(Winter 1993-94) Reports from the Middle East that Abu Nidal, the bloodiest of all Palestinian terrorists, is still in Libya and remains on good terms with Colonel Muammar Qadhafi go far to disprove claims that the mercurial Libyan leader has had a change of heart. The most recent Libyan statements, too, make clear that Qadhafi's conduct continues the policy of "control by terrorism"and that he has no serious intention of changing his ways.
Middle East sources said that Qadhifi's relations with Abu Nidal, his faithful terrorist ally, who has collaborated with the Libyan ruler in a long series of violent acts, remain good and that they continue to view the world from the same subversive perspective.
Since 1989, when Qadhafi formally announced that he was turning away from terrorism, the relationship has reportedly been an on-again-off-again affair. It has now been cemented by the refusal of other states in the region to give refuge to Abu Nidal.
The latest report came soon after Qadhafi declared this summer that he is prepared to join the West in fighting terrorism. He told an American newspaper; "I condemn it (terrorism) and stand ready to cooperate with America and other Western powers to eradicate it, despite what is still being said about me."
Appealing directly to the United States, Qadhafi said that "(President) Clinton and I belong to the same democratic camp, and the process of normalization (of relations) should begin without any further delay." The United States severed relations with Libya in 1986 because of Libyan terrorist acts directed against American targets.
Responding to Qadhafi's June statement, Western governments said that in order to start normalizing relations, Libya first of all must hand over for trial two of its agents wanted for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. "The trial must be in the United States or the United Kingdom," said a British official, commenting on Qadhifi's offer to extradite the two men for trial to any other country but the two that want them.
Qadhifi's foreign minister went out of his way recently to reaffirm that his government has no intention of handing over the two suspects, saying: "Libyan law does not permit the surrender of Libyan citizens by any official authority."
The U.N. Security Council resolution specified trial in the United States or the United Kingdom because the targeted plane was American and the attack occurred over British territory.
The U.N. has also backed French demands for Libyan cooperation in investigating the 1989 bombing of a French UTA airliner over the Sahara desert. The two bombings killed 441 people.
France also holds Qadhafi responsible for the bombing and shooting attack on the Greek ferry City of Poros in July 1988 in which 11 tourists, six of them French, were killed and nearly 100 were injured. French investigators say that operatives of the Abu Nidal group carried out the attack at Qadhafi's behest.
At the beginning of September Qadhafi threatened to put a torch to his country's oil wells if the West continues to press Libya for cooperation in resolving the airliner bombings. At a U.N. Security Council session in August, Britain, France and the United States said they would seek stiffer sanctions against Libya unless the suspects are extradited.
Choosing to chacterize the dispute with the West over the bombing suspects as part of a Western plot to "take control of the oil resources of the world," Qadhafi said: "We tell them that we Libyans will fight to the last ditch. And if we feel in the end that we are going to lose, we will burn the oil for good."
The Qadhafi/Abu Nidal association is a long one. Among other things, Abu Nidal is reported to have operated for years a training camp for his terror agents near Rabta, the Libyan chemical plant widely believed to make mustard gas and other chemical weapons. This has created long-standing fears that sooner or later terrorists will use nerve gas or other weapons of mass destruction in their attacks.
More recently the Abu Nidal group, which has carried out more than 100 terrorist attacks in the past 19 years, has been forced to retire from Iraq to its Libyan base. Meanwhile, Qadhafi continues to provide passports, diplomatic papers, money and logistical support for other terrorist groups in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Experts point out that, despite his 1989 disavowal, Qadhafi's subversion of his African neighbors has not abated. In the past few years, they say, he quietly armed the guerrilla forces that overthrew the governments of Liberia and Chad, and he helped fan a wave of tribal warfare in Rwanda, Niger and Mali by shipping arms to a variety of ethnic rebel groups.
In early 1991 Qadhafi was accused of resupplying two rebel groups fighting for power in Ethiopia. In addition, dissidents from Ghana, Gambia, Senegal and Sierre Leone reportedly received military training in Libyan camps.
As one Libya specialist put it, Qadhafi is liable to journey into the desert at any time to meditate for days and then return to Tripoli convinced that he most overthrow one government or another. "If there is trouble," said the expert, "you'll find his people there."