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Homeland Security

The Palestinian Liberation Front, Headed by Abu al-Abbas (residing in Iraq), as a tool of the Iraqi regime for carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel

Israel Defense Forces/Military Intelligence
September 2002

Photo of Saddam Hussein 
                              and Arafat hanging in the background of a stage in Beit Furiq (near Nablus) during an 
                              Iraqi checks distribution ceremony.
Photo of Saddam Hussein and Arafat hanging in the background of a
stage in Beit Furiq (near Nablus) during an Iraqi checks distribution ceremony. The title above the photo reads:
"How sweet is victory with the help of Allah."
(Source: videotape captured in Operation Defensive Shield)

Executive Summary

"The Iraqi leadership believes that the Palestinians - and it does not matter who they are and how we [in Iraq] view one figure or another - are not terrorists. The Palestinians fight and struggle with legitimate means... it is a legitimate activity which we support explicitly and not in secret..."
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tareq Aziz,
in response to the speech of US President Bush,
MBC Television, 14 September 2002.

Palestinian Liberation Front Logo

1. The interrogation of terrorists from Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF) squads arrested in 2001-2002 during the intifada, and documents captured in Operation Defensive Shield demonstrate that the Iraqi regime employs the Palestinian Liberation Front, an organization with a rich terrorist attack record, as an arm for carrying out terrorist attacks in Israel, including strategic quality attacks.

2. PLF squad activists arrested by the Israeli security services revealed in their interrogation that they trained in military camps in Iraq, including in the Republican Guard base in Tikrit. They stated that Iraqi intelligence personnel were directly responsible for their instruction and briefing. In addition, the instruction and guidance process involved PLF leader Abu al-Abbas and Bassam al-Ashqar (Abu Mustafa), a senior PLF leader, who was previously a member of the terrorist squad that kidnapped the Achille Lauro passenger ship and was subsequently arrested in Italy.

3. Interrogation of PLF squad members revealed that they were instructed during their training in Iraq, to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel, including spectacular attacks. In practice, the PLF infrastructure managed to carry out several terrorist attacks in 2001, including the kidnapping and murder of Yuri Gushchin, a teenage boy from Jerusalem (24 July 2001), and placing an explosive charge in a bus stop near Haifa (22 April 2001). 4. Moreover, the interrogations uncovered that they planned terrorist attacks in such locations as the Ben Gurion International Airport and the Tel Aviv seashore promenade ("Dolphinarium"). They also intended to hit an aircraft (some of the terrorists were trained in STRELA SAM operation. Iraqi instructors also demonstrated to three trainees how to hit aircraft using non-AA weapons, such as RPGs and mortars).

5. According to documents captured in Operation Defensive Shield, PLF activity in the PA is held in close cooperation with the Palestinian Authority. Yasser Arafat personally approved appointments of senior PLF activists for senior positions in the PA security apparatuses. Arafat also personally approved sums to be paid for financing ongoing PLF activity. According to one of the captured documents, the PA pays $12,000 a month for financing this activity, whereas the remaining budget comes from the Iraqi regime, Abu al-Abbas and the PLF leadership, which have investments in real estate in Iraq. At the same time, the documents show that Palestinian counter-intelligence is watchful of PLF activity due to internal PLF conflicts and a suspicion that the Israeli Security Service and Jordanian Intelligence penetrated the organization.

6. The direct involvement of the Iraqis in the training and direction of PLF terrorist squads (as exposed in the uncovering of a PLF squad in July-August 2002) is evidence, in our assessment, of the aspirations of the Iraqi regime to improve the PLF operational capabilities in the PA so as to place the PLF on the "quality attacks" map in the post - Defensive Shield era. Moreover, the Iraqi involvement could reflect an intention to create an option for the employment of PLF activists in spectacular strategic attacks (against aircraft, for instance) in the scenario of a US strike against Iraq or any other scenario befitting the Iraqi regime.

