Terrorism Profiles

Abu Nidal Organization (ANO)

Alternative Names:

Fatah Revolutionary Council, Revolutionary Council, Revolutionary Council of Fatah, Al-Fatah Revolutionary Council, Fatah-the Revolutionary Council, Black June, Arab Revolutionary Brigades, Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims, Black September, Egyptian Revolution, Arab Fedayeen Cells, Palestine Revolutionary Council, Organization of Jund al Haq, Arab Revolutionary Council.

Location:

The home base of the ANO began in Baghdad, however upon expulsion it was moved first to Damascus and then to Libya.

Leadership:

Sabri al-Banna (nom de guerre, Abu Nidal).
Membership: Comprised of two wings, political and military. The political wing is responsible for information services, propaganda, and obtaining funds. The military wing (“The Storm”) is responsible for recruiting fighters, training, and carrying out operations.

Funding Sources:

Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Iraq; however, in 1999 Egypt and Libya closed down the ANO offices.

Origins:

The Abu Nidal Organization was founded by Sabri al-Banna, also known by his nom de geurre Abu Nidal, in 1974. Abu Nidal means “father of struggle.” The ANO has been on the United States’ list of terrorist organizations for 20 years but is largely considered to be inactive today. However, in the mid 1980’s it was thought to be the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization.

Many point to the ANO as having introduced fledgling terrorist groups and the rise of transnational terrorism to the world. The origins of the ANO are synonymous with Nidal’s life experience. Nidal’s entire experience as a mastermind terrorist can be seen as an extended effort to obscure his past, particularly those elements in it that he finds distasteful.

Nidal’s family was decidedly middle class; however, they had a history with terrorism. A member of the al-Banna family is cited as one of the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt under President Nasser. Nidal’s radicalization began in 1947 after the vote to partition Palestine. This fight caused his family to fall from great wealth to abject poverty and his time spent as a refugee was foundational to his career as an international terrorist. The Ba’ath party, which had an office in Amman, Jordan, was the beginning of Abu Nidal’s radicalization to political violence. Due to his membership in the Ba’ath party he was expelled from Saudi Arabia. This expulsion serves to explain his later hatred for the country.

After his expulsion, Nidal arrived in Iraq in 1970. As the official delegate of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Iraq he was sent to North Korea and China to study guerilla tactics, the use of explosives, and Marxist-Leninist ideology. He was encouraged by PLO leadership to make connections within the Iraq government. Ironically, by exploiting his Iraqi intelligence service connections he began to build his own independent power base.

On September 5th, 1973, Nidal took his first independent action. Five of his men occupied the Saudi Arabian embassy in Paris and held 11 members of the staff hostage. The Paris attack created a rift between the PLO central command and the Iraqi faction.

Nidal subsequently left the PLO, and Iraq, first maintaining headquarters in Baghdad, then Damascus, then Libya. At this time Nidal established a trade and investment company with headquarters in Warsaw. Until 1988 it sold East Bloc armaments to both Iraq and Iran. It is said that Libya brought out the worst in Nidal as he began developing extreme paranoia. As a result he massacred more than 150 of his best fighters demonstrating that the previous objective of the ANO – the destruction of Israel – had been supplanted by a greater hate. To this day he so fears assassination that he refuses to eat or drink anything served to him by others and he continues to believe his wife is a CIA-agent.

Today, the ANO is not recognized as a prominent threat. Under pressure from several Arab governments, a number of the group’s leaders have defected either returning to the PLO or going into hiding. It is unsure what has come of Nidal, rumours that he is in hiding or suffering from a terminal illness have become common.

Major Attacks:

Dec. 17, 1973: 32 passengers killed on a Pan Am jet at Rome Airport.

Oct. 8, 1974: TWA airliner flying from Israel to Greece blown up, killing 88 people

Jan. 5, 1978: PLO representative Said Hammami killed in his London office.

June 1, 1981: Naim Khader, PLO representative to the European Community in Brussels, killed by gunmen.

June 2, 1982: assassination attempt on Israel’s ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov.

June 18, 1982: Kamel Hussein, head of PLO office in Rome, killed in car bombing.

Aug. 9, 1982: six people killed and 22 wounded by gunmen in a Jewish restaurant in Paris.

