b. 1937; d. 2002
Sabri Khalil al Banna was born in Jaffa, in Palestine. His family later moved to the West Bank and he went to Egypt to study engineering and became involved with the revolutionary Ba'ath Party of Jordan in 1955. After the failed coup against King Hussein in 1957 al Banna found work in Saudi Arabia. He joined a Fatah cell and was expelled from the country in 1967. In 1969 by now calling himself Abu Nidal he was sent to Khartoum to open a Fatah office. In 1970 he was posted to Baghdad as the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and built up links with Iraqi Intelligence. He broke from Yasser Arafat and in 1974 from al Fatah when its officias accused him of plotting to assassinate their leaders and sentenced him to death in his absence. In response, he formed the Fatah Revolutionary Council as the true force of leadership for the Palestinians. He built up the organisation with considerable Iraqi help. In 1980 he moved to Syria where he was mainly engaged in attacks on the PLO and Jordanian targets at Syria's behest.
It was reported in June 1984 that Mr Sabri Khalil al Banna leader of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah (a Palestinian splinter organisation which was commonly referred to as the Abu Nidal Group after Mr al Banna's code name), had left Damascus for Baghdad for treatment of a heart condition, and that the Group's activities had been curtailed. Mr al Banna had been expelled from Baghdad in November 1983, and his readmission to Iraq was seen as being conditional on the cessation of the group's operations. Al Banna was again expelled from Iraq in November 1984, and relocated the headquarters of the group in Damascus.
The Abu Nidal Group had claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination in June 1982 of Mr Shlomo Argov, the then Israeli Ambassador to the UK, and also for the assassination of the moderate Palestinian leader, Dr Issam Ali Sartawi, in April 1983. The Group had also been associated with terrorist activity in France and had recently supported the Syrian-backed rebellion by units of the PLO opposed to Yasser Arafat.
In almost simultaneous actions in December 1985 by Arab gunmen at the international airports of Rome and Vienna, 20 people were killed, including four of the seven gunmen involved. Responsibility for the incidents was widely attributed to the Palestinian Abu Nidal Group, acting with the support of Libya. The four gunmen who participated in the Rome operation had statements on them signed by the 'Palestinian Martyrs'; and the Arab Guerrilla Cells also claimed responsibility, stating that they, 'hereby declare the birth of a revolutionary and suicide group'.
A day after the atrocity a telephone caller to a Spanish radio station claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of the 'Abu Nidal Commando'. A US Presidential spokesman claimed all the evidence pointed to the Abu Nidal Group. On the same day, Israeli officials began to refer specifically to the Abu Nidal Group as the culprit. It had apparently erroneously been reported that he had died in late 1984. The PLO itself had consistently condemned