7. This report includes the following three chapters:

  1. Profile of a terrorist organization: characteristics of the Palestinian Liberation Front, Abu al-Abbas faction.
  2. Iraq's involvement in terror in the PA areas, directing terrorist attacks by means of the PLF.
  3. Palestinian Authority aid to the PLF.

Profile of a Terrorist Organization:
Characteristics of the Palestinian Liberation Front, Abu al-Abbas Faction

Muhammad Zaydan (Abu al-Abbas)

1. The "Palestinian Liberation Front" (PLF), headed by Muhammad Ahmad Fahd Abbas / Zaydan (Abu al-Abbas) is a terrorist organization which carried out spectacular and murderous terrorist attacks, one of which culminated in the murder of a disabled US citizen (the Achille Lauro hijacking, 1985). The organization is included in the list of 28 foreign terrorist organizations, which the US State Department defines as organizations threatening US national security. Since the beginning of the 1990s, Abu al-Abbas and other activists of the PLF leadership reside in Iraq and employ terrorist squads that operate in the PA, directed by the Iraqi regime.

2. The organization was established in 1977 when it seceded from the "Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine" PFLP / General Command (Ahmed Jibril faction). The secession was induced by opposition to the Jibril unconditional support of Syrian policy in the Lebanese civil war. After some redeployment and reorganization in Lebanon, the PLF started carrying out murderous terrorist attacks with new characteristics, that reflected new daring and originality in the Middle East terrorist arena. For example, they attempted to infiltrate Israel using hang-gliders and hot air balloons.

3. The prominent PLF terrorist attack at the end of the 1970s was an infiltration by sea to the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, and the murder of Israeli civilians taken hostage (22 April 1979). A squad of 4 terrorists arriving from Lebanon by sea reached the Nahariya beach. After an encounter with an Israeli force, the terrorists infiltrated a residential house and took two hostages, father and daughter. On return to the beach, the terrorists again encountered an Israeli force. Two terrorists were killed and another two captured. Four Israelis were killed in the attack (a father and his two daughters and a policeman) and 4 others wounded.

The terrorist attack in Nahariya is described in a captured document that features the PLF history as documented by the organization's "documentation committee":

"On the morning of 22 April 1979, a 4-member squad of the Front's heroes managed to reach the town of Nahariya which is 50 km distant from the Israeli-Lebanese border, by sea, in a rubber-boat. The squad members broke through to building number 61 and captured two Zionists in order to return with them to the Front's base in Lebanon. The four heroes entered battle with a Zionist military force next to the coast. The ensuing warfare caused many deaths to the enemy including a police officer..."

4. During the Peace for Galilee war, against the background of the rift in the PLO and the pro-Syrian uprising in the Fatah (1983), the organization split into three factions, pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian. One of these factions, led by Abu al-Abbas, joined the Arafat camp and subsequently came under the patronage of Fatah / Arafat. From its new headquarters in Tunis, the organization led by Abu al-Abbas continued to perpetrate terrorist attacks. Innovative "quality attacks" were prominent, as in the past. The most prominent operation perpetrated at this period was the Achille Lauro hijacking (October 1985).

The PLF also attempted to carry out a terrorist attack using a mother ship in the Nitzanim area in Southern Israel (May 1990).

5. The Achille Lauro hijacking: On 7 October 1985, 4 PLF terrorists seized an Italian passenger ship with 349 passengers and crew on board, shortly after it sailed from Alexandria to Port Said. The hijackers demanded that Israel release 50 prisoners of "Force 17" (Arafat's personal guard). On 8 October, the terrorists murdered the passenger Leon Klinghoffer, a 69 year old American Jew, handicapped and bound to a wheelchair. On 9 October the four terrorists gave themselves up to the Egyptian authorities. On the night of 10-11 October, the hijackers were released and boarded a flight to Algeria. When their flight was above sea, it was intercepted by US Air Force aircraft that forced it to land in Italy. Abu al-Abbas, one of the perpetrators who was on the flight, was detained and then released by the Italian authorities. The chain of political events eventually led to the resignation of the Italian Defense Minister and subsequently to the resignation of the Italian Government.

