ABU NIDAL: A GUN FOR HIRE -- THE SECRET LIFE OF THE WORLD'S MOST NOTORIOUS ARAB TERRORIST
Readers of this book will recognize the debt I owe to a large number of Palestinian, Arab, Western, and Israeli informants. Some of these sources I acknowledge in the text, but many more have asked me to respect their confidence by withholding their names. I wish to thank them all nonetheless for the generosity with which they shared their knowledge.
London, October 1991
Chapter 1: The Story of Jorde
More than twenty years have passed since Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi seized power in Libya and yet his capital city, Tripoli, retains the lazy feel of a provincial backwater taking a long siesta. There are no crowds or traffic jams there, no urgent pulse of a metropolis. It is a place one can drift out of easily. Heading away from the thin sprawl along the coast, and with the Mediterranean at one's back, one drives through low-built, shuttered suburbs that soon give way to straggling villages and then to a vast dun-colored horizon. A lot can be hidden away in this empty landscape of scrub and dune. Far to the southwest is the rough and desolate al-Hamra steppe hugging the Tunisian frontier; deeper still into the desert to the southeast are the formidable Soda Mountains. Somewhere between the steppe and the mountains, some 170 kilometers down the highway from Tripoli, the capricious master of Libya has provided the terrorist Abu Nidal with his principal base camp.
THE DESERT CAMP
A barbed-wire fence runs along the road for a couple of miles. The entrance is a pole between two posts, guarded by a lonely young fellow, his head swathed in the checkered Palestinian kaffiyeh. Beyond, partly sheltered by some low hills, widely scattered clusters of low buildings can be seen, a line or two of tents, a radio antenna, and perhaps a water tanker trucking in supplies from the nearest water hole for this parched spot. At first glance, it seems to be a camp for foreign construction workers engaged in building yet another of the colonel's projects, and indeed it was just that until Abu Nidal took it over and set about expanding it in 1987.
Spread over some six square kilometers of sand and gravel, the camp is vast and comprises a number of distinct, and mutually wary, subdivisions: four or five smaller camps, each in its own barbed-wire enclosure. There is a "village" of bungalows for married cadres and their families, from which nonresidents are strictly barred; the administrative offices, billets, lecture rooms, canteen, and training grounds of the main fighting force; a tented camp, set well apart, where small groups of men, their faces covered with the traditional Arab headscarves, are groomed for clandestine missions; a well- guarded research center known as Station 11, protected by a couple of anti-aircraft missile batteries; and a prison and interrogation bloc, with an underground row of cells, called Station 16, which no one mentions without a shudder and from which Arabic love songs can be heard blaring at night to drown out, I was told, the screams of men being tortured within. Forever on the alert against hostile penetration, shot through with fear and suspicion, the camp is not a happy place, as the fortunate few who have defected from it can testify.
For the most part, the camp is a training establishment for units of Abu Nidal's People's Army, a more-or-less overt militia much like the forces of other Palestinian factions. But the real core of the camp, where men are prepared for foreign operations, is as covert as any in the intelligence world. The ordinary fighting men serve only as protective cover and camouflage for the secret inner workings.
Eccentrically, Abu Nidal has named his Libyan camp after Naji al-Ali, an irreverent Arab cartoonist who was gunned down in a London street on July 22, 1987, outside the offices of al-Qabas, the Arabic daily he worked for. Some say Yasser Arafat ordered the killing, because the cartoonist made a habit of exposing the follies and foibles of the PLO chairman, and that the operation was planned and directed by Abd al-Rahman Mustafa, a major in Arafat's personal security guard, Force 17. This is unproven, because the gunman was never caught. Others say it was a Mossad job to smear Arafat as a killer and the PLO as a murderous organization. Investigating the murder, British police found a cache of rifles, grenades, and Semtex explosives, allegedly belonging to Mustafa, in the apartment of another Palestinian, Isma'il Sawwan, a self-confessed Mossad penetration agent, whose Mossad connection was revealed in a British court a year after the murder. Sawwan was sentenced to eleven years in prison, and two Israeli diplomats were expelled from Britain for being his controllers. They were the first Israeli diplomats ever to be expelled from Britain.
Most likely, Abu Nidal chose Naji al-Ali as the name for his Libyan camp because he hates Arafat as much as Israel does, holding him responsible not just for a cartoonist's death but for the persistent "betrayal" of the Palestinian cause, which, according to Abu Nidal, is the annihilation of the state of Israel. He seeks to instill hatred for the PLO leader into every man who passes through his hands. For close on twenty years, Arafat's PLO has been caught between two fires -- heavy broadsides from Israel and murderous sniping from Abu Nidal.
Abu Nidal does not live at the camp himself, preferring not without reason a three-villa complex set in the large garden of a Tripoli suburb, which is his headquarters and principal residence. But every month or so, driving his own car and casually dressed in shirt and slacks, he puts in an appearance unannounced, and invariably upsets the camp, from the commander to the new recruits, who tremble in his presence. A pale-skinned, balding, potbellied man, with a long thin nose above a gray mustache, he comes without fanfare, making an entry that is restrained and almost shy. Usually, he is accompanied by Amjad Ata, a tall, dark man of about forty, who is his confidant and whose official title in the organization is second secretary of the Central Committee. Ata is, if anything, more terrifying to the camp inmates than Abu Nidal. It is said that every time he comes, a "traitor" is taken away for execution or is sent to face the horrors of Section 16. Most Middle Eastern "strongmen" like to surround themselves, for safety's sake, with members of their own family, and Abu Nidal is no exception: Amjad Ata is the husband of one of his many nieces.
Colonel Qaddafi, Abu Nidal's current patron, has been generous. In addition to the camp and the headquarters complex in Tripoli, he has given Abu Nidal a score of houses in the city for use by his principal aides, houses belonging to opponents of Qaddafi's regime who have been jailed, exiled, or liquidated -- "stray dogs," as the Libyan leader likes to call them; also, a three-story building on Umar al-Mukhtar Street, in central Tripoli, used as a safe house by the Special Missions Committee; a well-appointed villa near the airport, where agents rest and are briefed between assignments; and a farm some seventeen kilometers outside the city, where fruit and vegetables are grown for the men in the camp. Abu Nidal, the son of a Jaffa orange grower, loves to see things grow, takes great pride in his well-ordered farm and sees to it that its choicest fruits reach his own table.
Since the camp opened in 1987, most of its inmates have been Palestinian youths, with a sprinkling of other Arabs, recruited in Lebanon from among the lost souls of that tormented country and flown out to Libya from the Damascus airport in batches of a hundred or so on Libyan military transports. These men are the human debris of the Middle East's two main breeding grounds of rage and alienation: the Palestinian refugee camps and the towns of Lebanon since the civil war. For them, the one way to survive in the last two decades of upheavals, the one way to feel that their lives had some meaning, was to join one of the militias that sprang up to fill the vacuum in Lebanon when the state collapsed in 1975.
