Chief of Saddam’s Palestinian Terror Arm Caught


16 April 2003

Mahmoud al Abbas, who embodies a hidden chapter in Yasser Arafat’s career as terror mastermind, was captured in Iraq by American troops in a hideout near Baghdad.

He was turned back from the Syrian border after the Damascus authorities had let most of the Iraqi leadership through.

Abu al Abbas became internationally notorious after he hijacked the Italian Achille Lauro cruise-ship in 1985 on Arafat’s orders, shooting a disabled American Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, and throwing him overboard. A life sentence is outstanding against him in Italy. The Palestinian Liberation Front, the PLF, which he heads, is officially designated by Washington a terrorist organization. In Israel, he is best known for a thirty-year old terrorist atrocity in Nahariya, when he personally murdered members of a family, of which only the mother, Yael Haran, survived.

DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources add: Abul Abbas’s PLF operated out of Baghdad as Iraqi military intelligence’s operational arm for anti-Israel terror in close liaison with Yasser Arafat’s right hand Tawfiq Tirawi, the commander of the Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. A PFL Palestinian cell trained in Iraq kidnapped and murdered 16-year old Yuri Goshchin in Jerusalem in July 2001.

Counter-terror experts say interrogation of Abbas will for the first time provide solid evidence of Arafat’s hand in terrorist activities in the past and the direct link between his terror campaign and the Saddam regime. An American spokesman said the capture of Abbas is a message to all terrorists that they have nowhere to hide.

Abu al Abbas was captured by US special operations forces together with other suspects, weapons including rocket-propelled grenades, Yemeni and Lebanese passports and other documents.