"Surely he recognizes deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note?" - Job 11:11

Palestinian noms de guerre

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas - nom de guerre, or war name Abu Mazen

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas - nom de guerre, or war name Abu Mazen

Why would a statesman, seeking peace, wish to be known by a nom de Guerre - unless he is really leader of an armed campaign?

"One of the extraordinary blind spots of contemporary Middle East history is the obsession of calling Mahmoud Abbas a peace-loving moderate while using his nom de guerre, or war name, Abu Mazen! Abbas was not only Yasser Arafat's deputy for 40 years, he also co-founded with him the terrorist group Fatah, masterminded the Munich massacre and wrote a PhD thesis and book denying the Holocaust.

"Abu Mazen" is a kunya, or honorific name, meaning "father of Mazen", Mazen being the name of his oldest son.

A special practice evolved among Palestinian leaders, originally in the Fatah faction, to use real or fictional kunyas as noms de guerre. The format is Abu (father of) and the name of his son.

For example, Yasser Arafat was known by the name Abu Ammar (abu ammar), even though he never had a son named Ammar; it was based on Ammar ibn Yasir, a companion of Muhammad and a prominent figure in Arab history.

This usage of the kunya has gained currency outside of the Palestinian movement, and is now often used by Arab guerrillas and clandestine operators. Examples of this include the Lebanese leaders Abu Anis (used by George Hawi during the Lebanese Civil War), Abu Arz (Etienne Saqr), and Abu Nidal.

Usamah bin Ladin's Kunya was "Abu Abdullah".


In Ancien Regime France, a nom de guerre (a French phrase meaning "war name") would be adopted by each new recruit (or assigned to him by the captain of his company) as he enlisted in the French army. These pseudonyms had an official character and were the predecessor of identification numbers: soldiers were identified by their first names, their family names, and their noms de guerre (e.g. Jean Amarault dit Lafidelite). These pseudonyms were usually related to the soldier's place of origin (e.g. Jean Deslandes dit Champigny, for a soldier coming from a town named Champigny), or to a particular physical or personal trait (e.g. Antoine Bonnet dit Prettaboire, for a soldier pret à boire, ready to drink). In 1716 a nom de guerre was mandatory for every soldier; officers did not adopt noms de guerre as they considered them derogatory. In daily life, these aliases could replace the real family name.

Noms de guerre were adopted by members of the French resistance during World War II for security reasons. Such pseudonyms are often adopted by military special forces soldiers, such as members of the SAS and other similar units, resistance fighters, terrorists, and guerrillas. This practice hides their identities and may protect their families from reprisals; it may also be a form of dissociation from domestic life.

Born Sabri Khalil Al Banna. Later known by one of several names, most famously Abu Nidal, his chosen nom de guerre. The name means "father of the struggle" in Arabic. "Nidal" was also the name of Al Banna's first son, and Abu Nidal reflects the conventional Arab moniker by which parents are known.

Radical preacher Abu Hamza is insisting he is called by a new name is an attempt to distance himself from his past, it has been claimed.
He had changed his name to Abu Hamza al-Masri, calling for jihad against corrupt Middle Eastern regimes and working from the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London.

Abu Qatada (Omar the Traveler) Nom de guerre of Omar Mahmood Abu Omar (1961-), an Islamic religious leader who had been given political-refugee status in UK in 1993, regarded as a key agent for Osama bin Laden in Europe who coordinated the movement of men, money and arms to Islamic wars, including the Chechnya reconquest, and issuing fatwas to the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria that urged the killing of women and children. He has been twice convicted in absentia in Jordanian courts for terrorist activities, arrested in operation Odin, London 13 February 2001.

Last month, Abu Qatada won his appeal against that decision. Lord Justice Buxton, speaking for himself, the Master of the Rolls and Lady Justice Smith, found that deportation would amount to a breach of the terrorist's human rights. As I noted on this page four weeks ago, Lord Justice Buxton coyly omitted all mention of Abu Qatada's nom de guerre from the ruling, referring to him instead as 'Mr Othman'.

Other examples

Abu Iyad = father of might
Abu Jihad = Father of holy war
Abu Quatada = Father of the qatada (a hardwood tree)


Posted 05/01/13

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