Backgrounder:
REMEMBER KHARTOUM

Here's one White House guest who didn't have to contribute to the Democratic Party campaign funds before having coffee with the president. Yasser Arafat was a celebrated guest in Washington DC last month, doing the rounds from the White House to the State Department to Larry King's CNN studio for a chummy interview. Do all members of the American establishment have such short memories?

On the night of March 2, 1973, PLO gunmen pumped 40 bullets into the bodies of the US ambassador to Sudan and two other diplomats held hostage at the Saudi embassy in Khartoum.

Almost exactly 24 years later, the man who ordered the killings was warmly received in Washington DC by the leader of the American people.

US ambassador Cleo Noel, US charge d'affaires George Curtis Moore, and Belgian charge d'affaires Guy Eid were among a group of diplomats held hostage by eight members of Yasser Arafat's Black September a faction of the PLO during a reception at the Saudi embassy in the Sudanese capital. The terrorists demanded the release of Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, the Palestinian assassin of Robert Kennedy, as well as other Palestinians being held in Israel and European prisons.

After President Richard Nixon refused to negotiate, Arafat's commander, Abu Iyad, in touch with the terrorists by high-frequency transmitter from PLO headquarters in Beirut, gave the instruction "Remember Nahr al-Bard. The people's blood in the Nahr al-Bard cries out for vengeance. We and the rest of the world are watching you." The radio messages were intercepted by Israeli intelligence, and transcripts later handed to the US State Department and Nixon.

"Nahr al-Bard", a reference to a terrorist training facility in Lebanon which had been attacked by Israeli troops 11 days earlier, was the code phrase ordering the gunmen to execute their hostages. At 9:06 pm on March 2, Noel, Moore and Eid were taken to the embassy basement, lined up against the wall and shot. "The terrorists fired from the floor upward, to prolong their agony of their victims by striking them first in the feet and legs, before administering the coup de grace," wrote Neil Livingstone and David Halevy in Inside the PLO (New York: Quill/William Morrow, 1990).

A few minutes later, Beirut PLO headquarters again radioed the terrorists. This time it was Arafat himself at the microphone. The PLO chairman asked whether the "Nahr al-Bard" code word had been understood. He was assured the instruction had already been carried out.

Arafat then contacted senior Sudanese officials, and asked that they take no precipitous action, such as storming the embassy.

Soon afterwards, the US embassy in Beirut intercepted another radio transmission from Arafat to the terrorists in Khartoum. "Your mission is ended," he told his men. "Release Saudi and Jordanian diplomats. Submit in courage to Sudanese authorities to explain your just cause to [the] great Sudanese Arab masses and international opinion. "We are with you on the same road ..."

The other diplomats being held were subsequently released, the gunmen surrendered to the Sudanese, who released two of them for "lack of evidence". In June of that year, the other six were found guilty of murdering the three diplomats. During the trial, the commander, Salim Rizak (Abu Ghassan), told the court:

"We carried out this operation on the orders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and should only be questioned by that organisation."
After the six were interrogated, Sudanese vice president Mohammed Bakir said of them: "They relied on radio messages from Beirut Fatah headquarters, both for the order to kill the three diplomats and for their own surrender Sunday morning."
(In June of that year, the six were sentenced to life imprisonment for the three murders. Twenty-four hours later, they were quietly flown out of Sudan and handed over to the PLO.)

A 1985 effort by US lawmakers and other interested groups to get the American Justice Department to indict Arafat for the murders failed.

As they gave Arafat the red carpet treatment in the US capital last month, Clinton and his government representatives including his chief diplomat, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright insulted the memories of Cleo Noel, George Moore and Guy Eid.

The Founding Fathers must have turned in their graves.


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