What's in a Name?

"Abu Elias" and his Alleged Names
April 13 2010
last edits 4/30


Abu Elias was the terrorist-world code-name of a certain high-ranking member of the PFLP-GC as of late 1988. Though a blond Christian born with blue eyes in Lebanon, he was reportedly the nephew of the dark-haired, nominally Muslim PFLP-GC leader and founder Ahmed Jibril, and working for him in Syria in violent opposition to Israel. “Abu Elias” is also suspected by many (including myself) to be the real Lockerbie bomber, but was never caught after making off with Khreesat’s fifth bomb. The fugitive was eventually forgotten by investigators as some Libyans took the blame, but as explained in another post, he wasn’t forgotten by everyone. “Abu Elias” was reported in 1992 to have the real name of Khaisar Haddad, and to have built that fifth bomb himself, and in 2009 he was mentioned again as being re-named Basel Bushnaq and living safely in Washington DC with a government job.

I’m not sure yet what to do with this knowledge, considering Basel A Bushnaq is still sitting over there and I could easily get his phone number. As I mull it over, or wait for him to step up himself, or for him to start over again with a new town and name, I thought it might be interesting to explore some available information, including the three names that have been attached to the same guy. Who - again - was an expert in airport security, sent by his uncle we hear to make sure the bomb was live and got onto a plane, just two months before success over Lockerbie.

Abu Elias:
Literally, this name means “Father of Elias,” with Abu being a form for ‘father of’ in Arabic, popular among terrorists, and Elias being the Greek rendering for the prophet Elijah. Elijah in Hebrew means “Yahweh is my God,” and Wikipedia says Elias is a common name among Middle Eastern Christians, especially in Lebanon. Elijah/Elias is of course a major, major figure in the Judaic/biblical mythology, and one with no known father. He’s said to be able to raise the dead and work other miracles, classed near Moses among the revered ghosts, and expected to return to Earth to herald Christ’s return and the apocalypse. (Or has returned, if you’re Mormon). Judging by his chosen name, no small ambitions had this one.

Khaisar Haddad:
This name was reported by Arafat's PLO in a 1992 report as the real name of Abu Elias, Lockerbie bomber. The family name ‘Haddad’ means ‘blacksmith,’ and is also the name of a Pre-Islamic Semitic storm god. Wikipedia says the name is held largely by Middle Eastern Christians, and the most common single surname in Lebanon. Sounds like a plausible real family name for a Lebanese Christian.

The given name Khaisar doesn’t appear much, or at all, in Arabic names as far as I’ve been able to find. The same spelling, however, was once a Beluchi word for the Tamarix tree. This I learned from an old book Google's got, explaining how dense growths of such trees was said to have given a name to the Khaisar Lora river in Baluchistan, modern-day Pakistan. (p 33). That's probably not it.

In English and other “Christian” languages, Khaisar of course sounds just like Kaiser, the German variant of Caesar (Russian is Czar). Please note how a person could get used to having a grandiose name that means emperor, king, etc. It also echoes (or is echoed by?) the fictional Keyser Söze, elusive super-villain of The Usual Suspects (1995).

Basel Bushnaq
The latest alleged “family” name held by this guy called “alias Abu Elias” is Bushnaq. If we're looking at the same guy, it's clearly a name of choice, not birth. Otherwise... This seems to be Arabic for “Bosnian,” as per an article on Lofti Bouchnaq, a renowned composer, oud player and singer, born 1954 in Tunis. His family name (with given variants Bushnaq, Boushnak, and Bouchnak) “in Arabic means “Bosnian,” suggesting that his family may have arrived in Tunisia from Europe as slave-soldiers from Bosnia during the period of Ottoman Turkish rule.” So also says the “Bushnak International Union” page at Myspace; “every one of us is a refugee from our dear and beloved countrey [sic] Bosnia.” Basel A. has not popped in yet. I don’t think Khaisar Haddad has any Bosnian ancestry, but it’s possible.

One other unusual feature of this name, importing the foreign “Bushn” from Bosnia, makes it among the very few (or only?) plausible Arabic family name that contains "Bush", when one or another of that family may have overseen Basel A’s assimilation as a Virginian. An honorary nod to his new benefactors? (At Myspace he lists many prominent Republicans as his favorites, but avoids this contrast by excluding the Bushes)

The suspect’s first name “Basel” (as pronounced by its revealor Christine Graham, anyway) is most obviously evocative of the city of just that name in Switzerland – an international hub in a famously neutral country. One site does offer Basel, probably pronounced different, as an “African-Muslim name popular in Sudan, meaning 'brave.'” The name name Basel does pop up with unsure origins in a Google search attached to at least one Palestinian and one Jordanian. I also hear it's fairly common in Syria, where both Abu Elias and Basel Bushnaq (judging from online commentary) have roots. In all, it probably means the same as in Sudan. It would take a brave man to blow up PA103 and then, without state help, take up residence so near the US capitol.

