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Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Abu Nidal death 'not suicide'
Abu Nidal
Abu Nidal is said to have entered Iraq illegally
Supporters of Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Nidal have rejected Iraqi claims that the veteran militant committed suicide.

His radical Palestinian splinter group, the Fatah-Revolutionary Council, said it was a case of murder.

Their statement came just hours after Iraqi officials gave details of the 65-year old militant's last moments in Baghdad.

Iraqi secret service chief Taher Jalil Habbush told journalists Abu Nidal died by shooting himself in the mouth at his Baghdad apartment as Iraqi agents attempted take him in for interrogation.


We consider this an assassination, conceived of in advance and carried out by an intelligence apparatus

Abu Nidal faction

Abu Nidal, whose real name was Sabri al-Banna, is held responsible for several violent attacks and was once considered one of the world's most feared militants.

Confusion has surrounded the news of his death since it emerged earlier this week.

Fake passport

In its statement, the Fatah-Revolutionary Council said Abu Nidal was "an unyielding believer who entered battle on several fronts" and "could not have attempted suicide for the reasons given".

"We consider this an assassination, conceived of in advance and carried out by an intelligence apparatus," it said.

He went into a room to change and a shot was fired

Iraqi secret service chief

It also asked Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to personally oversee an investigation into Abu Nidal's death.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Iraqi secret service chief told journalists that Abu Nidal had entered Iraq illegally in 1999 and was carrying a false Yemeni passport.

He had entered the country unnoticed but a "brotherly Arab country" alerted Baghdad to his presence, Mr Habbush said. Yemeni citizens do not need visas for Iraq.

However, BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says the Iraqi version of events is less than convincing - the idea that in such a tightly controlled state the authorities could have been unaware of his presence is hard to credit.

Mr Habbush produced pictures of the dying guerrilla, as well as forged passports and ID cards, and weapons found at the apartment.

Two unidentified people lie injured on the floor of Rome's Fiumicino airport where guerrillas hijacked a plane in 1973
Abu Nidal's faction caused mayhem and terror
"He went into a room to change and a shot was fired," Mr Habbush said.

"The group of agents discovered that he had shot himself in his mouth and the bullet had exited the back of his skull."

Mr Habbush also said coded messages were found in the apartment revealing he was on the payroll of a foreign country.

Reports on Tuesday suggested he had established contacts with what the Iraqis described as Kuwaitis plotting against Iraq.

Abu Nidal died eight hours later in hospital, he added, without giving the date of his death.

Before the rise of al-Qaeda, Abu Nidal's faction was generally thought of as the world's most feared terror group.

He is held responsible for the attacks on Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985 when 18 people were killed, and linked to several attacks in France in the 1980s.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Roger Hardy
"The Iraqi version of events is dramatic"
Abu Nidal biographer Patrick Seale
"I think it's a very implausible account of what happened"
See also:

21 Aug 02 | Middle East
21 Aug 02 | Middle East
03 Dec 01 | Middle East
19 Aug 02 | Middle East
20 Aug 02 | Scotland
Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


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