Suspected Group Denies Pan Am Bombing, Says No Need for Terrorism to Block Arafat
DAMASCUS, SYRIA — IN a Monitor interview granted on condition of anonymity, a senior official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command talked last week about plans of radical Palestinian groups to oppose Yasser Arafat. He also commented on the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which many terrorism experts say has marks of a PFLP-GC operation. The PFLP-GC is led by Ahmed Jabril, a former Syrian Army officer. The Libyan-funded group rejects all compromise with Israel.
Why do you oppose Arafat's peace moves?
Giving concessions [to Israel] in advance is like selling something and getting a check that can't be cashed for 10 years, by which time the bank will probably be out of existence anyway.
How do you plan to deal with Arafat?
We are going to bring all the opponents of concessions to a preparatory national gathering to debate how to gain control of the PLO. The purpose will be to absorb and polarize in order to take back the PLO in our hands. Such a forum can absorb all the forces opposed to Arafat, including Hamas [in Israeli-occupied territories] and the Islamic Jihad [in Lebanon].
When Arafat establishes a provisional government he will give up the PLO charter. That will give us reason to say he threw out the PLO.
How secure is Arafat's current position?
He is very powerful abroad. But he is losing support in the territories because of his concessions. This is where he is vulnerable.
Why haven't Palestinian extremist groups sought to eliminate Arafat?
After what happened in Lebanon in 1983, we will never try to solve internal problems this way. [In 1983, clashes between the al-Fatah and Abu Musa factions left 25 dead.]
Will you conduct a terrorist operation to try to discredit Arafat?
We don't need to because Arafat will fail anyway. The factions are waiting for the time when the USA and Israel - and it is inevitable - disappoint Arafat and give him nothing.
Was the PFLP-GC involved in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103?
Jabril is a military man. He takes pride in pioneering operations like the hang-glider attack [into Israel from Lebanon in November 1987 that left six Israeli soldiers dead]. He laughs at people who choose easy targets like airliners. If he had wanted to attack airliners he would have done it before.
But the PFLP-GC has been accused of at least three airplane bombings.
In the 1970s, most PLO factions competed to get public opinion to pay attention to their cause. I don't say no wrong actions took place. But that stage in the actions of the GC no longer exists.
What about Jabril's February 1986 public threat against US and Israeli airlines?
He declared that we would make revenge against the US for the air attack on Libya. But he didn't specify airline flights.
Several PFLP-GC commandos were arrested in West Germany last October with explosives and mid-air detonators.
The Germans know the detonators would not work in airplanes, they are only for mountain climbing. We are experts in bombing.... In Lebanon we train fighters to use such devices against the Phalangists and Israelis. We are trying to make operations against the Israelis inside Israel, near Haifa for example. You have mountains there. (Asked about this later, several US officials familiar with Western intelligence on terrorism found this explanation hilarious.)
So why Frankfurt?
We are trying to smuggle such devices into Palestine from everywhere. It is difficult from Lebanon.
What about Jabril's meeting last December in Beirut with Abu Nidal and Hizbullah?
Abu Nidal was not there. Hizbullah, Abu Musa, and other Palestinian groups were there to coordinate actions in support of the intifadah and in opposition to Arafat.
There have been increasing reports of cooperation between the GC and Nidal.
We have common cause with Abu Nidal but our relation is just political. We have no institutions for military cooperation.