Hard as it is to believe, Abu Nidal managed to appeal to some of the best of them. He was on the lookout for lively students, preferably very young ones, who were eager to get ahead and who also wanted to strike a blow for the Palestinian cause. He promised to help with their education -- the classic escape route from the dead-end refugee camps; to set them on the road to a career; to help their families. And he paid good money. He also provided them with the thrill of belonging to a militant secret organization. Scorning the feebleness and compromises of the PLO, he preached that Palestine could be wrested back from the Israelis by armed struggle. It was impressed on his recruits that in joining the organization, they were fulfilling their duty not just to Palestine but to the whole Arab nation. Other organizations were treacherous, corrupt, compromising; their own was inspired by the noblest Arab virtues. It was the last standard-bearer of the true cause.
Recruitment was highly selective, because it had to be. Abu Nidal wanted to make sure that his members were untainted by contact with any other political organization or secret service. They were made to sign warrants agreeing to be put to death if any intelligence connection in their backgrounds were later to be discovered. This was not mere paranoia: It was widely suspected that the Mossad, as well as a number of Western intelligence agencies, recruited Palestinians in Europe and the occupied territories and, after suitable training, sent them back to the refugee camps and dangerous back streets of Beirut in order to penetrate Palestinian guerrilla movements. Who was a patriot and who a traitor? No one could be certain. Spy mania was a disease the whole Palestinian movement suffered from, and none more so than the ultrasuspicious, ultrasectarian Abu Nidal.
On joining, each new recruit was given a thick pad of paper on which to write the story of his life. Everything had to be put down -- family, relatives, contacts, friends, lovers, schools, jobs, social situation, every single detail from birth to the moment of recruitment. This first document in the recruit's personal file was the touchstone against which later information would be tested as it came to light. Woe betide the man who strayed from the truth! Early on, when still on probation, the new member would be inducted into a two-man cell with his recruiter, told to mount guard at the organization's offices, to distribute its magazine, Filastin al-Thawra (Palestine the Revolution), to take part in marches and demonstrations. He might be given some small intelligence task to perform, such as keeping a particular person under surveillance or reporting on the activities in his locality of such enemy organizations as Arafat's Fatah or such rivals as George Habash's Popular Front, or the two Shi'ite factions, Amal and its more extreme sister, Hizballah. In order to be worthy of membership, the recruit's life would have to be reformed and purified: Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, women -- all had to be given up; no loose chatter or unnecessary questions would be tolerated; he was never to ask the real name of anyone in the organization or ever divulge his own; only code names were to be used; anything untoward, however trivial, had to be reported to his immediate superior, and at sessions of self-criticism in front of his colleagues, he had to confess publicly his own lapses and faults and recommend his own punishments.
Throughout his training, he was drilled and drilled again in the organization's ten fundamental principles until they became second nature, molding his every thought and action: commitment; discipline; democratic centralism; obedience to the chain of command; initiative and action; criticism and self-criticism; security and confidentiality; planning and implementation; assessment of experience gained; thrift. Each one of these was the subject of lengthy lectures by senior cadres.
When these and other lessons had sunk in and unsuitable candidates were weeded out, the chosen man would be told that he was being sent to another country for a six-month course that would mark him out for greater things. With a group of other young men, five or six to a battered Mercedes, he would be driven deep into South Lebanon, to a village above the port of Sidon, in hill country controlled by the Druze leader Walid Jumblat. There, billeted in houses scarred by shell fire and abandoned by their inhabitants, he would be issued a uniform, a track suit, and a weapon, and given some weeks of basic military training in the form of drill, physical exercise, and much prowling around the countryside by night to avoid being spotted by Israeli reconnaissance aircraft.
Some weeks later, he and the group he was with would be taken by coach to the Damascus airport. One such recruit I interviewed in the summer of 1990 recalled what happened next:
We were given new code names for the journey and told to memorize them. But after hours of waiting in the airport lounge, several men forgot their new names and did not respond when they were called. They had to be called several times! The Syrian security men were very amused, but our commander was furious.
Eventually we boarded a Libyan military aircraft and took off. We didn't know where we were going. There were rumors that it was Cuba or North Korea. Most of us were dizzy from the noise and air pressure. But three hours later we landed at Tripoli, in Libya. Then, after another long wait, we were driven into the desert in a fleet of Toyota buses. It was already dark when we arrived at the camp. Our original code names were called out and we were individually searched before being let in.
Their ordeal had begun.
(What follows is based on one man's account of his experiences in Abu Nidal's organization, related to me in the summer of 1990.)
He was a short, stocky man in his late twenties, with a bull neck, close-cropped hair, and the round thighs and springy walk of an athlete or male dancer. His code name, he told me, was Hussein Jorde Abdallah, and for a Palestinian his background was unusual. His grandfather was a Kabyle from Algeria, one of several thousand Berbers who immigrated to Palestine from North Africa at the turn of the century. His father was born in Palestine, but when the Israelis took over in 1948, he fled with his family to Lebanon, ending up in Burj al-Shamali, a tented camp near Tyre, one of several erected by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the immediate aftermath of the Palestine war. It was there that Jorde was born in 1961. But life for Palestinians in Lebanon was not easy. Sometime in the early seventies, once Algeria had settled down to its independence, Jorde's father decided to take his family back to their place of origin in Kabylia, the fiercely independent hill country just east of Algiers. And it was there that Jorde grew up, speaking Arabic, one or two Berber dialects, and a smattering of French. He was a restless, resourceful boy who scrounged for food, became a skilled shoplifter, and, after finishing school, joined Algeria's vast army of the unemployed. The family's main asset was Jorde's younger brother, Abdallah, who had gone to the Gulf in search of work and found a job with Kuwait Airlines.
When his father, the family breadwinner, died in 1986, Jorde was expected to provide for his mother and his two younger sisters. But he could hardly face the prospect and decided to escape. With money begged from Abdallah in Kuwait, he bought an air ticket to Barcelona and boarded an Iberia flight, with no visa for Spain and no passport save for a Lebanese laissez-passer, such as is issued to Palestinians. On arrival he had a stroke of luck. A domestic flight had landed at about the same time as his own and its passengers were filing into the arrivals hall a few feet away from those on his international flight. There was only a narrow passage between the two lines. When his fellow travelers, all of them Algerians, rushed for the immigration desk, Jorde quietly joined the other line and entered Spain unchallenged.
Jorde spent three months in Barcelona, living in cheap hotels and at night hanging about discos frequented by Arabs. He robbed those less sharp-witted than himself, stole food from supermarkets, and made friends with petty criminals, until one night he was picked up by the Spanish police in Plaza Catalonia and, after interrogation, deported to Lebanon.
In Beirut, he met a girl and started going out with her. She confided that she worked for a secret outfit that she called the Council, but she warned him not to get involved. He was intrigued. He coaxed the facts out of her. Its full name was Fatah: the Revolutionary Council, and it was run by Abu Nidal. Jorde was broke and seeking fame: With its aura of clandestinity and power, the Council seemed right for him. He heard it had an office in the Mar Elias refugee camp, and he knocked on the door and asked to volunteer.
