Killings called work of terrorist Nidal Move helps set up Israel for Iraqi attack

January 16, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

The assassination of three Palestinian guerrilla leaders, including Yasser Arafat's second-in-command, was the work of notorious terrorist Abu Nidal, both Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization now agree.

Abu Nidal's involvement in the killings seemed to lift the possibility that the assassinations would disrupt the delicate U.S.-Arab alliance poised for war against Iraq. But it raised intriguing questions about the Byzantine nature of alliances in the Arab world.

Both Abu Nidal, perhaps the world's most infamous terrorist, and Arafat's PLO have aligned themselves with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Some Israeli analysts yesterday saw the not-so-fine hand of Saddam behind the assassinations.

They said the slayings would give Saddam, who has worked through Abu Nidal in the past, a convenient justification for his expected attack on Israel.

The PLO's mainstream Fatah faction described the three slain leaders as "victims of the bullets of traitors and collaborators," the term that Fatah usually uses to describe supporters of Abu Nidal, a sworn enemy of Arafat and one of the United States' most-wanted terrorists.

Among the victims of Monday night's slayings near the PLO's headquarters in Tunisia was Abu Iyad, whose real name was Salah Khalaf, Arafat's second-in-command, close friend and most likely successor as leader of the Palestinian resistance.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian youths reacted to the news with widespread demonstrations that Israeli officials described as "moderate."

In Tunisia, police identified the alleged assailant as Hamza Abu Zied, a PLO bodyguard and a recent defector -- or supposed defector -- from Abu Nidal's ranks.

Several other Palestinians also were held for questioning, police said.

Israeli officials quickly had denied any part in Monday night's slayings, saying they were preoccupied with defending their country against an expected attack by Iraq.

Instead, they described the slayings as a settling of scores between rival Palestinian leaders and symbolic of the Byzantine struggles for power that have marked Palestinian affairs.

Abu Nidal's hard-line Fatah Revolutionary Council long has been linked to Saddam. In fact, he has been viewed as one of Saddam's chief proxies if there is an eruption of Iraqi-sponsored terrorism.

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