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Abu Nidal (May 1937 – August 16, 2002), born Sabri al-Banna, was a Palestinian political leader and founder of the Fatah Revolutionary Council (Fatah al-Qiyadah al-Thawriyyah), also known as the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), the Arab Revolutionary Brigades, and the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims. Before the rise of Osama bin Laden, Abu Nidal, whose nom de guerre means "father of the struggle," was widely regarded as the world's most ruthless terrorist.
Part of the largely secular, leftwing Palestinian rejectionist front, so-called because they reject the idea of making peace with Israel, the ANO was formed after a split in 1974 between Abu Nidal and Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Setting himself up as a terrorist contractor willing to be hired by certain states, Abu Nidal was based over the years in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and toward the end of his life once again in Iraq, and is believed to have been responsible for ordering attacks in 20 countries, killing or injuring over 900 people.  The group is not known to have been active since 1991, when an ANO gunman assassinated Abu Iyad, the deputy chief of the PLO.
The ANO's most notorious attacks were on the El Al ticket counters at Rome and Vienna airports on December 27, 1985, when Arab gunmen doped on amphetamines opened fire on passengers in simultaneous attacks, killing 18 and wounding 120. Patrick Seale, Abu Nidal's biographer, wrote of the attacks that "[t]heir random cruelty marked them as typical Abu Nidal operations," (Seale 1992).
Suffering from leukemia, Abu Nidal died of at least one gunshot wound in Baghdad in August 2002, believed to have been killed on the orders of Saddam Hussein, but said by the Iraqi government to have committed suicide. 
Abu Nidal was born in May 1937 in the port of Jaffa on the Mediterranean coast of what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. His father Khalil was a wealthy merchant who had made his money from the 6,000 acres of orange groves he owned, and who raised his 11 children in comparative luxury in a large, three-storey, stone house near the beach.
However, Khalil fell in love with one of the family's maids, a young Alawite girl just sixteen years old. Against the wishes of the rest of his family, he took her as his new wife, and she gave birth to Sabri al-Banna, Khalil's 12th child. Accounts vary as to whether the teenager was his second wife, which Patrick Seale indicates, or his eighth, as suggested by other researchers. 
Seale suggests that Abu Nidal's unhappy childhood might explain his apparent psychopathic personality. He was scorned by his older half-brothers and half-sisters, and when his father died in 1945, with the young Samir just seven years old, the family turned his mother out of the house, and he lost her too. Although allowed to live with his siblings, he was neglected and left with no education. Throughout his adult life, Seale writes, his childish handwriting was a source of great embarrassment to him. He grew to despise women, later forcing his own wife to live in isolation without friends, and forbidding ANO members from telling their wives of their activities or allowing the women to befriend one another.
When the Arabs rejected the November 1947 United Nations partition plan, war broke out between the Arabs and Jews, and Jaffa found itself under seige. The al-Banna family lost their orange groves, which were confiscated by the new Israeli government, and fled to the al-Burj refugee camp in Gaza, then under the control of Egypt, where they spent a year living in tents, before moving to Nablus in the West Bank, then ruled by Jordan.
Abu Nidal's teenage years were spent in Nablus, scraping a living for himself with odd jobs. He joined the radical, Arab-nationalist Ba'ath party in Jordan when he was 18, but King Hussein closed the party down in 1957. Now nursing a lifelong hatred of King Hussein, Abu Nidal made his way to Saudi Arabia, where he set himself up as a painter and electrician in Riyadh (Seale 1992), although other writers have said he first began, though did not finish, an engineering degree at Cairo University (Dobson and Payne 1986), and later went on to work as a casual laborer for Aramco. 
Early political life
In Riyhad, he helped to found a small group of young Palestinians who called themselves the Palestine Secret Organization, and met his wife Hiyam al-Bitar, with whom he had a son and two daughters. When Israel won the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, he was imprisoned and tortured by the Saudis, then expelled, regarded by the Saudi government as an unwelcome radical because of his vocal demonstrations against Israel.  He moved to Amman, Jordan, setting up a trading company called Impex, and joined Fatah, Yasser Arafat's faction within the PLO.
Impex soon became a front for Fatah activities, and this was to become a hallmark of Abu Nidal's career: trading companies controlled by the ANO served to make him a rich man by engaging in legitimate business deals — at one point in the 80s, he was the largest importer of chicken into Poland — while at the same time acting as cover for his multi-million-dollar arms deals and mercenary or terrorist activities.
Impex served as a meeting place for Fatah members and a conduit for funds to pay them with. Abu Nidal was described by those who knew him at the time as a tidy, well-organized leader, not a guerrilla. During skirmishes in Jordan between the fedayeen and King Hussein's troops, he stayed indoors, according to Seale, never leaving his office. Abu Iyad, seeing al-Banna's talent for organization, appointed him in 1968-9 as the Fatah representative in Khartoum, Sudan, then to the same position in Baghdad in July 1970, just two months before Black September, when King Hussein's army finally drove the fedayeen out of Jordan, with the loss of between 5,000 and 10,000 Palestinian lives in just ten days. Abu Nidal's absence from Jordan during this period, where it was clear that Hussein might be about to act against the Palestinians, raised the suspicion within the movement that his requests for posts to Sudan and Iraq had been intended only to save his own skin.