A young man behind a desk looked him over and listened to his story. What could he do? What skills did he have? Why had he come? Jorde told him about his knowledge of languages. He said he was ready to work for a meal a day and somewhere to sleep.
"What do you think of Arafat?" the young man asked.
"Hopeless!" Jorde replied. He had an inkling this was their line. "He wants to liberate Palestine by making speeches. What was taken by force can only be recovered by force!"
Within days Jorde had signed on, been given a code name and a mattress on the first floor of the building, and written a twenty-seven-page life story in which, to make himself sound important, he told a lot of fibs. He wrote that he had murdered a Jew in Spain, that he had played football for a famous team in Algeria, that he had worked as an interpreter in a travel agency in Pamplona. He listed a score of Spanish women he claimed to have made love to. It was pure fiction.
Jorde was not well suited for the Council. He was a braggart and a compulsive talker; he did not take kindly to discipline; he showed undue curiosity in an organization where information was restricted to those with the need to know; he tried to make friends with colleagues, although friendships were discouraged as a matter of policy; he loved to show off his languages and was hopeless at self-criticism. In such a paranoid outfit, where everyone was constantly spying on everyone else and forever writing up reports, he was certain to get into trouble. But he showed a talent for martial arts and got to the top of the class. He was also good at drill and at physical exercises, and once he had been transferred down to Sidon, he was put in charge of a squad. However, the fact that he shaved every day aroused suspicion. Where had he learned such fastidious habits? Fearing that he had been planted on them, his superiors asked him once again to write his life story. He labored away, but this time around he could no longer remember the names of the girls he previously claimed to have known or the fictitious addresses he had given them.
Nevertheless, since nothing serious was found against him, he was soon flown to Libya with a batch of other recruits and bused to the desert camp. It was 1987. Billets and wash houses were still being built -- by the men -- and in the meantime the accommodation was in tents. The routine was punishing. Roused at dawn, the men were sent out to jog for an hour, returning to a light breakfast and a long, hard shift of building work from 7:30 A.M. to 1 P.M. This was followed by a break for a spartan lunch and a short rest until 3 P.M., before the start of another shift of work until six o'clock. They then were allowed to wash and change for the evening's program of lectures and political films. Jorde discovered to his agony that if one was five minutes late for meals, one would not be allowed into the canteen at all. If one didn't get up on time in the morning, one's mattress would be turned over or one would be doused by a pail of cold water. If one put down tools to take a breather, reproaches and abuse came raining down. One needed permission to go to the lavatory, and one had to be very ill indeed, practically spitting blood, before the camp doctor allowed any sick leave. Complaints were utterly forbidden, on pain of being hauled away to Station 16, from which men emerged scarcely able to walk. Jorde tried to sneak away in mid-morning for a shave and a rest, but he was soon found out and threatened with a thrashing.
When they had been at the camp for about a month, Jorde's section was told that it would shortly be receiving a visit from a "comrade" to whom every man could open his heart. "Speak freely and answer any question he puts to you," their commander instructed.
"What alerted me to Abu Nidal's arrival," Jorde said, "was a driver springing to attention and saluting. I saw a man dressed in civilian clothes and accompanied by three senior camp officials in uniform. I looked at him closely. He wasn't very tall. He had a bald head with a fringe of gray hair, blue-green eyes, and a plump face. I said to myself, This must be the big chief.
"When we assembled in the sports center, he began by telling us that our six-month course was just the first step in our career with the organization. Each of us would in time get the job of his choice, the one best suited to his talents. Then, very quietly, he started to draw us out, asking us about our background, interests, and ambitions. Each man in turn had to step forward, give his code name, and tell him his problem.
"When it was my turn, I stood up and said my name, Hussein Jorde Abdallah.
"'Where do you come from?'
"'Are you a Palestinian?'
"'Were you born in Algeria?'
"'No. In a refugee camp in Tyre.'
"'But Jorde is not an Arab name.'
"'I am not an Arab!'
"At this, everyone stared at me in surprise. My group leader tried to say it was just my code name, but Abu Nidal waved to him to keep silent.
"'Are you a Spaniard?'
"'No, I'm a Kabyle.' And I explained my family's travels from North Africa to Palestine and then back again, via Lebanon, to the Berber capital of Tizi-Ouzo, in Algeria. Jorde, I said, was a Catalan version of Jorge or George: It was a name I had borrowed from a Spanish acquaintance. I told him about the languages I spoke. He asked the camp commander, Husam Yusif, to make a note of what I was saying."
This exchange with Abu Nidal made Jorde a marked man, for in drawing the leadership's attention to his potential, he was also sharpening its suspicions about him. He was asked to report the next day to the camp commander.
"Do any members of your family work for an intelligence or a security organization?" he was asked.
"No." He had an aunt and uncle living in Kuwait; two uncles in America, one in Michigan and the other in Ohio, but he knew very little about them. Another aunt, his father's sister, whom he had not seen for twenty years, lived in Benghazi. It was the usual pattern of Palestinian dispersal.
"What about you? Have you ever worked in intelligence?"
"Are you quite sure?"
"Yes, I am."
"This is a matter of life and death. Don't forget that in Beirut you signed a statement saying you would accept death if you were found to have an intelligence connection. Write your life story for us again, but this time put down every single detail about yourself and about all your relatives -- their names, addresses, and everything else about them."
This was the third time Jorde had been set this task. Confined to his tent with pens and a notepad, he spent the best part of two weeks writing and growing increasingly resentful and anxious. He was worried that his earlier lies would now be exposed. He stopped eating and cried a good deal. The camp commander, Husam Yusif, came to see him.
"What's the matter with you? What's wrong?"
"I want to get out of here! I can't stand it anymore."
The next morning Husam Yusif and a strongly built man called Baha, who was said to be the Palestinian karate champion, frog-marched him to the back door of the kitchen bloc and ordered him into a dark closet, cluttered with mops and dirty rags, situated just behind the kitchen's huge gas burners, whose roar could be heard through the wall.
"We haven't brought you here to imprison you but to stop you from doing anything foolish," Husam said. "Sami will want to see you when he gets back from Tripoli in a couple of days." Sami was the man in charge of Section 16, the prison and interrogation bloc.
Dirty and unshaven, Jorde was brought before Sami two days later.
"Where is your life story?"
Jorde told him he had hidden it under the mattress in his billet.
"Have you told us the whole truth?"
"Before we resort to other measures, let me make one thing absolutely clear. You are still our comrade! If you are in any sort of trouble, you must tell us about it. If you are in danger, so are we all. No one can fool us. God judges in heaven, we judge here on earth. Several of our comrades turned out to be agents of other intelligence services. When we caught them, they told us they had been blackmailed into it. We were able to help them. We can do the same for you. I am going to give you another week to write your life story. Forget about the earlier drafts. Just tell us whom you work for!"
"But I don't work for anyone!"
"Yes you do! We can prove it. But I want you to admit it yourself. Tell us the whole truth. Don't force us to use other methods."
