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Encyclopedia Of The Palestinians: Biography Of Abu Nidal- Sabri al-Bana
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Posted on November 12, 2000

Abu Nidal
Sabri al-Banna; dissident leader
1937- Jaffa
Al-Banna is mostly known by his nom de guerre Abu Nidal or (father of struggle in Arabic). He has become one of the most infamous Palestinians in the world because his organization, the Fatah Revolutionary Council, has perpetrated notorious acts of aimless violence.
Little is known about Abu Nidal's childhood except that he was born to a wealthy father in JAFFA. His family was displaced when Israel was established in 1948 and had to relocate to a refugee camp in the GAZA STRIP before moving again to NABLUS, in the WEST BANK. Abu Nidal never completed secondary education. He worked as an electrician in Jordan, where he joined the Ba'ath Party in the mid-1950s.
Abu Nidal was not known as a strong advocate of any particular ideology, although his activities against the Jordanian government landed him in jail. Abu Nidal later worked in Saudi Arabia but was expelled in 1967. He then returned to Amman, where he joined the Fatah movement and rose in its ranks. In 1969, Abu Nidal was appointed the Fatah representative in Sudan. He went on to his most important appointment, as the movement's representative in Iraq, where he established strong ties with the Ba'thist intelligence apparatus and the Iraqi leadership.
Abu Nidal supported the rejectionist position of the Iraqi government, which opposed any peaceful settlement of the ARAB ISRAEL CONFLICT. Then, in 1974, the PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION (PLO), under the leadership of YASIR ARAFAT'S Fatah, implicitly accepted the "two-state solution."
Al-Banna accused his former comrades of treason and defected from the PLO to form his own organization, Fatah Revolutionary Council. Meanwhile, Fatah sentenced Abu Nidal in absentia to death for plotting to kill a PLO leader.
The birth of Abu Nidal's organization was revealed through a series of spectacular violent acts that showed no concern for civilians. Although Abu Nidal's name is associated in the West with anti-Israeli violence because of strikes in Rome, Vienna, Istanbul, and London, his targets have been mainly Arab: Palestinians, Syrians, Saudis, and Lebanese. His organization targeted and killed a number of the PLO's diplomats in key European countries because they were involved in talks with Jewish and Israeli personalities. Not all of his killings have been ideological; he has been a hired gun for a variety of clients over the years, including both Iraq and Libya.
Abu Nidal's relationship with the Iraqi Ba'thist regime began long before his defection from Fatah. Abu Nidal was loyal to Iraqi interests, killing many of Iraq's enemies around the world. He maintained his headquarters in a secret location in Baghdad while organizing cells in the Arab world and Europe. The relationship lasted until 1983, when he found the Iraqi regime too eager to please the West and the Arab oil regimes so that they could acquire financial and military help in their war against Iran. Reports about Abu Nidal's cooperation with former Soviet bloc countries remain unconfirmed.
Between 1981 and 1985, Abu Nidal based his headquarters in Damascus despite his violent record against Syrian interests. (Syria wanted to take advantage of Abu Nidal's services to punish its regional enemies.) In 1982, his men shot and severely injured the Israeli ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov, an act that was used by the Israeli government as the pretext for its massive invasion of Lebanon. Syria tolerated Abu Nidal's presence until 1985, when Western pressure finally led Syria to expel him. His whereabouts after 1986 are unknown, although he was publicly received by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi in the late 1980s. He also made sure to bolster his organizational structure in the refugee camps of Lebanon, where fear of government crackdowns was minimal during the civil war (1975-1990). After years of boycotting the media for fear of threats to his life, he opened an office in Beirut to deal with the press.
Abu Nidal's organization is run on terror and intimidation. No members are allowed to leave once they join, and the official organ of his movement, Filastin al-Thawra, regularly carried announcements of the execution of "traitors" within the movement. In Palestinian popular circles, Abu Nidal is considered a dangerous terrorist who has done more harm to the Palestinian cause than to Israel, and his influence has always been limited to a couple of hundred followers at most.
In 1989, the chief spokesperson of Abu Nidal's movement, Atif Abu Bakr, defected from Fatah Revolutionary Council along with 150 members who had become disenchanted with Abu Nidal's methods of operation. In the early 1990s, Abu Nidal tried to wrest control of the refugee camps in Sidon from Yasir Arafat, but he failed, and that failure led to the almost total dissolution of his organization in Lebanon and to the defection of more of his aides to Fatah. In 1996, the Fatah Revolutionary Council was dormant. In the summer of 1998, he was reported to be ill and under arrest in Egypt. Early 1999, newspapers reported that Abu Nidal had moved, yet again, to Iraq as the marriage of interest between Saddam Husayn's regime and Abu Nidal resurfaced. His organization is no longer capable of posing a threat to any regime.

As'ad Abu Khalil

Melman, Yossi. The Master Terrorist. New York: Mama Books, 1986.
Miller, Aaron David. "Sabri Khalil Al-Banna" In Bernard Reich, ed., Political Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa: A Biographical Dictionary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1990.
Seale, Patrick. Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire. New York: Random House, 1992.
Steinberg, Matti. "The Radical Worldview of the Abu Nidal Faction." Jerusalem Quarterly 48 (Fall 1988):88-104.

The above was quoted from Encyclopedia Of The Palestinians edited by Philip Mattar


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