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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

January 15, 2003

Crime and No Punishment: Cleo Noel and Western Appeasement

1. Introduction

In a previous article posted on IsraPundit and DawsonSpeaks, I decried the way the West has appeased North Korea (Carter, Clinton), Iraq (treading softly at least since 1998 and until recently) and the Palestinian Arabs (since forever, and still going on). The object of the present article is to highlight the mother of all appeasements over the last three decades: the case of Cleo Noel, the US ambassador to Sudan, who was murdered by Arafat’s men in Khartoum together with another US diplomat and a Belgian diplomat.

This case is particularly important because of these factors: (i) the murder was inordinately gruesome; (ii) Arafat’s personal involvement in the murder has been well documented - publicly - yet the US government has taken no steps against the chief perpetrator; (iii) subsequent to the murder, Arafat humiliated the US and rubbed her nose in the dirt for all the world to see. As you read the following text, please bear these points in mind.


2. The facts

On March 1, 1973, eight Palestinian terrorists, all members of Black September, burst into the Embassy of Saudi Arabia during a party for the departing U.S. charge d'affaires George Curtis Moore. Some guests escaped during the takeover, and others were released a short time later, including diplomats from the Eastern bloc and Third World countries. The U.S. ambassador, Cleo A. Noel, together with Moore, Belgian diplomat Guy Eid, the Saudi ambassador, and Jordanian diplomat Adli al-Nassr were taken hostage. Both Noel and Eid sustained leg wounds in the takeover.

In exchange for their hostages the terrorists demanded the release of Black September leader Abu Daoud, then imprisoned in Jordan; Sirhan Sirhan, the murderer of Senator Robert Kennedy; and several members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, imprisoned in West Germany.

The Black Stemptember terrorists had been provided with all the critical intelligence needed to storm the Saudi Embassy, including info about security arrangements and a diagram of the building, by the PLO representative in the Sudan, Abu Marwan. The terrorists were driven through the gate of the Saudi Embassy in the PLO delegation's Land-Rover, bearing its official diplomatic plates. The weapons and explosives used in the attack were shipped to Khartoum by Libya in a diplomatic pouch.

As negotiations for the release of the hostages got under way, the United States, Jordan, and West Germany indicated that the terrorists' demands were out of the question. In a public statement President Nixon declared that the United States would not accede to the terrorists’ demands.

Throughout the entire hostage standoff in Khartoum, the terrorists remained in close and constant contact with Fatah headquarters in Beirut, using both a telephone and a shortwave radio. When it became clear that the United States and the other nations were not going to capitulate, the terrorists looked to their headquarters for instructions.

On Friday, March 2, 1973, twenty-five hours after the embassy was stormed, Abu Iyad (a top Fatah operative) used a coded message to instruct Abu Ghassan, the commander of the terrorist operation in Khartoum, to murder the Western diplomats. Abu Iyad repeated the key phrase twice to underscore his order.

The execution had been a particularly brutal affair. The three men were lined up against the wall and forty rounds were pumped into their bodies. At the command of Abu Tariq, who led the assassination squad, the terrorists fired from the floor upward, to prolong the agony of their victims by striking them first in the feet and legs, before administering the coup de grace. When the murderers had finished, Abu Ghassan telephoned the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum and informed it that the two Americans and the Belgian diplomat were dead.

A few minutes later, Arafat contacted his men in Khartoum. Abu Ghassan told Arafat that the order had been carried out. Arafat instructed Abu Ghassan to demand safe passage to Libya or Egypt for Abu Ghassan and his seven team members, in return for freeing the two Arab hostage, the Saudi ambassador and the Jordanian charge d'affaires. The Sudanese government rejected these terms and the terrorists surrendered nonetheless. They were subsequently brought before a Sudanese court but two of them were released for "lack of evidence." The other six were tried on June 24, 1973, and found guilty of murdering the three diplomats. The six terrorists were sentenced to life imprisonment, but later the same day their sentences were reduced to seven years by Sudanese President Gaafur Nimeiry. Twenty-four hours later they were spirited out of the Sudan and handed over to the PLO.


3. The coverup and humiliation of the US

The involvement of Arafat and the PLO was known to US intelligence from the outset, since the Beirut-to-Khartoum contacts were intercepted. More evidence was obtained at the trial of the six terrorists, when Abu Ghassan declared, "We carried out this operation on the orders of the Palestine Liberation Organization and should only be questioned by that organization."

