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U.S. welcomes news of Abu Nidal's death

Sabri al-Banna, also known as Abu Nidal, is photographed in Beirut in 1980.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States welcomed news Monday of the death of Abu Nidal, a Palestinian guerrilla leader whose group has been blamed for attacks in more than 20 countries that have killed hundreds.

The Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam said Nidal was suffering from a serious illness and apparently committed suicide in his Baghdad apartment.

Palestinian officials who spoke to CNN said they were told Nidal had been shot dead, but they could not describe the circumstances under which he died.

He had suffered from leukaemia for a long period, veteran Israeli commentator Yossi Melman told Israeli army radio.

"Abu Nidal is a craven and despicable terrorist, and the world would certainly be a better place without people like Abu Nidal," Deputy U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters.

Reeker said the fact Nidal apparently died in Iraq was further proof of Iraq's support of terrorism.

"Iraq's record of providing support, safe haven, training, logistical assistance and financial aid to terrorist groups like the Abu Nidal organization is why Iraq is listed as a state supporter of terrorism," he said. (Reaction in France)

Abu Nidal, 65, whose real name was Sabri al-Banna, had a reputation as one of the most ruthless Palestinian guerrilla commanders. (A life in the shadows)

Abu Nidal: A life in the shadows 
Major attacks by Abu Nidal's group 
Nidal's death no relief to French victims 

As the head of head of the Fatah-The Revolutionary Council group, Nidal broke with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1974, saying the organization and Yasser Arafat were too moderate.

He tried -- and failed twice -- to have Arafat assassinated. Nidal did kill many of Arafat's confidants and other moderate Palestinians.

Nidal and his group have been blamed for more than 90 terrorist attacks that killed more than 300 people and wounded 600 others. The attacks struck at Middle Eastern, European and U.S. targets.

Major attacks included the Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985, the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, the Pan Am flight 73 hijacking in Karachi in September 1986, and the City of Poros day-excursion ship attack in Greece in July 1988. (List of major attacks)

Israel launched an invasion of Lebanon aimed at Arafat and repelling terrorists after Nidal's operatives attempted to assassinate the Israeli ambassador to Britain in June 1982.

He was sentenced to death in absentia by a Fatah military court.

-- Correspondent Jim Clancy and State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.




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