The Arab terrorists who attacked the Rome and Vienna airports just after Christmas came from camps in Lebanon's Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley and made their way to Italy and Austria by way of Damascus and Eastern Europe, according to information being exchanged among Italian Interior Minister Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and other key European officials.
Although there remains a deep "suspicion" of Libyan support for the eight terrorists who are now believed to have been involved in the two simultaneous airport attacks on Dec. 27, there has been no proof of such Libyan involvement to date, according to both Scalfaro and Austrian Interior Minister Karl Blecha, who met yesterday in Vienna.
Scalfaro went on to London and Paris today.
Scalfaro is visiting other European interior ministries in an effort to organize a new, concerted system of cooperation against terrorism following the Rome and Vienna airport attacks that left 19 persons dead and more than 100 wounded.
In the course of his visits, new information has emerged on the investigations of those attacks that has somewhat modified, and elaborated, what was previously known about the terrorists' preparations.
After Scalfaro's meeting with Blecha, the two ministers most deeply involved in the investigations appeared to agree that the terrorists belonged the same organization, most probably the Fatah-Revolutionary Command headed by the Palestinian renegade Abu Nidal, whose real name is Sabri Banna, and that they had acted as part of larger plan to bring terrorism to Western Europe.
"There is no proof so far that the terrorists were trained in Libya or came from Libya," Blecha said after the meeting. "What we do know is they were trained in Lebanon and that they came here via Damascus."
The two ministers said at a news conference in Vienna that their information indicated that the eight terrorists had been together at a camp in Lebanon. Descriptions of the camp, they said, placed it in the Bekaa Valley. From there, the terrorists went to Damascus, the ministers said, then split up into two teams of four men each.
Scalfaro disclosed for the first time that the four terrorists who eventually attacked Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport flew from Damascus to the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade, where they boarded a train for Italy at the beginning of December.
The group headed for Vienna followed a similiar pattern, flying to Budapest, Hungary, then taking a train to Vienna, according to Blecha.
The terrorists entered Italy and Austria with false passports and posed as tourists for weeks, moving from one nondescript small hotel to another. They disposed of their false passports -- either destroying them or giving them to accomplices -- before attacking the airports.
Both Scalfaro and Blecha, it was said in Vienna, now believe that the terrorists had intended for the airport attacks to be the beginning of a larger action.
From the interrogations of the lone surviving terrorist of the Rome attack, a Palestinian who has given his name as Mohammed Sarham, and the two of the surviving terrorists from the Austrian raid, it is now believed that the plan was to cause as much mayhem as possible in the initial terminal attack, then take hostages, and force them aboard waiting Israeli El Al airliners, for a forced flight to Tel Aviv. One terrorist was killed in Austria and three in Italy. The fourth member of the group that went to Austria, it is believed, was the mastermind, and did not take part in the attack. His whereabouts are not known.
What the terrorists planned to do in Tel Aviv is unclear, according to Interior Ministry officials here, but the suspicion is that the terrorists were prepared to try to force the aircraft, with their hostages and commandos, to crash into the city.
Scalfaro and Blecha have insisted that the interrogations have come up with no proof of Libyan involvement. Blecha has acknowledged, however, that the Tunisian government has told him that the names and passports used by three of the terrorists in Austria while checking into five or six hotels belonged to Tunisians whose passports were confiscated by Libyan authorities last year when they were expelled from Libya.
That Libyan connection, exposed two weeks ago by the Tunisian government at a press conference attended by the Tunisians whose names were used, remains the one bit of evidence linking Libya to the raids.