Ollie North on Abu Nidal

By WND Staff

Editor’s note: Finally ending his several-decades reign of terror, Abu Nidal was buried quietly in Baghdad on Aug. 29 after reportedly dying of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head. At least one man isn’t mourning the passing of the terrorist mastermind: Oliver North. The well-known retired Marine sees Nidal’s death as the final chapter in what has been an epic ordeal for him and his family.

Awarded the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and the Silver Star for his service in Vietnam, North is a best-selling author whose new book, “Mission Compromised,” hit bookstore shelves this month. Col. North spoke with radio newsman Jim Bennett about Nidal.

Q: Recount for me your history with Abu Nidal.

A: In 1985 and ’86, I was the U.S. government’s counterterrorism coordinator. The passport that’s pictured in the back cover of Mission Compromised is the real one that I really carried in those days. It has my picture in it but not my name. And that was to protect my family and me, because I was … looking for terrorists like Abu Nidal. And that’s a very dangerous undertaking. All of those with whom I worked in the government of the United States traveled the same way when we went overseas and the like. And there was never a public announcement about the group that I chaired and the operations that were undertaken.

We enjoyed some limited successes. In March of 1986, the Libyan government, at the behest of Moammar Gadhafi – though the terrorists who actually carried it out were Abu Nidal operatives – bombed a discotheque in Berlin. They killed 27 people, among them a number of American servicemen. The intelligence that [indicated] it was directed by Gadhafi and carried out by Abu Nidal was irrefutable. And so the president authorized a bombing attack on the terrorist training facilities that Gadhafi had allowed to be built in his country and was using to carry out attacks on his adversaries. We attacked Libya on April 14, 1986.

Q: And it was your role in that attack that eventually made you a target of Nidal, correct?

A: A month later, Abu Nidal published a list of 15 people he intended to assassinate. He made it public. In fact, he did a little press release on the whole thing. And my name was on that list, which surprised a lot of people. … You’d understand why the president was on the list, or the director of central intelligence, or the national security advisor. Their names were all public, but mine wasn’t. And there was a lot of speculation inside the government as to how they got my name, because I was indeed in on the planning for the attack.

Q: But you weren’t his only target, were you?

A: The following year, on Feb. 11, the FBI detected a message that was sent from Tripoli, Libya, to the People’s Committee for Libyan Students in McLean, Va. Seven terrorists of an Abu Nidal cell that was operating in McLean got the message. They went to a self-storage facility, got from the self-storage facility some rocket-propelled grenade launchers and grenades, hand grenades, explosives, machine guns, and took a map to my house and a diagram of my house that they got from the local zoning authority, which, by the way, you can get anywhere in America. I think you have to pay a quarter to get it. On the diagram of the house they had written the names of my children, which bedroom each one of them was in, and even the name of the dog, a Labrador retriever named Max, all in Arabic. The FBI arrested them about seven miles from our house because they were able to detect it. It’s a great success story for the FBI.

Q: And then?

A: In the aftermath of that, the terrorists were arraigned before a federal magistrate very late at night, very early in the morning. The federal magistrate would not allow them to be booked on anything other than a weapons charge because the FBI did not want to reveal the sensitive intelligence that had tipped them to the attack. And so, in spite of the protests of the U.S. attorney, a man named Henry Hudson, the judge allowed them to be booked on only a weapons charge. About an hour later, a gentleman showed up from the Yugoslav Embassy here in Washington, D.C., which at the time housed the Libyan mission, with three and a half million dollars in cash, and they walked.

Q: And how did the government handle a development like that?

A: The FBI then came back to my house, picked up my wife and children and me, put us on an airplane and flew us down to Camp LeJeune, N.C. They hid us down there for two weeks. They then brought us back to our home where we lived with 35 federal agents who were sent there to protect us. And I will tell you, they drink a lot of coffee, my friend (laughs). They literally stayed with us 24 hours a day, seven days a week until I retired from the Marines.

