An Old Terrorist In Iraq

To hear Abu Abbas tell it, terrorists like Osama bin Laden give terrorists like him a bad name. Abbas, leader of a fringe Palestinian faction, has lived on the run since the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. When the latest intifada began, he quit his hiding place in Gaza for what he calls his "second homeland"--Iraq, where Saddam Hussein has made him feel welcome. NEWSWEEK interviewed him in Baghdad recently. "They say I am a terrorist. And Osama bin Laden is a terrorist. But terrorist is a very bad name to use." Abbas has now renounced violence against civilians outside of Israel. "Al Qaeda's point of view is universal violence. They want universal war; they are against everything. That is terrorism."

Abbas's Palestine National Front staged a beachfront raid in Tel Aviv using inflatable boats, wrecking the peace process in 1990, and invaded Israel by hang gliders. But Abbas's followers usually took more casualties than they inflicted, and neither he nor other Palestinian terrorists ever managed anything remotely approaching the scale of 9-11. The bungled hijacking of the Achille Lauro was small change by comparison, although the brutal murder of passenger Leon Klinghoffer--an elderly, wheelchair-bound Jewish American on a cruise with his wife--deeply outraged Americans. Abbas bristles at such comparisons. "There is a big difference between our ideas and aims and Al Qaeda's. We Palestinians have lost our country, our homeland, our families, our land; we are fighting for our human rights. Osama bin Laden is not fighting for a national cause; he's not even fighting for the Arab nation. He wants an Islamic war." Abbas doesn't believe that Al Qaeda truly cares about Palestinians. "Osama bin Laden has hurt the Palestinian cause. After 9-11 the world has changed against us in every way."

Abbas has softened with the years. At 53, he now worries about his five sons' careers (one is in college in Canada). But he's a long way from renouncing terrorism as most people define it. He praises Saddam for giving $25,000 to the family of any suicide bomber in Israel, and says a U.S. attack on Iraq would be just as bad as what Al Qaeda has done. "There are many kinds of terrorism," he says. No doubt, but the distinctions this terrorist makes will be lost on the families of his victims.