So Jorde started scribbling again. He confessed that he had not played football in Algeria nor worked as an interpreter in Spain. The travel agency in Pamplona did not exist. The twenty-five girls he said he had slept with were all invented. But he really had entered Spain without a visa by jumping a queue at the Barcelona airport.
By this time he had been confined for ten days in the closet. His beard had grown. His body itched all over. When the burners were lit in the kitchen, the temperature soared. He stripped down to his underpants. One day, still scantily dressed, he was taken outside, and, wedged in the backseat of a Toyota between Sami and another man, he was driven out of the camp into the open desert. His first thought was that they were going to kill him. Behind a dune, they came on a single tent pitched directly on the sand. It was empty. There was no ground sheet or bed, nothing except for some iron pegs in the ground, to which they now tied him. There they left him for a couple of days, visiting him once a day with some bread and a cup of water.
"Have you decided to tell us the truth?"
"I've already told you the truth," he groaned.
"Listen," Sami said. "Beating is not allowed in our organization except by decision of the Central Committee. But if you don't talk, the Central Committee will have no alternative ..."
Jorde remained silent. He was filthy and starving. He stank. He began to hope that a scorpion bite would finish him off.
The following day Sami, Baha, and three other men came to the tent. One was carrying a rope, another a length of rubber hose, the third an oxygen cylinder, a bottle of disinfectant, and some rags.
Baha came up to him. "Stand up!" he roared. "Are you going to tell us the truth?" But before Jorde could utter a word, he was struck across the face. He fell down, only to be hauled to his feet again. "Stand to attention! Don't raise your hands! Give me the hose!" And they all set to, punching and beating him.
One of his tormentors was a young thug called Mas'ud, who had been in the physical-exercise squad that Jorde had led. Jorde had pushed him hard to run and jump, and Mas'ud had hated him for it. Now he got his own back. They tied Jorde down, propped his legs up on a stone, and attacked the soles of his feet. Screaming and weeping, his mouth full of sand, he begged them to spare him.
"Stop! Stop! I'll tell you the truth. It's Algeria. I work for Algerian intelligence. They sent me here. They made me do it. I was scared for my family. Stop!"
"OK," said Sami. "That's it. Don't be afraid. We'll look after your family." They sat him down and untied his bonds.
"Is that it?" asked Jorde through his tears. "All finished?"
"Yes, that's it. We'll have a chat together over dinner. Now you are safe. You are once again our comrade. But you will have to tell us everything!" Jorde could not stand up. They carried him to Sami's tent a little way off, gave him some tea, and treated his wounds.
This is what he told them: When he was living in Algeria with his family, he used to buy small quantities of hashish from his neighbor, a petty smuggler. This man told him that they had to watch out for a certain Captain Kamal of military intelligence, whose job it was to chase the drug dealers. Jorde learned to recognize the captain's car. One day Captain Kamal visited Jorde's family at home, and soon afterward he called Jorde to his office and offered him a job as an informer. He wanted to know about smugglers, then he asked Jorde to keep an eye on student agitators in the town, and finally, when Abu Nidal opened an office in Algiers, which it was feared might be used to plan attacks on visiting Palestinians, Jorde was sent to Spain and from there to Beirut to penetrate the organization.
This was Jorde's hastily concocted story. There were elements of truth in it. Captain Kamal was a real person. But the rest was invention. Under questioning, it did not stand up. He got confused and contradicted himself. Sami was unimpressed. Later that night, Jorde was taken back to the tent and the beatings resumed. Desperate to save himself, he racked his brains for a more plausible story. He said he worked in Bilbao for the Basque nationalist movement ETA; he was a member of its military wing. It was ETA that had sent him to Beirut to join Abu Nidal, ETA that had made a soldier out of him! He had never been to Pamplona or slept with Spanish girls; that part was a lie. He was sorry, very sorry. He had only wanted to make himself interesting. The beatings went on at intervals throughout the night.
In the following days, they stopped asking him for the truth and concentrated only on breaking him. It was extremely hot inside the tent. Sami cut his water ration to three small mouthfuls a day. He was so thirsty he could hardly speak. They gave him a tin in which to do his business. Flies gathered on his back and on the filth around him. Blood dried on his wounds. His body was all pain. They forced a potato into his mouth, blindfolded him, and turned Mas'ud loose on him. To escape the blows, he feigned madness, throwing himself on the ground in spasms.
"What do you think?" he heard Sami say to Baha. "Shall we get him a doctor?" He was carried to the surgery, tied to a bed, and given an injection. He was aware that Sami and Baha came to see him several times during the night. Half- asleep, he answered their questions, and they realized he had been faking.
"Have you ever had a wire inserted in your penis?" Sami asked. "Have you been trussed up like a chicken and forced to sit on a broken bottle? We will cut out your tongue. What you've written is all untrue. Every word of it. Who recruited you? Who sent you to us? Tell us about the Syrians! Tell us about the Jordanians!"
"Have pity! Oh God, have pity! I swear I told you the whole truth in the kitchen. The more you beat me, the more I'll lie."
Mahmud, a tall, gray-haired man from the Central Committee, came to look him over. "Take him to Station 16," he said.
There, in a tiny concrete underground cell, they made him stand to attention all night facing the wall, and the next night and the whole of the next two weeks. Jorde learned to sleep standing up. In the morning the guards would crowd in and each one would slap him across the face a hundred times. He had to count the slaps silently and, when it was time, utter only the words "One hundred!" If he fell to the ground or let out so much as a moan, they would start again. His face swelled up like a football and an ugly liquid flowed from his ears. Once every two or three days he was allowed to go out to the lavatory. The stench in the cell was terrible. From time to time Sami would arrive and play a tape of Umm Kalthoum, the undisputed queen of Arabic song, whereupon the guards would rush in, throw Jorde to the ground, put a brick under his feet, bind his legs, and thrash his soles until he fainted.
A bucket of cold water would bring him half-alive again. "Where did you learn yoga? Who taught you to sleep standing up? Speak, you dog! Who but a soldier would shave every day? You're an agent. Confess it!"
''I'm not an agent! I am a poor son of the camps! Please believe me."
Jorde spent two months in prison, being beaten every day. One night, when he was still in his underground cell, a wedding was celebrated in the camp. A comrade was marrying a female member, and all the guards went to enjoy the festivities except for Mas'ud, who stayed behind.
"Tonight," he said, ''I'm going to finish you off." He unfurled a length of wire, threw a switch in the corridor, and dangled a bright electric bulb into Jorde's cell through the tiny skylight above the door. "Hold it!" he shouted. "Hold it in your hand! If you drop it, I'll break your bones." Jorde obeyed. After a few minutes, smoke rose from his fearfully blistered palm. Swooning with pain, he was saved by the guards returning from the party.
For the tenth time, Sami gave him a pad and a pen and told him to write his life story. The prescribed routine was for him to write during the day, sitting on the concrete step in his cell, and then stand to attention throughout the night.
