Born Sabri Khalil Al Banna. Later known by one of several names, most famously Abu Nidal, his chosen nom de guerre. The name means "father of the struggle" in Arabic. "Nidal" was also the name of Al Banna's first son, and Abu Nidal reflects the conventional Arab moniker by which parents are known.
Family Background & Childhood:
Abu Nidal was born into a wealthy Palestinian family in mandate Palestine's Jaffa in 1937. With his family, he landed in the West Bank city Nablus (then, part of Jordan) as a refugee after the 1948 Israeli-Arab war.
In young adulthood he went to work in Saudi Arabia. He set up a business as a housepainter and electritian. He also became politically active. While there, he joinedFatah, or "Palestinian Liberation Movement," founded by Yassir Arafat. After expulsion from Saudi Arabia for political activism, he returned to Nablus.
He married another Palestinian refugee, Hiyam al Bitar and they had three children.
For some years, Abu Nidal was a member of Fatah, which like other organizations, rejected the pan-Arab outlook in favor of a purely Palestinian nationalist outlook. It's primary goal was eradication of Israel as a Jewish state, and the establishment of a pluralistic Palestinian state. Abu Nidal eventually rejected this organization, and made his target any figure, whether PLO, or Arab, Israel, or Western, who did not support the complete eradication of Israel.
Abu Nidal's goals can be assumed to be those of his Palestinian nationalist peers in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the actor is not known as a political visionary. He will always be associated with the Palestinian cause, but he turned against the PLO when it began to moderate its hardline stance.
Abu Nidal has also worked as a mercenary for Libya, Iraq and Syria, and has been viewed as a paranoid whose own psychological state (with a bit of a push from the CIA) increasingly colored his actions over time. In CIA spy Duane Clarridge's memoir, A Spy for all Seasons, recounts that:
By 1987, a fearful Abu Nidal had turned his terror campaign inward...Accused followers were tortured to confess, then executed on the basis of that confession...Over three hundred hard-core operatives were murdered (in Lebanon) on Abu Nidal's order. On a single night in November 1987, approximately 170 were tied up and blindfolded, machine-gunned, and pushed into a trench prepared for the occasion. Another 160 or so were killed in Libya shortly thereafter...Abu Nidal's paranoia, fed by our crusade against him, caused him to destroy his organization. (quoted by Michael Ledeen, in "Dead Terrorist in Baghdad.")
In 1974, Abu Nidal left the PLO and began his own organization, the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO). The organization was responsible for many assassinations of PLO figures. In the late 1990s, the organization's tendrils could be found In Lebanese Palestinian refugee camps, and at one time, the ANO had a sleeper cell in the United States.
The ANO has been sponsored by Libya, Iraq and Syria.
The ANO is considered to be responsible for about 300 deaths, and 600 injuries.
The earliest, and among the most spectacular of the attacks underwritten by Abu Nidal took place at an El Al (Israeli airline) check in counter at Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport in Rome on December 27, 1985. Spectacular because the four attackers – all young Palestinians – simply opened fire and threw grenades into the crowd of passengers awaiting their flight. Eighteen people were killed and 111 injured.
Where He Is Now:
Abu Nidal died in Baghdad in 2002. Following his expulsion from Libya around 2000, he settled in the Iraq capital. Abu Nidal was killed by gunshot, but it is unclear who killed him. It may have have been by the Iraqimukhabarat (secret police), allegedly because his loyalties in the case of an American attack were unclear to Saddam Hussein who had the potential threat to his own safety killed. Iraqi officials say that Abu Nidal committed suicide when he was discovered in Baghdad.