Abu Nidal Operative May Have Died in Blast : Mystery Terrorist Kadar Still Sought After Killings--but Is He Alive?

Special to the Washington Post

For a man presumed to have died six months ago, Samir Mohammed Kadar is getting unusually close attention from anti-terrorism investigators.

Identified as one of the most trusted and coldly efficient operatives of terrorist Abu Nidal, Kadar was thought by authorities to have died July 11 when a car packed with arms and explosives blew up in Athens, killing two men. The incident was tied to a murderous terrorist assault on the Greek ferry City of Poros the same day.

In the weeks after the attack on the ferry, Greek police blamed Kadar for it and said he had died in the car explosion. Although they were unable to positively identify any of the remains of the two men inside the car, police found weapons and other items with Kadar’s fingerprints in the wreckage, as well as remnants of a passport bearing his photograph. Greek authorities continue to insist that Kadar died in the explosion. “We presume he died in the explosion,” a Greek Embassy spokesman here said recently.


Following His Trail

But other European authorities following the bloodstained international trail he left behind--one that includes the 1985 Fiumicino Airport attack in Rome in which 17 people were killed--say they are convinced that Kadar is still alive.

One month after his supposed death, Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant charging Kadar in the Greek ferry attack, which killed nine people of Swedish, Danish and French nationality and wounded 90. French, Danish and Italian investigations are seeking Kadar as well, while authorities as far away as Bolivia, India, Pakistan and Sudan also would like to know where he is.

“I don’t know of anyone who honestly thinks he died in that explosion,” said a Western diplomat who has been closely following the investigations. “There wasn’t any identifiable piece of Samir Kadar in that wreckage.”

Important Information

But the scattered evidence yielded crucial information for a dossier on Kadar that Italian investigators already had been compiling--and lifted the lid on Abu Nidal’s shadowy operations around the world, as well as his Libyan links.

The mysterious case of Kadar has been getting renewed interest from investigators lately because of fears that Europe could again be the target of extremist groups such as Abu Nidal in the wake of the rapprochement between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the United States.

Greece, which is often painted as a safe harbor for Abu Nidal operatives, the week before last came under fire from Italy and other Western countries when it reneged on a promise to turn over a suspected Abu Nidal member, Abdel Osama Zomar, to Italy for trial and allowed him to go to Libya. U.S. officials in the past have accused Greece of making concessions to extremist groups to avoid terrorism on its soil, a charge that Greek authorities have strongly denied.


Considered a Warning

The ferry attack was viewed by many as an overt warning to Greece not to cross Abu Nidal, while the release of Zomar was interpreted by Italian officials as Greece’s response.

Kadar, alias Michel Nabih Ruffael, alias Hezab Jadallah, alias Ahmad Abdel Hamid, born somewhere in the rim of the Mediterranean, first stepped out from the terrorist underworld into the international limelight in Cyprus with the February, 1978, assassination of Egyptian newspaper editor Yusuf Sabai, a close associate of the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and a subsequent hijacking that ended in bloodshed, officials said.

Cypriot authorities sentenced Kadar to death for the killing, which was claimed by Abu Nidal. But then they gradually whittled down his sentence until 1982 when, under pressure from Arab groups after the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp massacres in Beirut, they expelled him from the country.

In the meantime, according to Italian and American counterterrorism officials, Kadar was “promoted” within the Abu Nidal group.

When he was not traveling, according to investigators, Kadar preferred to cultivate potentially important contacts in business circles and to indulge his passion for women and fancy cars. Kadar, who is in his late 30s or early 40s, according to various documents he used, was described as attractive, with dark Mediterranean features, charming and gifted in many languages.

It was at an Italian cafe that Kadar met Aija Saloranta, a Finnish woman whom he eventually married in Sweden, according to Italian magistrates investigating his activities here. She was his second wife; his first was a woman he met in Lebanon.


Until he left Italy for Sweden in late 1985, Kadar is believed to have been involved in a string of terrorist strikes that carried the hallmarks of most Abu Nidal operations: a recognizable political objective and brutal disregard for any innocent bystanders who got in the way.

Among the attacks in Italy allegedly involving Kadar were a bungled rocket-launcher attack on the Jordanian Embassy, the attempted bombing of a Royal Jordanian Airlines office, an abortive assassination plot against the Jordanian ambassador, and grenade attacks on the posh Cafe de Paris and the British Airways office in Rome. Dozens were wounded and one killed in the last two attacks, but the worst carnage came on Dec. 27, 1985, when guerrillas attacked Fiumicino Airport, killing 17 people.

It was not until 1986 that Italian authorities discovered that Kadar had been living in Italy. By then, he was in Stockholm with his unsuspecting new wife, who bore a son. According to authorities, Kadar again used a fake trading company as a front and traveled frequently from country to country, an itinerary that often included Libya.

In the spring of 1987, Judge Rosario Priore, one of Italy’s top anti-terrorism investigators, issued an international arrest warrant naming Kadar for his alleged role in the airport attack. But despite the widely circulated dossier that noted his various identities, Kadar continued to move freely, slipping through the dragnet again and again until last summer’s car explosion in Greece.

According to documents found by Greek investigators, he traveled to Lebanon, India, Sudan, Libya, Greece, Denmark and back to Sweden after the Italian warrant was issued. Before arriving in Greece on June 1, he is suspected of having organized a botched attack on a Pan Am plane in Bombay and an assault on a British club in Sudan that killed seven people and injured 21.

Before many of the attacks that he is alleged to have committed, Kadar apparently traveled to Libya. That is the indication from airline tickets and the stamps on Libyan, Jordanian and Lebanese passports that he left behind along with his fingerprints in various hotel rooms and the ruined car in Athens.


U.S. authorities contend that Abu Nidal moved his headquarters to Libya in 1987 after he was kicked out of Syria. Investigators probing the Kadar case say the Libyan passport, arms and visits all point to involvement by that North African country, but they stress that Abu Nidal appears to set his own agenda for terrorist actions.

Despite all that has been learned about the operations of Abu Nidal, many aspects of the operation remain mysterious.

Why was the car loaded with explosives? Did it detonate accidentally en route to helping the commandos on board the ferry, or did the suspect have it blown up to cover his tracks? What was the point of the ferry attack? Was it to warn Greece on terrorist suspects it is holding in prison?

A likely explanation, according to Italian and U.S. investigators, might be that it was intended as a warning to the Greeks about Zomar, the Abu Nidal member who was being held in a Greek prison on arms-smuggling charges and for whom the Italians were seeking extradition in the Rome synagogue attack.

If that is the case, the plan might be considered a success: Zomar was released and put on a Greek jetliner headed for Libya.