Penthouse Retrospective

by Steven A. Emerson Originally Published: March, 1991

Abu Ibrahim | 30 Years Ago This Month

But Abu Ibrahim wasn’t taking no for an answer. “Well, maybe you can help another way-you can provide surveillance for us overseas.” Then he ended the conversation.

For Joe, it was upsetting to think that this very powerful man in Baghdad was so insistent that he become involved in international terrorist operations. Still, Joe thought, perhaps Abu Ibrahim was just blowing off steam. So many Palestinians did when they talked about fighting the Jews.

But Joe would soon learn that Abu Ibrahim was a man who meant what he said — and a man who always got his way. Five days later, Ibrahim called Joe and asked him to meet him on Al-Rashid Street. Joe went and got into Ibrahim’s Chevrolet Caprice car. They drove to Ibrahim’s home. From the outside it looked like a normal house. When they walked inside, however, the normalcy immediately disappeared, for there was almost no furniture and nothing on the walls — not at all like the typical Arab house. In fact, Joe soon discovered, it was Abu Ibrahim’s principal headquarters, serving as a safe house for Ibrahim and his couriers.

It was used for one more function.

Ibrahim unlocked the door of a room that was obviously important to him, as well as selfishly guarded. As soon as the door opened, Joe saw why. On the wall there was a large map of Palestine and a picture of a Palestinian agent who had died during a bombing mission in a London hotel in 1980. As Joe scanned the room, it looked more like a workshop. On the floor were dozens of garment bags, luggage, suitcases — all types in all sizes and shapes. There was also an industrial-type sewing machine, a steel filing cabinet, and an iron safe. Though it slowly dawned on Joe what the house had been used for, Ibrahim spelled it out for him. “We use the house for operations, and we use the luggage for our missions,” he confided.

Ibrahim asked Joe to sit down on the sofa. Joe felt that becoming privy to Ibrahim’s secret had just made him an accomplice. His foreboding was right on the mark.

“We have a mission for you,” said Ibrahim in a matter-of-fact voice that indicated Joe no longer had a choice. But Joe was flabbergasted.

“What? Are you crazy?” he blurted out before even realizing what he had said. “You must be joking.”

Sternly, Ibrahim responded, “No! I’m not joking! It’s your turn to risk your life — other Palestinians cannot be made to incur all the sacrifices.”

“But I’ve got a business to look after,” Joe protested.

“We’ll take care of your business — you need not worry.”

Abu Ibrahim put his arm around him. It was the kind of embrace that was both friendly and chilling.

Joe left the house shaken. He thought to himself that he would have nothing to do with Ibrahim. But the bulk of Joe’s anger was reserved for Rashid, who had introduced them. Joe went to Rashid and yelled at him for setting him up. But Rashid was calm — too calm. “You should do what he says,” Rashid counseled. “He’s a powerful man. Besides, he’ll make sure that nothing happens to you.”

Joe realized that both Ibrahim and Rashid had collaborated all along. Frightened, he started to avoid certain streets and restricted his socializing. Most audaciously, he refused to respond to any of Ibrahim’s many telephone calls. But the fact was that Ibrahim had found the perfect snare.

Early one morning, Joe received a call at home from his construction foreman. The foreman was very upset. He had been denied entry to a classified military base in Baghdad where Joe’s company had a multimillion-dollar construction contract. Joe immediately drove to the base, where he confronted the security officer. “What the hell is going on?” he demanded.

“You have to ask Abu Ibrahim,” the officer responded. Joe was absolutely shocked. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I’m sorry,” said the officer. “It’s out of my hands.”

At that point, Joe realized the fantastic power wielded by Ibrahim. His immediate instinct was to flee Iraq, but Ibrahim would surely track him down wherever he was. He decided that he had to confront Ibrahim — this thing had to be resolved once and for all. Joe drove to Ibrahim’s house, where he was greeted in a nonchalant way. Though he was trembling inside, Joe masked his fear, grimly asking Ibrahim why his access to the base had been blocked. Upon hearing the question, Ibrahim launched into a tirade. “All you care about is your money,” he yelled. “But you are nothing. I can destroy you. You must do as I tell you. You must help out your people.” Joe now realized he was trapped.

Ibrahim proceeded to give Joe instructions: “You’re going to the best hotel in Geneva, the Noga Hilton. That’s the target. The owner is Jewish and a supporter of Israel.”

Perhaps the most terrifying thing about terrorism can be how little things change over decades and decades. Consider the tale of Abu Ibrahim.

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