The Achille Lauro Hijacking described in a captured document:
The PLF history as written by the PLF "Documentation Committee":

"The Ashdod Port Operation"

"When the Zionist enemy carried out an air strike against the Palestinian HQ in Hamam al-Shatt in Tunis in October 1985, the Front reacted to this aggression by attempting a sea landing in Ashdod port... this operation was unsuccessful, forcing the Front's fighters to change the original plan... once they were uncovered on the ship taking them. They took over the ship known as "Achille Lauro"... the organization found itself fighting on several fronts, [including] directly against the American enemy. This, especially after American aircraft hijacked a civilian Egyptian aircraft that carried the comrade Abu al-Abbas, General Secretary of the Front and Member of the PLO Executive Committee, and other comrades, and forced them to land in the Sicily airport in Italy..."

6. In the early 1990s, the PLF HQ settled in Iraq and became an instrument of terrorism in the hands of the Saddam Hussein regime. After the Oslo agreements and establishment of the Palestinian Authority, its efforts were focused on political activity and propaganda. Since the eruption of the present conflict, the Abu al-Abbas organization resumed its operational activity. It now directs from its headquarters in Iraq terrorist squads operating in the PA areas, with the full knowledge and support of the Palestinian Authority.

Iraq's Involvement in Palestinian Terrorism through the PLF

7. The recent Initfada brought to light Iraq's deep involvement in the establishment of a PLF terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank designed to perpetrate terrorist activity, including strategic attacks against Israeli targets. The Iraqi regime and PLF leadership in Baghdad made two efforts in this framework, in Summer 2001 and Summer 2002, both of which were uncovered by Israel.

Uncovering of the PLF Cell in the West Bank, Summer 2001

8. During 2001, the PLF established a terrorist cell in the West Bank (Ramallah, Qabatiyah, Jenin). In this framework, 3 Palestinians in their twenties were recruited (two construction workers and a student from Ramallah and northern Jerusalem). The cell went for military training in Iraq, mediated by Omar Maraddi, a senior PLF activist in Jordan (formerly a Fatah activist who fled the PA in 1993 following his involvement in the murder of an Israeli in Beit El).

9. This cell was uncovered by Israel. By interrogation, it was learned that the cell was directed from Iraq and Jordan into carrying out shooting and explosive charge attacks. This cell was behind the kidnapping and murder of Yuri Gushchin, a teenager from Jerusalem (24 July 2001) and possibly placing an explosive charge in a bus stop near Haifa (22 April 2001).

  1. The kidnapping and murder of a 19 year old student from Jerusalem. The student, Yuri Gushchin, did not return home. Later on, his body was found in El Bireh. It turned out that at the night of the murder the squad baited him by an alleged job offer. They led him to the El Bireh industrial area, stabbed him 3 times and left his body. A few days before, they intended to bait another teenager to come to Ramallah. It appears that Yuri was selected at random.

  2. Explosive charge laid in a bus stop near Haifa. A suspicious looking bag was identified in a crowded bus terminal near Haifa. The bag contained an explosive charge placed at the entrance to a structure, between two cars. A gas tank filled with 5 kg HE was found, nails, wristwatch and a battery. 2 people were wounded while the charge was being dismantled.

10. In addition to its "routine" terrorist activity, this cell intended to carry out mass killing attacks in Ben Gurion International Airport and in crowded places in Jerusalem. These intentions were found in the indictment against the cell members which was found, translated to Arabic, in a PA Preventive Security file captured by the IDF. The main characteristics of this cell and its intentions as revealed by the indictment against Muhammad Sha'ban 'Isa Qundus, member of a PLF squad, arrested 11 July 2001:

  1. The squad members underwent military training in the Al-Quds military camp located near Baghdad. The squad members' trip to the camp was organized by Abu al-Abbas, leader of the organization, and his assistant Bassam al-Ashqar (Abu Mustafa), who supervises the Palestinians arriving in Iraq for military training. [Note: Al-Quds is a training camp in the service of the PLF. The instructors there are Palestinians, members of the PLF. The camp was given to the PLF long ago by the Iraqi regime].