One evening, after reading what he had written, a grim-faced Sami came down to the cellblock. "Tonight," he whispered, "you are going to die! You had better say your prayers." They brought him water for his ablutions and stood watching as he prostrated himself. Then they dressed him in military uniform, wrapped a scarf around his head, and took him out beyond the prison compound to where a deep hole, evidently part of the sewage system, had been dug. A ladder led down to the noisome depths. Below him was another hole, shaped like a grave.
"Lie down!" Sami ordered as he drew his Browning and cocked it. "Do you have anything to tell us? This is your last chance."
"I am innocent!" Jorde cried in a storm of tears. "I have told you the truth." And as the filthy water lapped about him, he closed his eyes in a last prayer.
"All right! Get him out," Sami ordered. Shivering and demented, racked by sobs, Jorde was carried back to prison, given fresh clothes, and put in a clean cell. It was warm and dark. He curled up on a blanket on the floor and fell asleep.
Sami woke him up the next morning.
"Congratulations!" he said. "You've passed!" He reached into his pocket and gave Jorde a handful of sweets. "I believe you are innocent! Have a wash and a shave and some breakfast. We'll talk later. We have to behave like this to protect ourselves. There are a lot of enemies outside ..."
For a few weeks Jorde lived in an agreeable limbo. He was excused from work, training, and guard duty. His personal belongings were returned to him. He shared a tent in the prison compound with one of his former torturers and was given magazines to read and plenty of food. His cravings for cakes, fruits, fresh air, and frequent showers were indulged. He could sleep as long as he liked. He was free to move about the camp but was not allowed to contact anyone. His sores healed, hair grew on his shaved head, his injured feet recovered well enough for him to put on a pair of sneakers. He began to regain strength as well as something of his former cockiness.
Escape was very much on his mind. After the floggings and the mock execution, his one thought was to get away. One afternoon a bulldozer scooped out a hole at the foot of the hill behind Station 16. Jorde was curious to know what was going on, but Amjad Ata, the second secretary of the Central Committee, ordered the compound cleared for the rest of the day. A couple of hours later, when they were allowed back, Jorde noticed that the hole had been filled in. He was convinced bodies had been buried there. Loose talk was strictly forbidden and, in any event, each man lived in fear of being reported. Nevertheless, rumors of executions spread around the camp. A little while later, Jorde learned that the driver of the bulldozer had committed suicide. He wondered whether he would ever manage to get out of there alive.
Enjoying greater leisure as well as a certain immunity because of what he had gone through, he was able to observe more closely the workings of Station 16 and to gauge the general mood of the camp. He heard that a man had hit another for staying under the shower more than the regulation minute. To cure him of his "disciplinary disorder," the first man was brought to the cells, chained to the wall, and beaten senseless. The medicine was administered repeatedly over a couple of weeks. Jorde could not help being disturbed at night by screams coming from the cells and came to dread the times when Arabic music was turned up to full volume on the sound system.
Even for those who did not get into trouble there was little relief from the strict routine of work and the mind-numbing lectures about the evils of the PLO, the virtues of Abu Nidal's organization and its ten basic principles, and the inescapable role of armed struggle in the liberation of Palestine. Indoctrination was massive and systematic. The inmates were not allowed radios and had no news of the outside world except for the few items that were filtered through the political-mobilization department and published in the camp's bulletin. Letters to their families were censored, while incoming letters were often not distributed at all. The camp administration kept extensive personal files on each man and evidently found it more convenient to file letters without bothering to pass them on. The men's main grievance was that they had been told their course would last six months whereas they were still there eighteen months later, with no immediate prospect of release. Such was the atmosphere of oppression and fear that everyone seemed close to physical and psychological exhaustion -- and this applied also to the guards who, just a few weeks earlier, had beaten Jorde so savagely. As all personal papers -- such as ID cards or travel documents -- had been surrendered on entering the camp, even a sense of self was reduced to the minimum.
One morning Abu Nidal paid another visit to the camp. It was the second time Jorde had seen him. He drove up in a Toyota, accompanied by two other men, and inspected Station 16, where some new buildings had been erected. Sami drew his attention to Jorde, and Abu Nidal came up and greeted him briefly. Then he continued on his tour of inspection, but Jorde noticed that he kept glancing in his direction.
That afternoon, Sami summoned Jorde to his office.
"You're a liar and a thief," he said. "That's why we're thinking of sending you abroad on foreign missions. Do you think you could steal some passports for us and bring us back some information?" Jorde swore this was just what he was suited for.
"You've certainly shown you can escape detection! The tactics you've used with us you can now tryout on others. We'll give you some money to travel and live abroad. But if you try to escape, we'll catch you and bring you back and you'll never get out again!"
He was introduced to Comrade Ali, a tall, fair Western-looking man with a Lebanese-Palestinian accent, who was to be his instructor and controller. "Learn everything you can from him and obey him fully," Sami said.
In a remote part of the camp, and protected by its own fence and guardroom, was a small group of tents reserved for trainees of the Intelligence Directorate's Special Missions Committee. A few men were brought here individually at night, their faces covered with the Arab headdress, and lodged one to a tent. They were not allowed to mix with each other or, for that matter, with anyone else in the camp, and no unauthorized person was allowed into their compound. Their training courses usually lasted two or three weeks, and during their stay, the camp commander himself saw to their needs, bringing them meals and changes of clothing. Courses were tailored to the needs of individual agents and of the foreign missions for which they were being prepared.
Jorde was transferred here, and in the following weeks, Ali took in hand his basic intelligence training. He taught him how to assume a false identity; how to walk and behave without attracting attention; how to reconnoiter a place of rendezvous; how to keep a target under surveillance; how to throw off a tail; how to write in invisible ink and send coded messages back to base. From another instructor, Ra'id Saqr, he learned to strip, assemble, and fire pistols and light machine guns; to clean, oil, and pack them for burial; to memorize a map; to locate a weapons cache in a foreign country.
When he showed some familiarity with these techniques, Ali told him the time had come to put them into practice. One night, to Jorde's immense relief, they left the camp behind them and drove to Tripoli, to an apartment on the top floor of a three-story building on Umar al-Mukhtar Street. Before pressing the bell on the yellow front door, Ali told Jorde to cover his face. He had a glimpse of several powerful-looking men at the end of a corridor before being quickly shown to a room furnished with a single bed, a table and chair, some books, and a wall map of the world with German place names.
That night Ali gave him a lecture on discipline. "I've heard you used to moan a great deal," he said. "That's got to stop. Absolutely. We are planning to send you abroad, where your life will be totally under our control. You must report back in every detail. If we say, 'Drink alcohol,' do so. If we say, 'Get married,' find a woman and marry her. If we say, 'Don't have children,' you must obey. If we say, 'Go and kill King Hussein,' you must be ready to sacrifice yourself!"
Jorde said he was ready for anything.
"Let me give you an example of a possible mission," Ali continued. "We might say, 'Go to the Argentine consulate in Brussels and apply for a visa. Some fifty kilometers outside Buenos Aires is a region called La Plata, where there are several poor villages. Go to a village, find a destitute old woman, and give her two or three hundred dollars. Tell her you are her long-lost son now working in Europe. She will take you to the town hall and get you documents proving you are her son. Enlist in the army for your national service. When it is over, apply for a visa to Israel. Buy an air ticket to Tel Aviv. Then await our instructions!'"
