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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
Abu Nidal 'found dead'
Abu Nidal
Many of al-Banna's targets were moderate Palestinians
Palestinian sources say the maverick Palestinian militant leader Abu Nidal has been found shot dead at his home in Baghdad, Iraq.

The reports, which have yet to be confirmed, first emerged in al-Ayyam newspaper published in the West Bank, which said the militant leader - whose real name is Sabri al-Banna - died three days ago.


In the 1970s and 1980s Abu Nidal was considered something of a Bin Laden, a man of terror who had his hand in everything

Yossi Melman
Israeli Arab Affairs analyst
Al-Banna was head of a hardline splinter group, the Fatah-Revolutionary Council, which was blamed for carrying out a string of attacks in Europe and the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s - killing and wounding hundreds of people.

Senior Palestinian officials said he had been found dead from gunshot wounds under "mysterious conditions" and may have committed suicide.

Various reports have said al-Banna suffered from a severe illness, and that his death had been mistakenly announced on more than one occasion.

Doubts about whereabouts

The Palestinian charge d'affaires in Baghdad said he was aware of the reports but could not confirm them.

Al-Banna's brother Mohammad told Qatari al-Jazeera TV he had had no contact with him for 38 years, and that friends and relatives did not even know he was in Baghdad

Meanwhile, an official from a pro-Iraqi Palestinian group denied that al-Banna was even in Iraq, saying he had left the country seven months ago.

Saleh Mohammad Abdel Rahim, member of the central committee of the Popular Front for Palestinian Struggle, told Lebanese TV that al-Banna had been confirmed to be undergoing treatment for cancer in Egypt.

Most wanted

Al-Banna is held responsible for the attacks on Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985 when 18 people were killed.

Fatah-RC was generally thought of as the world's most feared terrorist organisation before the rise of al-Qaeda.

"In the 1970s and 1980s Abu Nidal was considered something of a Bin Laden, a man of terror who had his hand in everything," Israeli Arab Affairs analyst Yossi Melman told Israel Army Radio.

The group was backed by Libya and Iraq, although Tripoli withdrew support in 1998, prompting al-Banna's move to Baghdad. It is also believed to maintain a presence in some Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

Fatah-RC broke away from Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1974 and, despite being a sworn enemy of Israel, many of its targets were Arabs, including more moderate Palestinian figures.

A suspected attempt by Abu Nidal gunmen on the life of Israel's ambassador to Britain in 1982 triggered Israel's massive invasion of Lebanon that year, which in turn brought about the decade-long banishment of Mr Arafat's forces from Israel's borders.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fiona Werge
"Twenty years ago, his name was a byword for terror"
Patrick Seale, Author
"A man without a cause, a true mercenary"

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03 Dec 01 | Middle East
19 Aug 02 | Middle East
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