Most importantly for our purposes, Basel is first on Wikipedia’s list of variants on Basil, meaning royal or kingly, from the Greek Vassillos, meaning King. That original spawned names for the herb Basil, the structure Basilica, and people like Czars Vassili I, II, III. and IV of Russia. Thus Basel continues to be a decent replacement if one’s old name had been Kaiser and the new one still had to sound okay in Arabic. There it means courageous.

So ‘emperor blacksmith’ becomes terrorist mover ‘father of Elijah’, and all that carries, then he allegedly starts a new life as ‘brave Bosnian’ and/or ‘kingly vassal of the Kaisers Bush.’ That’s a heck of a lot of reading into it, but there is a compelling psycho-logic to the whole string. It goes on the "hmmmm" pile.

6 comments:

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Caustic Logic said...

Now just from the profile link that looks kind of like a spam message, but at the least it raises an interesting issue I hoped would come up - citing this site as a source in term papers or other such. I'm not prepared to eludicate on that at length right now, but I endorse using things i cite as solid AS solid. I goof a little (typos, small and mid-size factual errors, etc.) but my speculation is usually stated as such.

I don't condone paying for a paper-writing service. But I do support selecting Lockerbie and Megrahi as a topic.

And Abu Elias is a great sub-aspect. The issue of citing me appearing on this particular post, other issues arise... please be cautious characterizing the links laid out here - at LEAST as cautious as I've been. they are tenuous and alleged only, and connect to a US citizen or resident with real legal rights and all that. That's all.

al aplage said...

re: Basel

To keep with the biblical theme; there are two ways to pronounce this regards the Swiss capital.

1. two syllables with a z sound in the middle ( Brit kids of the 70s might think of Basil Brush - a puppet fox with catchphrase " Boom Boom! " )

2. one syllable sounding like Baal - who is an ancient Persian storm god, who probs had a few mythical tussles with Yahweh for dominance amongst the tribes.

Too much interpretation, for sure, but it sure goes interesting places.

Caustic Logic said...

That is I think my first real comment on any Abu Elias/Bushnaq threads. Congrats!

The Baal angle is interesting. Basel with a silent s/z? Sounds strange, but Switzerland is strange. It's got Bollier, for one ...

And I didn't know of Basil Brush until Rolfe I think brought it up, but it is slightly uncanny. Especially how he might have made PA103 go boom, boom. Did the guy choosing this new name have familiarity with this Basel B? He's lived all over, so I wouldn't be surprised.

al aplage said...

I think the names thing is just much smoke and mirrors, even if it is fun.

Haddad was also a stormy kind of god.
Baal is also a word, apparently, meaning Lord ( or chief of the clan/tribe )

Basil Bushnaq may stand out as a peculiar name in the West, but there's sure to be a phonebook somewhere full of Bushaqs, Haddads, etc.

Think of how you rarely meet any Northern Europeans or North Americans called Jesus, but in Spanish speaking parts of the world it's a perfectly common name.

I could be wrong of course and that a major criminal has been re-settled in the US with an entirely traceable name, and all anyone has to do is a quick search on Wikipedia to piece it all together.

If Mr bushnaq is entirely innocent and decides to change his name to get away from all the hassle, then fuel goes on the fire - it's lose/lose all the way for it as a line of enquiry.

Anyhoo, incredible webpages you've put together here. Hats off to ya!

Caustic Logic said...

I think the names thing is just much smoke and mirrors, even if it is fun.

Oh, I have to rebut that. I mean, you might be right, and I don't put much in the Gods or in Mr. Brush, or a few other linguo-links that have occurred to me.

But do make sure you've seen the further points I've made before deciding. I'm guessing this, and maybe "where in the world" is all you've read yet? I don't expect anyone to read them all, but there's only three other posts, in order of importance/spookiness:

Kubaissi - another unusual name...
Power - strange reaction ...
Bosnia/Bushnaq - Never been there? Not even in May 1992?

The last I almost find the most intriguing, but I'm not sure anyone else would agree.

I could be wrong of course and that a major criminal has been re-settled in the US with an entirely traceable name, and all anyone has to do is a quick search on Wikipedia to piece it all together.
Only since 2009. I don't think the new name (traces only to mid-2001 BTW) getting to Megrahi's defense, thence to Christine Grahame, thence to the public, was anticipated. The power link above shows his reaction to being outed. It's a subjective judgment, but I find that suspiciously defensive.

Such a guy becoming known is not normal or expected, I would agree. That's why I'm fairly surprised and a bit spooked that it might just have happened this once.

Anyhoo, incredible webpages you've put together here. Hats off to ya!
I was trying more for credible, but ... kidding. Thanks a lot for taking the time to leave thoughtful comments. I still love getting them, even if I'm far worse about being able to respond.