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Notorious Terrorist and PLO Dissident Arrested In Egypt

By Nora Boustany
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Egyptian authorities have arrested the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, who is accused of attacks that have killed or wounded 900 people in 20 countries, and are holding him in a hospital in Cairo, according to Arab diplomats.

Nidal, one of the world's most dangerous and notorious terrorists during the 1970's and 80's, was captured earlier this month after he crossed into Egypt from neighboring Libya, where he has been based in recent years, the diplomats said. Arab press reports said he is suffering from cancer, and is undergoing treatment while the Egyptian leadership quietly debates what to do with him.

The government of Hosni Mubarak, worried about retaliation from Abu Nidal's supporters and wary of pressure by the United States for his extradition, has repeatedly denied that it is holding Abu Nidal since reports of the arrest first appeared last week in the German and Arabic press. Arab diplomatic sources in Cairo and London said Egypt had been seeking to deport the Palestinian to another country before his detention in Cairo became public knowledge.

In Washington, Clinton administration officials refused to comment on reports of the arrest or say whether the United States had asked for his extradition. A Los Angeles Times story in Tuesday's editions quoted U.S. officials as confirming the detention. Though never indicted under U.S. laws, officials say Abu Nidal's group was responsible for the December, 1985 attacks at the Rome and Vienna airports in which five Americans were killed, as well as the 1986 hijacking of a Pan Am passenger jet in Karachi.

Abu Nidal's Fatah Revolutionary Council split from the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1974, when the PLO leadership under Yasser Arafat first began seeking recognition and acceptance in the West. Sponsored by hardline Arab regimes that opposed any moderation of the PLO's warfare against Israel and the West, the Abu Nidal group allegedly assassinated a string of PLO officials in European capitals, and was accused by Arafat's security apparatus of trying to kill Arafat and his top lieutenant.

The group's most notorious action was the nearly simultaneous attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports which killed 19 and wounded 120. Abu Nidal has been sought by authorities in Great Britain, France, Italy, Greece and the Palestinian authority.