Q: Chilling. And it must have taken a tremendous toll on your children.

A: It’s hard to explain to your little 6-year-old. You’re leaving in the middle of the night. She’s there clutching her teddy bear. It’s 4 in the morning, and she says to me, “Daddy, who’s gonna feed the rabbit?” And of course I mistakenly said, “Don’t worry, Honey. These gentlemen are going to take care of it.” And of course they forgot. And then, you finally come home and your little daughter runs to the little rabbit cage out in the barn. I’m not sure at this age – she’s now a college sophomore – that she’s ever really forgiven me for that.

Q: So you don’t have any concerns about the current reports that speculate that he’s not dead?

A: Oh, I think he probably is dead. I mean, I got a call early in the morning that this happened, and (laughing) in our house with grown kids, when the phone rings in the middle of the night it’s rarely good news. In this case, I answered the phone – I sleep very lightly – and Betsy rolled over as I’m talking and kind of mouthed, “Who is it?” I kind of waved her back, letting her know it wasn’t one of the kids. It was the liaison officer. We stay in touch because of what happened. I hung up the phone, and she says, “Well, who was it?” And I said, “It was the FBI, and everything’s OK.” And she kind of rolled over, but then sat bolt-upright in bed and said, “The FBI?! What?!” (laughing) And I said, “No, no, one of the bad guys is dead. Go back to sleep.” But, I think that it’s true.

Q: What about the talk that he was murdered? What have you heard?

A: I think that what probably happened – and we may never know the truth about these things, because after all, this is a guy who worked for Hafaz al-Assad in Damascus; he worked for Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. When he was killed, he worked in Baghdad for Saddam Hussein, who the week before, interestingly enough, tried to reassure the world that he wasn’t harboring terrorists. I mean, here’s one of the bloodiest terrorists in the world who’s a resident of Baghdad! And I think what happened is, at least according to the folks I’ve talked to, their guess is that Abu Nidal refused to do the kinds of things that Saddam Hussein wanted done with the remnants of al-Qaida, who are now fleeing into places like Iran and Iraq, trying to avoid military operations in Afghanistan and the efforts of the Pakistanis to clean them up. The radical Islamic terrorists of today were never great friends of Abu Nidal. I mean, Abu Nidal did have some suicide terrorists working for him, but they were less religiously zealous than they were supporters of this very charismatic former schoolteacher. The supposition is that an organization called the Amn al-Khass – the special security service run by Saddam’s son – probably killed Abu Nidal because he refused to cooperate.

Q: There’s certainly an eerie timing about it all. I mean, your new novel, “Mission Compromised,” is just now published and then suddenly, all this.

A: If someone had told me that I’d have a book come out, and that it would coincide with the death of the person that threatened me and then tried to kill my wife and children and me, that it would coincide with a war [related to] the maps in the book, which were actually selected two years ago – weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein, I would have said, “It couldn’t be.”

And I suppose a lot of folks who don’t understand that it’s not our plan being worked out in our lives – it’s the Good Lord’s plan – think that that’s all luck or coincidence. I don’t believe in luck or coincidence. I don’t think it was luck that kept me alive when Abu Nidal threatened me back in 1986. I don’t think it’s luck that allowed us to be notified by the FBI that his assassins were on their way to our house. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the FBI detected that attack.

Q: Finally, I have to ask: After getting that call about Nidal, was it a huge relief?

A: I must confess, because I’m a mere mortal, that when I heard the news that – according to the government in Baghdad that he died of four self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head – that I was glad. And the Lord’s going to have to forgive me, because this is a person that literally did try to kill my wife and children, my family. And so I have to ask for forgiveness, because I know that’s not the Christian thing to be glad that someone like that is gone and to wish that they’re sitting in the hottest corner of Hell.


Jim Bennett is a freelance writer and news director for KJLY Christian Radio in Blue Earth, Minn.