The split from the PLO
Just before the PLO expulsion from Jordan, and during the three years that followed it, several radical Palestinian and other Arab factions split from the PLO and began to launch their own military or terrorist attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets, as well as civilian targets overseas. These included the PFLP, DFLP, Arab Liberation Front, al-Sa'iqa, Palestine Liberation Front, and Black September, a group of radical fedayeen associated with Arafat's Fatah, who carried out operations using Black September as a cover.
Shortly after King Hussein expelled the PLO, Abu Nidal began broadcasting criticism of the PLO over Voice of Palestine, the PLO's own radio station in Iraq, accusing them of cowardice for having agreed to a ceasefire with Hussein. During Fatah's Third Congress in Amman in 1971, Abu Nidal emerged as the leader of a leftist alliance against Arafat.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Abu Nidal and his organization planned and carried out attacks in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia while enjoying safe haven and support from several governments. Operations attributed to the Abu Nidal Organization covered over twenty countries and 100 attacks including:
- the wounding of Israel's ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, in June 1982, which triggered Israel's invasion of Lebanon;
- the hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 648 at Malta in November 1985, resolved when Egyptian commandos stormed the plane slaying the hijackers, with 58 of the 91 passengers also dying;
- the Rome and Vienna Airport Attacks on December 27, 1985, which left 18 people dead and 120 injured;
- the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 on September 6, 1986 in Karachi;
- a gun attack that left 22 people dead and six wounded inside the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul during Sabbath services;
- a car bomb outside the Israeli embassy in Cyprus in 1988, which killed three people (and for which the organization claimed responsibility);
- the attack on the cruise ship City of Poros on July 11, 1988, which killed nine people and wounded 98;
In the late 80s, Britain intelligence services MI5 and MI6 discovered that the ANO held several accounts with the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which was closed by the Bank of England in July 1991, mostly because of massive fraud, but also because of its willingness to open accounts for dubious customers.
According to Ghassan Qassem, the Syrian-born manager of the Sloane Street branch of BCCI, Abu Nidal himself first visited London several times, using the name Shakir Farhan. Qassem was expected to drive him around London's most expensive stores, including Selfridges, some exclusive tailors, and a cigar store on Jermyn Street (Adams and Frantz 1991). When the bank closed and Quassem talked to the media, his story led to one of the London Evening Standard's most memorable front-page headlines: "I took Abu Nidal shopping."
When Lord Bingham completed his 1992 inquiry into the closure of BCCI, he wrote a secret Appendix 8 based on intelligence reports that showed that MI5 and MI6 had recruited Quassem in July 1987 (The Observer, January 18, 2004). Though Qassem did not know at the time that he was dealing with Abu Nidal, MI5 learned through documents he passed to them that, since 1980, Abu Nidal had used a company called SAS Trade and Investment in Warsaw, with the company director, Samir Najmeddin, in Baghdad, as a cover for ANO business deals. All these deals went through BCCI in Sloane Street, and consisted largely of selling guns, night-vision goggles, and armored Mercedes Benz cars with concealed grenade launchers, each deal often worth tens of millions of dollars. The documents showed arms transactions with many Middle Eastern countries as well as East Germany, and no shortage of European and American clients willing to sell equipment, including British companies, one of which sold riot guns it believed were intended for an African state, though documents show half the shipment went to East Germany and half was kept by Abu Nidal (Adams and Frantz 1991).
From 1987 until the bank closed in 1991, British intelligence and the CIA monitored these transactions, rather than freezing them and arresting the signatories and the suppliers. Qassem later told reporters, and swore in an affidavit for investigators, that Najmeddin was often accompanied by an American, whom Qassem identified as Marc Rich, a close friend of President Bill Clinton.
On August 19 2002 Abu Nidal was reported dead of gunshot wounds in his home in Baghdad. He was suffering from leukemia. The Iraqi government has said he was also facing a charge of treason and was likely to be convicted. The cause of his death, according to Iraq's then Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported, however, that there were multiple gunshot wounds, and that Abu Nidal had been killed by Iraqi intelligence officers.
- Abu Nidal Organization, from Patterns of Global Terrorism, 2003. United States Department of State, June 2004.
- Abu Nidal Organization, FAS Intelligence Resource Program
- "Gunmen kill 16 at two European airports", BBC, December 27, 1985; includes videotaped interview with one of the gunmen.
- "U.S. welcomes news of Abu Nidal's death", CNN, August 19, 2002
- "Abu Nidal found dead" BBC, August 19, 2002]
- "The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?" by Rex. A. Hudson, a report prepared by Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, September 1999
- Abu Nidal: A Gun For Hire, a review by Daniel Pipes, Wall Street Journal, February 18, 1992
- "What spooks told Old Lady about BCCI" By Conal Walsh, The Observer, January 18, 2004
- Adams, James, and Frantz, Douglas. A Full Service Bank. Simon and Schuster, 1992
- Dobson, Christopher, and Payne, Ronald. The Terrorists: Their Weapons, Leaders and Tactics. Facts on File, 1979
- Dobson, Christopher, and Payne, Ronald. War Without End. Harrap, 1986
- Melman, Yossi. The Master Terrorist: The True Story Behind Abu Nidal, 1986
- Seale, Patrick. Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire. Hutchinson, 1992.
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