Global terrorist Abu Nidal takes shelter in Baghdad

Move raises fears of Iraq sponsoring terrorism

January 27, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Abu Nidal, one of the world's most infamous terrorists, moved to Baghdad late last year and obtained the protection of Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, according to intelligence reports received by U.S. and Middle Eastern government officials. The reports have raised questions about whether Iraq is pushing to establish a terrorism network, American and Middle Eastern officials say.

Abu Nidal, a brutal survivor of the Middle East's terrorist wars dating to the 1970s, had been living in Cairo, Egypt, for more than a year, according to Middle Eastern government officials who say they have information from inside his organization.

Although Abu Nidal's organization is a shadow of the terrorist machine that staged airport killings in the mid-1980s and other raids on Arab, Jewish and other targets, since he moved to Egypt, the Middle Eastern officials said, he has been directing attacks on Islamic radicals who have been at war with the Egyptian government.

U.S. intelligence officials said he has been hard-pressed financially and has been seeking funding and a new government sponsor since Col. Muammar el Kadafi of Libya, looking for ways to persuade the United Nations to lift economic sanctions, backed away from him in the early 1990s.

Abu Nidal's move to Iraq, which he was forced to leave 15 years ago, suggests that he may have renewed ties with Hussein.

"He could become a more significant threat again if he finds more effective state sponsorship," a U.S. intelligence official added.

Abu Nidal still has 200 to 300 followers in his organization, and they have been active in recent years, especially against Arab targets. His group's recent actions included killing a radical Egyptian cleric in Yemen in July, according to the Middle Eastern government officials. Hussein lacks such hard-earned expertise at terrorism.

Officials caution that there is no evidence that Abu Nidal is planning to conduct terrorism on Iraq's behalf. In recent years, he has not attacked U.S. targets and has become a lower priority for U.S. counterterrorism officials, who have focused instead on Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile who officials say was the mastermind behind the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August.

Middle Eastern officials said Abu Nidal traveled from Cairo to Baghdad about 10 days before the Dec. 16 start of U.S.-British attacks against Iraq.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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