  2. The squad intended to place an explosive charge suitcase in the Ben Gurion airport. Two of the squad members made several reconnaissance visits in the airport. Once they realized that the airport security arrangements do not make a terrorist attack possible, they decided to carry out a bomb attack in Afula. Afterwards, they changed their plan and decided to carry out a bomb attack in Tel Aviv, either in Dizengoff Street or in a discotheque on the seashore promenade ("Dolphinarium"), where a lethal attack had been carried out before.

  3. The indictment indicates that the two travelled to Baghdad for Abu al-Abbas' permission to carry out the intended attack in the promenade discotheque. Abu al-'Abbas approved the use of an explosive charge suitcase and remote activation by cellular phone. Bassam al-Ashqar (Abu Mustafa), was to make contact with Abu al-Abbas to request final authorization to carry out the attack.

Uncovering of a PLF Cell, Summer 2002

11. Iraq's efforts to establish a PLF terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank continued in 2002. In July-August 2002, three young men were recruited by the PLF, two of them from Kaubar and Beit Rima near Ramallah. The three were recruited by Omar Maraddi, the same activist in Jordan who had been involved in the attempt to establish the PLF operational infrastructure a year earlier. The three recruits were sent in June 2002 for a training series in Iraq, instructed by Iraqi Intelligence personnel, with the approval and involvement of the PLF leadership in Iraq.

12. This cell was also uncovered by the Israeli security services. In their interrogation, the cell's activists confessed that they were ordered to establish an operational infrastructure in the West Bank to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in Palestinian and Israeli territory. The activists admitted that Iraqi Intelligence personnel were directly responsible for instructing and briefing their terror squad. The paragraphs below describe the manner of the Iraqi involvement and the involvement of Abu al-Abbas and his assistant, as learned from the interrogation of two activists arrested:

  1. Military training in Iraq: the new recruits and Omar Maraddi, PLF activist in Jordan, underwent separate series of training in Iraq in June 2002. The training took place in a Republican Guard base in Tikrit. During the several week training series, the recruits studied small arms, antitank firing (RPG), mortar bomb firing, tank driving, production of high explosives and activation of explosive charges. Concurrently, near Baghdad, Omar Maraddi was trained in launching STRELA SAM missiles and Katyusha rockets (107 mm).

  2. The involvement of PLF leader Abu al-Abbas and assistant Abu Mustafa in the training: the three recruits disclosed that in Iraq, they met Bassam al-Ashqar (Abu Mustafa), PLF Deputy Secretary, who transferred them to a military training camp and was involved in briefing them prior to their return to the PA. By the end of their training, the three were visited by Abu al-Abbas, PLF Secretary General.

  3. Bassam al-Ashqar (Abu Mustafa), who is repeatedly cited as involved in the direction from Iraq of PLF terrorists, is known to have been a member of the terrorist squad that hijacked the Achille Lauro.

    He was arrested in Italy, released under restricting conditions and fled Italy. He presently lives in Iraq and plays a senior role in the PLF leadership.

  4. Briefing with Abu Mustafa prior to the return to the PA:

      1) During the training series, one of the training activists was asked by Abu Mustafa to supply details about Atarot airport in Jerusalem and IDF checkpoints in his area. He drew for Abu Mustafa a sketch of the IDF checkpoint in Atarot and the roads leading from this checkpoint, including the road to the village of Halamish. The activist told Abu Mustafa that not far from the checkpoint there was a building where the checkpoint soldiers would stay.