Ali arranged for Jorde to have his photograph taken and the following day gave him a well-used North Yemeni passport, with various stamps and visas in it, in the name of Muhammad Ahmad al-Salihi, domiciled in Abu Dhabi, occupation petroleum engineer. He was told to memorize the passport details and think himself into his new identity. He was supplied with a suitcase full of clothes, a Samsonite briefcase, and $5,000 in one-hundred-dollar bills. Jorde had never seen so much money before and wondered whether the bills were forged.
"Spend it wisely," Ali cautioned. "Don't forget that one of our ten principles is thrift. We are a small organization with small resources. The money we have belongs to our martyrs and must be looked after carefully."
For an hour he rehearsed with Jorde an itinerary that was to take him to Athens, Rome, Zurich, and Paris, to Niamey, capital of the African republic of Niger, and then back to Paris and Tripoli. At each stop there were people to meet, passwords to exchange, warning signals to observe. If a tall black man with a silver-capped front tooth at his hotel in Niamey carried his cigarette lighter in his left hand, he was on no account to approach him; if the lighter was in his right hand, contact could safely be made. Jorde could not take notes but had to satisfy Ali that he had committed every last detail to memory.
"All right!" Ali said at last. "Tomorrow we will take a trip together. Go through your things carefully and eliminate anything that might connect you with Libya."
Dreaming of Africa, Jorde met Ali the next morning at Tripoli airport and was tested on his itinerary. Ali asked for his passport and, slipping a piece of paper into it, gave it to the officer at passport control. Jorde noticed that his passport was not stamped. In fact there were no Libyan stamps in it at all. Instead, there was an exit stamp from Cairo dated that day. They boarded an aircraft and, a short while later, landed not at Athens, as he had expected, but at Valletta in Malta.
"This is where we go our separate ways," Ali said. "Ask for a three-day transit visa. Say you are going on to Athens. Before collecting your luggage, go to the lavatory and get rid of your Libyan ticket. Change a hundred dollars into local currency. Don't talk to taxi drivers: They are all intelligence agents. Find a modest hotel and meet me at 8 P.M. in the cafeteria of the Holiday Inn."
But Jorde was stopped at the barrier. The woman immigration officer flicked through his passport and shook her head at his request for a transit visa. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Ali watching him. Then he saw Ali talking to another official, who looked like an Arab. The man walked over and had a word with the immigration officer, who then stamped his passport and let him through. "Thank you very much," Jorde said in Arabic. "Don't say a word," the man replied.
In Valletta, Jorde found a cheap hotel by the sea and met Ali as arranged. They dined and spent the evening exploring the town, with Ali continuing to coach his pupil in intelligence techniques: Were they being followed? How could they be sure? Was the street "clean?" Where was a good place to rendezvous? Were there several exits in case of emergency? Who was the main enemy -- Israel or Arafat? The lessons continued over breakfast the next morning.
Then they went to a small supermarket, where Ali bought several cartons of soap powder and two dozen films. He gave Jorde half the load to carry in his suitcase and arranged to meet him at the airport in the afternoon. There he bought two tickets for Libya and asked Jorde to hand over his remaining cash. It was only then that Jorde realized the trip had been a mere trial run, a sort of test, and that his hopes of flying deep into Africa had to be deferred. On landing in Tripoli, Ali was warmly welcomed by a Libyan official, who took their passports and, again without having them stamped, escorted them out of the airport by a back door. Ali said he had paid the man $300 to take them through, but Jorde suspected he wasn't telling the truth. Back in the flat on Vmar al-Mukhtar Street, Ali asked Jorde for the films and soap powder he had carried in for him.
The training continued. A week or two later they found themselves in Belgrade, with Jorde traveling on a Mauretanian passport, once again with no Libyan exit stamp. This time he traveled on his own, with $5,000 in his pocket, flying first to Frankfurt, where he burned his Libyan ticket and flushed it down the lavatory, and then on to Belgrade. Ali walked him around the city, which, he told him, was the administrative center for Abu Nidal's European operations. He showed him airline offices and Western embassies, friendly cafes where meetings could safely be arranged, and hotels where he was on no account to show his face.
The working methods of the organization were becoming clearer to Jorde. Ali explained that considerable resources were devoted to the gathering of intelligence. Before a target could be selected or an attack carried out, data on everyone and everything concerned had to be collected. This was the routine side of the organization's work and the main activity of its agents in the field. There was a strong emphasis on photography, sketch making, and report writing. A second priority was transferring weapons to foreign countries, or obtaining them there, and then hiding them for future use. A third was acquiring genuine passports, which were always more highly prized than the forgeries produced by the organization's Technical Committee. And finally there was training: Abu Nidal believed in moving his cadres from one training course to another, constantly upgrading their abilities and testing their courage.
It was in Belgrade that Ali set Jorde his last training exercise before he became operational. The task was to get a visa for Belgium, fly to Brussels, and make friends there who would welcome him back and help him get subsequent reentry visas: in other words, establish a working relationship in Belgium to justify returning there. Jorde hit on the idea of posing as a used-car dealer who was looking for vehicles in good condition to export to North Africa.
As instructed by Ali, he traveled club class to Brussels on Swiss Air, booked into a small hotel, and hired a taxi driver -- a man of Greek origin, called Victor Roumis -- to take him around the various garages on the outskirts of the city that dealt in secondhand cars. He paid him $220 for two and a half days' work, and together they made lists of vehicles, checked prices, bargained, made many contacts, and collected numerous business cards. Jorde's story was that he was working with two partners in Belgrade and was prospecting the market. After consulting his partners, he would return to place firm orders in a week or two. Would the dealers vouch for him to help him get a reentry visa? Several said they would. Roumis, his newfound friend, took him home for a meal prepared by his Greek wife, who turned out to be an ardent Jehovah's Witness. After supper, the three of them watched a religious video!
Back in Belgrade, Jorde wrote a detailed report for Ali, complete with names, addresses, descriptions, and topographical details. It had been his first assignment entirely on his own, and Ali was pleased with him. What Jorde did not tell him was that in Brussels he had thought of escaping. But he did not have much money, and he knew he could not get very far on a Mauretanian passport. In any event, while he was swanning around Europe at someone else's expense, the need to escape seemed less pressing.
Once Jorde's preliminary training was complete, Ali handed him over to a thin, dark man in his mid-thirties called Hisham Harb, a senior cadre in the Special Missions Committee who was said to have a special talent for directing foreign operations and assassinations.
Sitting in cafes, talking and getting to know each other, they spent a week in Belgrade together. Jorde told Harb about the torture he had suffered in the camp, the memory of which gave him nightmares. He was still troubled by a buzzing in his ears. Why had they done it? What was the point? He was not overjoyed to hear Harb respond that Jorde had been beaten not so much because of suspected treason but because he had complained a great deal! It was a form of training and Jorde should not feel bitter. Others had suffered even more. He was now a trusted cadre and would have occasion to prove himself.
