The diplomat father of England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty was assassinated by Palestinian terrorists 36 years ago in revenge of arrests after a foiled attempt to kill Israeli diplomats in London two years earlier.
Whitty, who has been the public face of UK medical advice during the coronavirus pandemic, appearing calm and measured alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Downing Street, was at school in Worcestershire in March 1984 when his father was killed in Greece.
Kenneth Whitty, 44, was the British cultural attaché in Athens when he was stopped by a pedestrian while driving. As he wound down his window, the pedestrian shot him five times, three times in the head. A passenger was also shot.
Responsibility for the attack was soon claimed – via message to a Beirut news agency – by the Revolutionary Organisation of Socialist Muslims. The group was set up by veteran Palestinian terrorist Sabri al-Banna, better known by his nom de guerre ‘Abu Nidal’.
Whitty was also head of the British Council in Greece at the time of the attack and was driving three British Council colleagues when he was killed. The assassination was timed to coincide with Queen Elizabeth’s official visit to Jordan.
In its message to the Beirut news agency, Nidal’s group said Whitty was killed because Britain was trying “to resume its former colonial role in the world by spreading colonial culture under a new guise”.
It also threatened more attacks due to Britain’s “continuing detention and persecution of our Muslim fighters,” thought to be a reference to members of Nidal’s group who had been jailed in the UK for the attempted murder of the Israeli ambassador to London in 1982.
The Revolutionary Organisation of Socialist Muslims was one of several names for the group later known as the Abu Nidal Organisation (ANO). Other names included the Fatah Revolutionary Council and the Arab Revolutionary Brigades.
A member of Yasser Arafat’s secular Fatah faction, Abu Nidal resigned his membership of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1974 after it started making plans for governing authorities in the West Bank and Gaza.
He accused colleagues of selling out and set up the ANO because he was vehemently opposed to the State of Israel in any form. He mounted attacks in 20 countries, killing 300 people, including Israelis, and was considered the world’s most dangerous terrorist for years.
In 1982 the ANO was behind the attempted assassination of Israeli Ambassador to the UK Shlomo Argov, as he was getting into his car outside the Dorchester Hotel on London’s Park Lane, an event which helped trigger Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
Argov was shot in the head and fell into a three-month coma but survived despite being paralysed. He required constant medical attention for the rest of his life.
In 1985 the ANO carried out simultaneous on US and Israeli airport counters in Rome and Vienna, killing 18, while in 1986 it killed 22 worshippers in a shooting attack at Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul.