MK claims Arafat knew of World Trade Center bomb

Israeli intelligence has evidence that Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat knew of the 1993 plot to bomb New York City's World Trade Center, Deputy Education Minister Moshe Peled said Tuesday.

"More than that, he was part of the discussions on the operation," Peled said. "I call on the prime minister to give the information to the Americans, so they'll know who they're dealing with."

If the charge it true, it would be the first time since the September 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords that evidence has linked Arafat to terrorism.

Peled confirmed information relayed by intelligence sources that, several days before the February 26, 1993 bombing, Arafat met with Sudanese and Islamic terrorist leaders who discussed the plot.

The sources said Arafat was privy to the conspiracy because of his close personal ties to Sudanese leader Hassan Turabi, head of the National Islamic Front.

According to a U.S. State Department report on terrorism, Turabi is a leading advocate of closer ties between terrorist groups and their government sponsors. He was also a leading figure in talks between Arafat's Fatah and the radical Islamic Hamas group in 1995.

Two Sudanese diplomats were arrested and later deported in July 1993, after U.S. authorities directly linked them to the explosion at the World Trade Center and a plot to bomb the United Nations.

Israeli government spokesmen refused to comment on the intelligence reports or on Peled's call for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the United States the data.

"I don't know anything about it," said David Bar-Illan, director of communications and policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office.

An Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman also refused to comment.

U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources agree that Arafat continues to maintain a large number of Fatah guerrillas in bases in Sudan, 1,200 of whom arrived from that country in 1994 and now serve in the Palestinian security forces.

One Israeli source said the number of Fatah guerrillas in Sudan is close to 3,000.

"Arafat continues to maintain a training base in Sudan and the Fatah people there and work closely with the regime and with Iran," said Yonah Alexander, a Pentagon consultant and director of the terrorism studies program at George Washington University.

But a U.S. counterterrorism official disputed the claim and said Israeli officials might be confusing Fatah with Abu Nidal's Fatah Revolutionary Council, which trains in Sudan.

"There's no doubt there are terrorist groups training in Sudan, but [Fatah] isn't one of them." he said.

U.S. counterterrorism officials have "never heard any report of Fatah" training in Sudan, he said. And "there's been no indication of that kind of Sudan connection" to the World Trade Center bombing.

At one of the Sudanese camps, Kadru, north of Khartoum, Iranian experts trained terrorists, including Fatah forces headed by Jaber Amer, as commanders, intelligence operatives and bombmakers, according to the sources.

A U.S. congressional investigator with close ties to Israeli officials said Hamas and Fatah both have training camps in Sudan.

"They work together," he said. "Arafat has strategic ties with Turabi and he has exploited them in order to forge cooperation with Hamas."

But the investigator said although he has heard of reports that Arafat knew of the World Trade Center bombing plot, and was said to have even praised the idea, he is skeptical.

"I have yet to be convinced," he said.

U.S. State Department officials say the PLO has not authorized any terrorist attacks since Arafat signed the Oslo Accords. One official who works on the State Department's report on global terrorism said he also does not know of any Fatah bases.