Author:Darwish, Adel

When is a terrorist not a terrorist? The question was raised by many observers in the wake of the American missile strike against alleged terror base in Afghanistan and Sudan.

The mysterious Saudi millionaire, Osama Bin Laden, once a CIA-backed war hero in Afghanistan, has become the world number one terror master. Meanwhile the former school teacher, Sabri el-Bana, better known by his nom de geurre of Abu Nidhal, who is wanted in 20 countries for his 24 year long "career" in terror which has claimed over 900 lives, is now said to be receiving medical treatment in Egypt. Cairo has officially denied the reports but there remains international consternation. The United States and several Western countries -- Egypt's allies in the war against international terrorism -- as well as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat all want Abu Nidhal put on trial.

The reign of terror perpetrated by Mr Abu Nidhal dates back at least to 1973, when a Pan Am jet was bombed on the ground in Rome. Other atrocities include attacking Israeli airline ticket counters at Rome and Vienna airports in 1985 and the blowing up of a TWA airliner over the Aegean in 1986.

At least seven Britons have been victims of Abu Nidhal's terror. In 1984 British diplomat Ken Whitty was shot dead in Athens and his colleague, Percy Norris, gunned down in Bombay. In 1986 after US military jets launched bombing raids against Libya from air bases in Britain. Abu Nidhal, who had a base in Libya, went into action against Britain.

Two British teachers working in Beirut -- Philip Padfield and Leigh Douglas -- were shot dead, and Alex Collett, a 64-year-old journalist working for the United Nations, was hanged from a makeshift gallows.

A video of Collett's body was distributed to foreign news agencies in Beirut. British officials are consequently taking a keen interest in events in Egypt, with diplomats backing Washington's stand that Cairo should take Abu Nidhal into custody.

Reports from Cairo suggest that Mr Abu Nidhal, like Mr Bin Laden during the 1980s, has become useful to Egyptian intelligence services in the past few months.

This has led to an embarrassing diplomatic stand-off between Washington and Cairo, underlining the difficulties the US faces in its war against terrorism.

Both the Egyptians and the Americans are insistent that their conflicting versions of events are correct. US security officials say they have reliable intelligence that the man once declared "America's Public Enemy...

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