- Spinoff of the Palestine Liberation Organization
- Has killed or maimed more than 900 people in over 20 countries
- Founder Abu Nidal was given asylum by Saddam Hussein
The Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) is a secular international terrorist group that was founded in 1974 by the late Sabri al-Banna (a.k.a. Abu Nidal), who joined Yasser Arafat‘s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1967 and also spent some time representing Arafat’s Fatah faction in Sudan and Iraq. ANO is also known by a number of alternate names, including: the Al-Fatah Revolutionary Council, the Arab Fedayeen Cells, the Arab Revolutionary Brigades, Black June, Black September (for attacks on Jordanian targets), the Egyptian Revolution, the Fatah Revolutionary Council, the Organization of Jund al Haq, the Palestine Revolutionary Council, Revolutionary Council of Fatah, and the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims (when the group claims credit for attacks on British targets).
From its inception, ANO’s top priorities were to bring about the permanent destruction of Israel and to derail any diplomatic progress that the PLO or any other Arab regimes (as in Jordan or Egypt) might make in their dealings with the Jewish state. Abu Nidal flatly rejected Israel’s right to exist and committed himself to that country’s annihilation by any means necessary, preferably “armed struggle.” Efforts to achieve this goal via bargaining and political gradualism were anathema to Nidal. Thus did he angrily sever his ties to the PLO in 1974, when the latter began to pursue some incremental political resolutions to its conflict with Israel.
Nidal’s philosophical and strategic break from the PLO prompted him in 1974 to form, with help from Iraq, the Fatah Revolutionary Council, a.k.a. the Abu Nidal Organization. ANO’s first order of business was to launch a series of attacks against PLO targets whose political views were deemed too mild. Though ANO’s 1974 attempt to have Arafat assassinated was unsuccessful, the group did manage to kill a number of his confidants—e.g., the 1991 murder of Arafat’s closest aide in Tunisia—and other ostensibly “moderate” Palestinians. Years later, in September 1997, Palestinian police arrested four men from the Hebron area who were allegedly involved in yet another Abu Nidal plot to kill Arafat.
During different time periods, ANO has been sponsored and supported (with safe haven, training, logistical assistance, and financial aid) by Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Indeed, from 1974 until the early 1980s the organization was headquartered in Baghdad. In 1983, however, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein expelled the group in an attempt to persuade the United States to provide military support for Iraq in its war against Iran, a conflict which had begun three years earlier.
ANO then moved its base of operations to Syria until 1987, at which time that country likewise banished the group, probably under U.S. pressure to distance itself from terrorists. This caused ANO to relocate yet again, this time to Libya.
Once the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988, Iraq reestablished a friendly relationship with ANO. Eleven years later, Libya, seeking to rid itself of international sanctions, expelled the organization. ANO leader Abu Nidal subsequently found refuge in Iraq, where he died in 2002.
All told, ANO has mounted terrorist operations in more than twenty countries—including a wide range of Western, Israeli, and Arab targets—killing about 300 people and wounding at least 600 more. At various times, the group also served as a mercenary terrorist force for radical Arab regimes. In the mid-1980s, it was widely regarded as the world’s most dangerous terrorist entity. Among ANO’s most infamous attacks were:
- a June 1982 attempt to assassinate Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov in London, which helped trigger Israel’s invasion of Lebanon;
- simultaneous attacks by gunmen on U.S. and Israeli airport counters in Rome and Vienna on December 27, 1985, leaving 19 people dead and approximately 140 wounded;
- a December 1985 attempted hijacking of a Pan Am flight in Karachi, Pakistan, in which 22 people died (the hijackers had intended to use the aircraft as a missile to attack the Israeli defense ministry);
- a September 1986 shooting at the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey, that killed 22;
- a 1988 attack on a Greek passenger ferry called the City of Poros, killing 9 people and injuring nearly 100;
- the January 1991 assassination of Abu Iyad (the PLO’s second-in-command after Arafat) and another PLO official in Tunis; and
- the 1994 assassination of senior Jordanian diplomat Naeb Imran Maaytah in Beirut.
Now consisting of about 400 people based mostly in Iraq (plus a number of militia men in cells located in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps), ANO, which has been on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations since the 1980s, is considered to be largely inactive today. It has not staged a major attack against a Western target since the late 1980s. Nor have any major attacks been positively attributed to the group since Abu Nidal’s death in 2002, though Jordanian officials reported their apprehension of an ANO member suspected of planning violence in their country in 2008.