Harb unveiled to Jorde some of the secrets of the outfit he had joined. He explained the history and structure of the organization, the function of its various directorates and committees and, at the center of the whole system, the elite Intelligence Directorate, of which he was now a member. He claimed it was the only effective instrument in the Palestinian struggle, the only truly disciplined force, the only one that made the world tremble! Other Palestinian factions were made up of clowns and charlatans, concerned only to protect their privileges and ready to sell out the cause at the first opportunity.
"Could you kill a man if we asked you to?" he inquired.
Jorde said he would obey whatever orders he received.
Harb gave him an expensive Nikon camera with a zoom lens and taught him how to work it. "You're a talented man," he said. "We're going to use you for ten years. After that, you'll be free to go your own way."
The first assignments were relatively easy. Jorde found himself "borrowing" airline timetables (for which the organization had an insatiable appetite) from travel agencies; photographing Israeli and American embassies, consulates, and airline offices in several European cities; prowling past these potential targets in taxis to observe their defenses; and above all, stealing or buying passports. In Paris, he managed to acquire no fewer than four -- two French, one American, and one Algerian. He discovered that crowded discos were a good hunting ground, because tourists tended to take off their jackets when dancing and leave them unattended. On Boulevard Barbes, north of the Gare du Nord, he met old Algerian acquaintances who, after discreet negotiations, helped him buy, for a thousand francs, an Italian pistol, which he photographed carefully (to prove that he had gotten it) and buried in a public park. By Christmas 1987, he was running out of money, so he sent a coded message to Tripoli to announce his return and flew back from Zurich by Swiss Air.
He was met by the same official who, when he was traveling with Ali, had escorted them through the airport. "Have you anything to declare?" the man asked. "Don't worry. You can tell me. We work for the same outfit."
After some hesitation, Jorde produced the stolen passports. The man took them away but returned with them a little while later and waved Jorde through. Outside the airport, a car took him to the flat on Umar al-Mukhtar Street, where Hisham Harb was waiting to debrief him. Jorde gave him the films, sketch maps, and passports, but when he told Harb he had shown the passports to their colleague at the airport, Harb flew into a rage. "You fool!" he roared. "You stupid fool! You deserve a good beating! You've wasted your whole trip." In disgrace, Jorde was sent back to the camp to cool his heels for several months.
His first task was to write a report of self-criticism and, as was the organization's custom, to suggest his own punishment. He made it exceptionally harsh: one month's work on a construction site; an extra four hours of guard duty each night for ten days; two hours of physical exercise each morning instead of one, which would mean rising at 4 A.M.; and writing two articles for the organization's in-house magazine, al-Tariq (The Path), one on selfishness and the other on bad temper. Perhaps it was this spirit of abject contrition that caused Hisham Harb to waive the sanctions and to send Jorde instead on a weapons course, where he perfected his knowledge of the Browning, Scorpion, M16, Kalashnikov, and also of an American-built RPG.
Jorde was not sure whether it was a promotion or a punishment when, a short while later, Harb issued him a Tunisian passport in the name of Sha'ban Abd al-Majid Belqassim and sent him to photograph and report on Jewish synagogues in Istanbul. Harb warned him it would be dangerous because the Turkish police, as well as vigilantes in the Jewish community, were on their guard following a murderous attack two years earlier on the Neve Shalom Synagogue, Istanbul's largest. In that attack, on September 6, 1986, two members of the organization, posing as photographers, had entered the synagogue, locked the door from the inside with an iron bar, and opened fire on the congregation with submachine guns before blowing themselves up. Twenty-one Jewish worshipers had died and another four were wounded. Shimon Peres, Israel's prime minister at the time, had vowed to "cut off the arms of the murderers, murderers not seen since the days of the Nazis." Now the organization wanted to know how this and other synagogues were defended. Were there any special checks on people going in? Any searches? Any sign of armed guards? They wanted Jorde to visit the Jewish cemetery where the victims were buried, take photographs of their graves, and make sketch maps of their location. Harb, who advised Jorde to pose as a Tunisian Jew, taught him half a dozen words of Hebrew and gave him a skullcap and some brief instruction in how to behave at prayer.
Within three weeks, Jorde was back in Tripoli with a full report and a restored reputation for courage and resourcefulness. On a tourist bus, he had met and befriended a woman guide who happened to be a Jew and who had been very helpful to the pious young Tunisian during his stay. Nevertheless, Hisham Harb insisted that Jorde append to his report a page of self-criticism for having spent a good deal of the organization's money in a very short time.
THE SAUDI TARGET
In September 1988, Jorde was prepared for a mission that Hisham Harb told him was of the utmost importance -- a year- long stay in Thailand, during which he was instructed to learn the language, marry a Thai woman (preferably one working in a hospital, pharmacy, airline, or bank), start the formalities for acquiring citizenship if that was possible, and establish an arms cache within easy reach of Bangkok. The main object of his attention was to be the Saudi presence in Bangkok: Saudi businessmen, the Saudia airline, and in particular the diplomatic staff of the Saudi embassy, about whom he was instructed to compile a detailed report and photographic record. It was plain to Jorde that Abu Nidal was planning to mount an attack, very probably an assassination, against a Saudi target in Thailand.
For very many years Abu Nidal, the apostle of Palestinian violence, had been at daggers drawn with the Saudi royal family, the Arab world's foremost champions of stability and conservatism. Indeed, Abu Nidal's first operation, even before his split from Fatah, had been an assault on the Saudi embassy in Paris, in September 1973, in which two Saudi diplomats had been taken hostage. No doubt he would have pressed his attack on Saudi interests over the years had his various state sponsors -- Iraq in the 1970s and Syria in the early 1980s -- not forbidden it. However, from 1985 onward, when Libya became his main patron, such a prohibition was lifted and Abu Nidal started issuing threats against the Saudis, who, in his paranoid way, he believed were the source of all the plots against him.
The Saudis were sufficiently alarmed to seek a channel of communication with him, which, after some discreet soundings, Algerian intelligence agreed to provide. Abu Nidal did not aspire to a political relationship with Riyadh -- their differences were too ludicrously great for that to be discussible -- but he did expect the Saudis to buy him off. His view was that since they contributed vast sums to the PLO, he too should have his share. Accordingly, Algerian intelligence arranged for Abu Nidal to visit the Saudi kingdom in 1987, and the blackmailer returned from there with a "first payment" of $3 million in cash.
However, he made one mistake, which was to torpedo the budding relationship: He accepted a Saudi offer of a private plane to take him back to Algiers, believing that such red-carpet treatment would boost his stock with the Algerians. But ever wary of plots against him and perhaps fearing an in-flight mishap, he requested that a Saudi prince accompany him on the flight. Defectors from Abu Nidal's organization told me that a prominent young prince, a veteran of top-secret missions, agreed to do so. However, the Americans are thought to have heard of his trip and put pressure on Riyadh to end the relationship. Be that as it may, no more payments were forthcoming. Abu Nidal's rage knew no bounds. As he saw it, the Saudis had struck a deal with him and had then failed to honor it.