As will be seen in the “Sources” section below, this information, and particularly the allegation that Arafat was involved personally, has been documented, among others, by Neil Livingstone (adjunct professor in Georgetown University’s National Security Studies program) and by Alan Dershowitz (of Harvard fame). Additionally, the evidence has been posted on the Web not by some fly-by-night outfit, but by Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily. Nor did Joseph Farah refer to this issue once or twice. In the two-year period, 2001-2002, Joseph Farah published at least 15 articles in which he discussed this matter, most recently on 5 December 2002. Two years before that, on 17 January 2001, Joseph Farah reported about an interview with an intelligence analyst, James Welsh, who had personal knowledge about the tape with the recordings of Arafat’s messages.

Notwithstanding this evidence, the Nixon administration did nothing to retaliate, nor did the US government lay the official evidence before the people. Some speculate that Nixon was too occupied with Vietnam and Watergate to deal with this potential crisis, for others the coverup is still a mystery.

On November 13, 1974, Yasir Arafat addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Prior to Arafat's appearance, three members of the Black September team who were intimately involved in the planning and execution of the Khartoum operation were spotted by Western intelligence agents at Heathrow Airport en route to New York. The three terrorists, Abu Marwan, Abu Tariq, and Farouk el-Husseini, were members of Arafat's entourage, using diplomatic passports and travelling under false names.

El-Husseini, was with Arafat's security detail in New York, and even liaised with U.S. authorities responsible for the PLO chairman's protection.

Abu Marwan was part of the PLO's diplomatic delegation, assigned to work with various Arab delegations at the UN. Until recently Abu Marwan was the PLO's ambassador to the Arab League.

By 1974, Abu Tariq was a senior official in the Foreign Affairs Department of the PLO and was in New York as one of the principal members of Arafat's delegation.

All three men had been granted visas for the duration of Arafat's visit, and no attempt was made to arrest them or otherwise retaliate against them while they were within the grasp of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Arafat was also accompanied to the United Nations by the new commander of Force 17, Ali Hassan Salameh, the master-mind of the Khartoum incident and former operations chief of Black September. After Arafat's speech, which he delivered wearing a holster on his hip, the PLO leader was mobbed by reporters and television cameras as he departed the United Nations building. Right behind Arafat, Salameh, dressed in his traditional black garb, was clearly visible.

In December 1988, after the United States opened a direct dialogue with the PLO in Tunis, Abu Tariq was one of the PLO members with whom the US ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau, met. Recall that Abu Tariq was the person who fifteen years earlier had emptied the magazine of his Russian-made assault rifle into Ambassador Cleo Noel, George C. Moore, and Belgian Charge d'Affaires Guy Eid.

Noting that Arafat could have chosen any other members of his gang to fulfil the functions mentioned, one can only surmise that all these appearances of the Khartoum terrorists on US soil or with US officials were designed to rub the US nose in the dirt. It’s as though the Khartoum terrorists were saying, "we know and you know that we are personally implicated in the murder of two of your diplomats; well, here we are on your soil - we dare you to touch us".

This message of a humiliated US was heard loud and clear by the terrorists who have continued to inflict insult upon injury on the US; 9-11 is but one episode in the chain, which, in my humble opinion, can be traced directly to the US non-reaction to the murder of Cleo Noel in March, 1973. Remember Bin Ladens words about the weak horse and the strong horse!

4. Sources

The murder of Cleo Noel has been discussed in numerous books and web articles. Following are references to two books and one series of articles.

(1) Livingstone, Neil C. and Halevy, David. Inside the PLO. New York: William Morrow and Co. Inc., 1990. See esp. Ch. 11.

(2) Dershowitz, Alan M. Why terrorism works. New Haven: Yale U Press, 2002. See esp. pp. 47-48, where more evidence is cited about Arafat’s personal involvement.

(3) A series of 15 articles by Joseph Farah, dated January 17 2001, January 23 2001, April 17 2001, April 23 2001, May 10 2001, June 27 2001, July 5 2001, September 17 2001, September 19 2001, March 4 2002, March 13 2002, March 18 2002, May 11 2002, August 26 2002, December 5, 2002.

Contributed by Joseph Alexander Norland This piece is cross-posted on IsraPundit and Dawson Speaks.