      2) Abu Mustafa ordered the trainees to carry out observations of the checkpoint so as to prepare the following type of attack: attacking the building where the soldiers are staying and killing the soldiers, taking over the building and the tank next to it, driving the tank towards the checkpoint and firing to take over the checkpoint, driving the tank towards Halamish and firing tank shells towards it. The final stage is to lay explosive charges on the road leading to the village and using them to prevent the arrival of rescue teams and reinforcements.

  5. Plans to hit [Israeli] aircraft: during the training of the three activists from Jerusalem-Ramallah, the Iraqi instructors demonstrated how to hit aircraft, also using weapons not designed for this mission (RPG rockets and mortar bombs).

  6. Passing operational knowledge on to PLF and other activists in the West Bank: the three were presumed to provide the military knowledge they have acquired to the members of PLF operational cells in the West Bank and activists of other organizations (Fatah).

13. The direct involvement of Iraq in the instruction of this PLF cell and the prolonged training provided are indicative of the aspiration of the Iraqi regime to improve the operational capabilities of the PLF in the PA. This in order to push the PLF into "quality attacks" against Israel and perhaps even create an option for employing the PA-based PLF members to carry out strategic attacks in case of a US strike against Iraq or any other scenario befitting the Iraqi regime. Of note are the PLF efforts (encouraged by Iraq?) to hit an Israeli aviation target - Ben Gurion International Airport (2001) or an aircraft (2002).

Palestinian Authority Assistance to the PLF

14. According to captured documents, the PLF operates in the PA areas in close cooperation with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, although the latter are well aware that the PLF is employed by Iraq in terrorist missions against Israel. Material about PLF terrorist activity was found in PA Preventive Security files, including a translation of the indictment against Muhammad Sha'ban 'Isa Qundus, arrested in July 2001, who was operated from Iraq as described above. According to captured documents, the interest of the PA Preventive Security in the PLF was not out of intention to foil terrorist activity but due to internal conflicts within the PLF and suspicion that the Israeli General Security Service and Jordanian Intelligence had penetrated its ranks.

15. One of the PLF leaders in the West Bank, who was operated by the PA Preventive Security, gave his operators a detailed report about the PLF leadership, in which he also refers to the organization's funding sources. These sources, he said, come from two origins: internal funding (member fees) and external funding. The external funding sources are:

  1. The Palestinian Authority, that pays $12,000 a month to finance the organization.
  2. The Iraqi regime.
  3. Abu al-Abbas, who owns real estate in Iraq.

16. Documents captured during Operation Defensive Shield prove that the Palestinian Authority, under Arafat's personal endorsement, does pay considerable sums for funding the PLF.

17. A few examples from the documents:

  1. A request made by Abu al-Abbas, which in our assessment was endorsed by Arafat, to appoint six members of the PLF abroad to positions paid for by the Palestinian Authority or the PLO.

  2. Yasser Arafat's endorsement of Abu al-Abbas' request to withdraw a senior PLF activist (Hisham Abu Raya) from the PA National Security West Bank personnel register so that he can resume his activity in the ranks of the PLF in the West Bank. Hisham Abu Raya, according to captured documents, is one of the PLF leaders in the West Bank, currently residing in Ramallah. [See Appendices B (2), B (3)].

  3. Yasser Arafat's instruction to the Palestinian Authority Finance Ministry (20 February 2002) to resume paying annual rental fees for the PLF West Bank offices: Bethlehem-Deheisha office, Tulkarm office, Ramallah office.

  4. Yasser Arafat's instruction to the PA Finance Ministry (1 January 2002) to pay $100 for each member of a 50-member group of PLF activists and militants.

  5. Yasser Arafat's instruction to the PA Finance Ministry to pay $100 to each person in a group of PLF activists in the West Bank who was wounded as a militant or operated in the Intifada. The group includes 64 members, of which 26 were wounded and 38 defined "loyal friends."

  6. PLF correspondence about PLF activists operating in the Jenin area to be integrated in PA institutions.

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