Bent on revenge, he attacked "soft" Saudi targets. On October 25, 1988, Abdallah Ghani Badawi, second secretary at the Saudi embassy in Ankara, was gunned down. Two months later, on December 27, it was the turn of Hasan al-Amri, Saudi vice-consul in Karachi. Western Europe, where effective counterterrorist measures had been introduced, was becoming a dangerous place for terrorists, driving Abu Nidal to look for less well policed countries. Hence the choice of Thailand for a third attack. And this was Jorde's mission.
Jorde knew he would not be on his own. He would have shadowy partners in Thailand, although he could only guess at their identity and location. According to the organization's well-tried procedures, an attack required the coordination of several elements:
There was first a long-term "resident" responsible for establishing the arms cache and supplying the necessary background intelligence about the target. This was the role for which he was being groomed.
Second, a "supervisor" would fly in at the appropriate moment, examine the target in greater detail, make a feasibility study, and, after close consultation with the command back at base, call in a third component.
This was the hit team, usually consisting of three members and a leader, whose job it was to decide on the nuts and bolts of the operation: Where exactly was the target to be attacked? In his office, at home, or in the street? How should the team be deployed? Who would fire the lethal shot, and who would provide covering fire? What was the best getaway route? Each team member would travel on his own and make contact with the supervisor, who would assign him a place of residence. The team members did not know the resident or where the arms were hidden. Each member of the team would know the others only by their code names and would not know under what names they were traveling.
Fourth, and finally, there was the "intermediary," usually a high-ranking cadre, whose sole task was to collect the weapons from the resident and deliver them to the supervisor. Sometimes the intermediary would not even meet the resident but would merely collect the weapons from a prearranged drop. The minute the handover was accomplished, the intermediary would leave the country, so as to protect the arms cache and its custodian. The supervisor would not know the resident: His sole contact was with the intermediary. If the operation failed and the team was arrested, the police would be unable to trace the resident or the weapons. If the operation succeeded and the team got away, the supervisor would return the weapons to another prearranged drop, whence they would be collected by the resident and hidden for future use.
As he was being briefed for his assignment, Jorde's hopes of escape revived. He was certain he would be given a decent passport and a large sum of money to establish himself in Thailand. His tentative plan was to abscond with the cash and disappear underground, probably in Spain, where he hoped to resume his former life of petty and relatively carefree criminality.
Jorde spent much of October 1988 learning about Southeast Asia, and Thailand in particular. He pored over books, briefing papers, and maps. He was instructed to send his preliminary findings about the Saudi embassy personnel by coded letter, written in invisible ink and addressed to a certain Sulayman Taha, P.O. Box 83476, Tripoli, Libya. He was to sign his letters Sami Taha. He was given careful training in where to meet and how to identify the couriers who were to bring him money, weapons, and instructions. When he was ready to go, Hisham Harb gave him a North Yemeni passport in the name of Hadi Abdallah al-Dawudi, a mere $5,000 in cash, and a one-way ticket on Libyan Airways to Vienna -- on all counts a great disappointment! Hisham instructed him not to spend more than fifteen dollars a day on a hotel in Bangkok and twenty dollars a day on living expenses. Once again, his dreams of making a well-financed escape evaporated.
At the end of October 1988 he flew to Vienna and, on arrival, burned his ticket as instructed. The stamp in his passport indicated that he had flown in from Amman. He then traveled on to Belgrade, via Zagreb, and applied for a visa at the Thai embassy. He was asked to produce a return ticket -- which cost him $1,700 -- and was given a tourist visa.
Jorde took the long flight to Bangkok, spent a few nights in a cheap hotel, and then, mindful of the need to economize, moved to a rented room. Within days he signed on for Thai classes, at a language school called the American University Alumni, under the name Marco al-Dawudi. He said he ran a video shop in Milan where he lived with his divorced Italian mother. Soon he was sending back to Tripoli voluminous reports and film of the Saudi embassy staff, whom he spent his afternoons following assiduously to their places of residence.
But his funds began to run low. With mounting concern, he sent repeated coded messages to Tripoli, by letter and then by telegram, asking for help and instructions. Day after day he waited patiently at the agreed places of rendezvous, an American ice-cream parlor and a self-service restaurant, called City Food, in the Ambassador Hotel, but no courier showed up. He resorted to what he knew best, picking pockets, befriending people in bars and taking their money, talking his way into the favor of Thai businessmen, who helped him out and paid for his meals. Charming and plausible, a born raconteur, he was able to scrape by on his wits. He met some criminals who were willing to sell him weapons, but he had no money to clinch the deals. Tripoli remained silent.
Had he fallen from grace? Did they suspect him of double-dealing? Had he been sent out as a decoy while the real action was elsewhere? Was there something wrong with his communications? Were they being intercepted? Jorde sank deeper into fear and anxiety. One night he got involved in a brawl and was stabbed in the chest with a broken bottle. His Thai friends rescued him, took him for treatment to the Deja General Hospital on Sriayuthaya Road, and paid the bill.
Then, on January 4, 1989, Salah al-Maliki, third secretary at the Saudi embassy in Bangkok, one of the men he had tracked and carefully photographed, was gunned down by unknown assailants. The Islamic Jihad, a Beirut-based fundamentalist group, claimed responsibility, and most foreign observers attributed the murder to terrorists loyal to Iran. But Jorde knew better.
In the wake of the Bangkok murder, he was arrested in a general sweep of Arabs. He was interrogated by the police and his room was searched, but no evidence against him was found and he was released forty-eight hours later. He was told, however, that he would have to leave Thailand once his visa expired on March 8. As so often in his life when he found himself in difficulty, Jorde appealed to his brother, Abdallah, for help. Through the Kuwait Airlines office, he sent him a message telling him of his whereabouts. His dutiful brother, who had not seen him in five years, came to Bangkok and gave him a present of $900, enough to get Jorde out to Rome on March 8 -- and then to lose himself somewhere in Europe.
He had no wish whatsoever to return to Tripoli and the uncertain fate of an Abu Nidal agent. He needed shelter. He feared the organization would track him down if he were to show his face at one of his usual haunts in Belgrade, Brussels, or Barcelona. Having worked for Abu Nidal, he was now something of a pariah in the whole Palestinian underground. The complicated, faction-ridden world of Palestinian politics was out-of-bounds. No one would trust him or give him safe haven. Nor could he sell his knowledge of the organization to a Western intelligence service without becoming a marked man for life, a target for revenge attack. So Jorde chose simply to disappear.
But why had the organization dropped him? The puzzle continued to rankle until Jorde eventually learned that in the months he had been away, Abu Nidal's previously tightly run organization had been ravaged by volcanic internal eruptions, for reasons that will be clear later. More than ever convinced that he was surrounded by spies and traitors, Abu Nidal had ordered the execution of dozens of men. Among the victims were Jorde's controller and the camp commander, Husam Yusif, accused of plotting to raise a mutiny and assassinate his leader. As men struggled to save their skins, Jorde had simply been forgotten.