The Palestinians and Terrorism in Europe, Redux

When a safe that allegedly had not been opened in thirty years blew up in the face of Jamal al Jamal, the Palestinian Authority ambassador to the Czech Republic, along with the blast came a reminder about the role of the Palestinians in Europe’s nihilistic terrorism when the safe supposedly was last closed.

Some thirty years ago, nihilistic violence spread across Europe as so-called “fighting communists” sought to revive the original spirit of the young Marx -- the Marx of the 1830s manuscripts and the Communist Manifesto. To the fighting Communists, the spirit of the young Marx had been extinguished by bourgeois Communists that were willing to compromise principle for access to the corridors of power.

Across Western Europe, nihilistic violence spread from country to country. Names like France’s Direct Action, the Italian Red Brigades, Germany’s Baader Meinhof Gang (also known as the "Red Army Faction"), and, to a lesser extent, Britain’s Angry Brigade became associated with seemingly indulgent violence that ironically Marx himself would have condemned as acts of egoism without a revolutionary base or purpose.

But within this seemingly purposeless violence, the Soviets saw opportunity. Their Simferopol military academy in the Crimea was heavily invested in training third-world terrorists, especially the Palestinians. For fear of a confrontation with the West, the Soviets could not directly sponsor the European nihilists; they were, however, quite capable of engaging their surrogates in the effort.

The Palestine Liberation Organization had maintained a crude plausible denial for its terrorism. It used fictitious action groups to shoot up airports, seize hostages, and conduct assassinations -- often, like Saturn, devouring its own children in the latter process. Of these action groups, the most notorious was Black September.

Elements in the politburo, however, were not happy with the PLO. These Soviet leaders wanted a strong client state as a balance against the American dominance in the Middle East. They wanted back into Egypt and not to be the patrons of insignificant and uncontrollable terrorists.

But ultimately, it was the KGB that moved the regime to sponsor both the nihilists and the Palestinians. To the KGB, there was opportunity in chaos, and besides, the KGB wanted an action group that was in place behind the allied lines in Western Europe in case of war. The nihilists easily served this function. The nihilists needed resources and leadership; the Palestinians needed people who could blend in and retrieve intelligence for them.

Among those chosen to spawn this union was Carlos Ilich Ramirez Sanchez ("Carlos the Jackal"), once hyped by a sensationalist Western media as the most dangerous man alive. Carlos was a graduate of the Soviet’s Patrice Lumumba Friendship University, a breeding ground for KGB recruits to be sent back to their native countries to work for Soviet interests.

Before Carlos left Patrice Lumumba University for his role as revolutionary matchmaker, it had been filled by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the scion of a wealthy Milanese family and the publisher of Dr. Zhivago and The Leopard. Feltinelli was an ardent communist and an early financial backer of the leftist uprisings in Europe in the late 1960s. On March 15, 1972, Feltrinelli taped forty-three sticks of dynamite to an electric pylon outside of Milan. The forty-fourth stick blew up in his hand, scattering parts of his body up to fifty yards away. Feltrinelli had brought George Habash, the father of airline hijacking, to the nihilists. Carlos was chosen to continue the Feltrinelli legacy.

Through the assistance of the East German Secret Police (the Stasi), the nihilists could commit crimes in the West and find safe haven in the East. The Stasi, according to East German Stasi officer Werner Stiller, also supplied intelligence for the groups. But the Soviets were reluctant to let their surrogate regimes do anything that would result in a direct confrontation with the West.

The Palestinians were the cutout for these operations. They had their own sources of arms and money, and their own training camps back in the Middle East. Compliant Arab governments, most notably Muammar Qaddafi's Libya and Hafez el-Assad’s Syria, were eager sponsors of the Palestinians.

The conduit for arms and explosives was the diplomatic pouch. Most people think of the diplomatic pouch as something the size of a mail bag. In reality, the pouch is anything of any size on which a recognized diplomatic entity puts its seal. It can be a ship’s container or freight car, and it cannot be opened, searched, or even X-rayed. Diplomatic pouches are not only used to smuggle arms, they are also used to smuggle drugs and people, even though all such uses are a violation of international accords, which many governments observe in the breach.

With the Palestinians and nihilists joined together, they were able to provide mutual aid in operations. Consequently, the release of Baader-Meinhof gang members was part of the demands of the Black September terrorists that struck the 1972 Munich Olympiad.  George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine joined with Baader-Meinhof in the hijacking of the airplane that the Israeli’s rescued at Entebbe in 1976. Carlos’s 1975 hijacking of OPEC ministers in Vienna was orchestrated by the PFLP. Such operations also led to direct cooperation among the nihilists themselves, as when Germany’s Red Army Faction worked with France’s Direct Action in the assassination of French military officer and NATO liaison Rene Audran in 1985.

Today, the Palestinians are no longer dependent on compliant Arab governments for access to arms, resources, and logistics. The Europeans have upgraded their diplomatic missions so that for all practical purposes they function as nation-states. They now have their own diplomatic pouches.

You might believe that the explosives sat in the safe for thirty years and were triggered when the safe was opened. The New York Times reports that a security device on the safe caused the explosion. But all that is belied by the large arms cache the Czechs found when they searched Jamal’s residence, and that according to others the safe was in use.

The Palestinians are now in Europe with greater power, but neither their mission nor their mindset has changed. Thirty years ago, they were the Soviet-sponsored ally of the fighting communists. Today, the fighting communists are gone, the Cold War is over, but the Palestinians are still with us and still using terrorism as a means of gaining access to the public agenda. A Palestinian arms cache in Prague is, in all likelihood, just one of many. It’s symptomatic of what they do.