Good riddance

August 23, 2002

IN THE END, all it took to kill international terrorist Abu Nidal was a bullet in the mouth. And he apparently died by his own hand.

Even in death, he confounds.

Notorious for a series of spectacular and stunning hijackings and attacks he masterminded in the 1970s and 1980s, feared for his ruthless allegiance to the cause of a free Palestine, Abu Nidal eluded capture throughout his infamous career.

Born Sabri al-Banna in British-mandate Palestine, he chose the nom de guerre "father of the struggle" as a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization. When Abu Nidal broke with PLO leader Yasser Arafat in 1974, he retained his nickname and commanded his renegade Fatah Revolutionary Council from Syria and Libya.

His victims numbered in the hundreds in 20 countries. They were Arabs and Jews, diplomats and PLO officials, schoolchildren and American travelers, including a 16-year-old student from Chestertown, Md., who died in the 1973 bombing of a Pan Am airliner in Rome.

Even his followers fell victim to his murderous ways: In 1989, he ordered the execution of 150 of his cohorts.

His organization never fully recovered from the purge. And he found himself on the move. Damascus and Tripoli eventually expelled him. The United States, Britain, France and Jordan put him at the top of their wanted lists.

In recent years, little was known about Abu Nidal's whereabouts and activities. This week, he made headlines again.

Aging and ill, the 65-year-old engineer ended his life in an apartment in Baghdad, where he had once served as PLO ambassador to Iraq. Initial reports of his death said that he died from several bullet wounds, sparking speculation that he died as he lived - in a web of terror and intrigue.

But Iraqi officials say Abu Nidal killed himself as Iraqi police waited to arrest him. The contents of his apartment suggest that even at his age and in his health, Abu Nidal hadn't retired: The Iraqis found booby-trapped suitcases, pistols capped by silencers, phony passports, assault rifles and a trove of explosives.

When asked about Abu Nidal's death, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "He will not be missed."

Correction

An Aug. 22 editorial should have said the Baltimore City Board of Estimates, not the City Council, recently enhanced Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris' retirement fund. The Sun regrets the error.

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