April 10, 1983: murder of Issam Sartawi, a leading PLO moderate, at a conference in Lisbon. Sartawi was Arafat’s main link to Israeli left-wingers.

July 11, 1985: eight people killed and 89 wounded in Kuwait bombings, part of a blackmailing attempt in the Gulf Arab states.

Nov. 23, 1985: Egyptian airliner hijacked to Malta, six passengers killed. Sixty more passengers later killed in a shootout with Egyptian commandos.

Dec. 27, 1985: 18 killed and 120 wounded in simultaneous attacks on El Al ticket counters in Rome and Vienna airports.

April 2, 1986: Four passengers killed as TWA plane approached Athens airport.

Sept. 5, 1986: Pan Am plane hijacked at Karachi Airport. Twenty killed as security forces stormed the plane.

Sept. 6, 1986: gunmen fire at Istanbul synagogue, killing 22 and wounding six.

July 11, 1988: Greek cruise ship attacked in city of Poros, killing nine and wounding 98.

Jan. 16, 1991: two top Arafat aides killed in Tunis.

Jan. 29, 1994: Jordanian diplomat Naeb Imran Maaytah killed outside the Beirut Embassy.

Ideological Roots:

The ANO is secular in nature, not motivated by a broad ideology but the personal agenda of Abu Nidal and greed. Many point to Abu Nidal as a “gun for hire” arguing that the gun replaced any ideology the ANO had used during its foundational years. By the downfall of the ANO, it had transformed into a group focused on destroying the PLO, or where money directed its actions.

Academic John Worman states:  “[Nidal’s]…ability to be a chameleon with his ideological changes was extremely effective as he was able to hold the terrorist organization together for an extended length of time under one idea yet accomplish terrorist acts in support of a personal agenda.”

Nidal’s actions and his interviews with the international media invoke the image of the terrorist as being totally involved in role-playing. For this reason many people feared Nidal during the 1980’s, not because he was the most dangerous terrorist at large, but because none of his attacks seemed to have an ideological cause.

Objectives:

The formalized objectives of the ANO focused on destroying the state of Israel through armed struggle, preferably through an international Arab revolution. In addition, after Nidal’s defection from the PLO he focused on attempting to derail diplomatic relations between the PLO and the West. Nidal possessed strong convictions against negotiation, and this led to a predisposition toward violence for any group who would negotiate with Israel or the West.

Tactics:

Nidal used tactics such as assassinations, synagogue shootings, and planned hijackings. Assassinations were numerous but inconsistent in selection, ranging from American, British, French, Israeli, and Jordanian citizens to moderate Palestinians and various Arab nationals. Nidal was able to provide plausible deniability for his patrons. He was known to leverage his global terrorist image in order to extort payment from countries to allow him to protect them from his brand of terrorism by agreeing to not conduct attacks in his homeland. Furthermore, due to his paranoia he would not allow his members to socialize with each other, not even make contact outside their official duties.

 Updated November 12,2015

References


  1. Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), Council for Foreign Relations website, 28 February 2014. http://www.cfr.org/israel/abu-nidal-organization-ano-aka-fatah-revolutionary-council-arab-revolutionary-brigades-revolutionary-organization-socialist-muslims/p9153
  2. Abu Nidal Organization (ANO)." Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium. Accessed August 12, 2015. http://www.trackingterrorism.org/group/abu-nidal-organization-ano.
  3. Curtiss, R. H. (2002). Abu nidal: The world's most deadly terrorist. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 21(8), 49-50. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218820913?accountid=6180
  4. "Currently Listed Entities." Public Safety Canada. Last modified November 20, 2014. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx#2057.
  5. Jubran, M. (1990). Abu nidal: Portrait of a renegade. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, III(10), 9. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218798936?accountid=6180
  6. "Proscribed Terrorist Organizations."The Government of the UK. Home Office. Last modified March 27,2015. Accessed July 30, 2015. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/417888/Proscription-20150327.pdf.
  7. Worman, John G. "Abu Nidal: Chameleon of Change, A.K.A Terrorism's Free Agent." Global Security Studies 4, no. 1 (Winter 2013): 57-69.
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