said Mahmoud: “ He replied that he had to ‘get back the land for my people. Can we, the rich, sit back and let the poor people go fight?’ ”
At week’s end, as U.S., Israeli and Libyan rhetoric escalated and Washington warned the 1,500 American citizens living in Libya that they might be in danger, Nidal himself, whose actions in the past decade have spoken louder than his words, appeared to be quietly hiding in Libya.
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