Skip to comments.When the Terror Began (Munich 1972)
Posted on 09/02/2002 11:20:31 AM PDT by TimesinkEdited on 04/29/2004 2:01:08 AM PDT by Jim Robinson. [history]
For a citizen of a country manacled to its past, Dr. Georg Sieber had a remarkable knack for seeing the future. In the months leading up to the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, West German organizers asked Sieber, then a 39-year-old police psychologist, to "tabletop" the event, as security experts call the exercise of sketching out worst-case scenarios. Sieber looks a bit like the writer Tom Clancy, and the crises he limned drew from every element of the airport novelist's genre: kidnappers and hostages, superpower patrons and smuggled arms, hijacked jets and remote-controlled bombs. Studying the most ruthless groups of that era, from the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organization to the Basque separatist group ETA and West Germany's own Baader-Meinhof Gang, he came up with 26 cases, each imagined in apocalyptic detail. Most of Sieber's scenarios focused on the Olympic Village, the Games' symbolic global community; one that did not -- a jet hired by a Swedish right wing group crashes into an Olympic Stadium filled with people -- foreshadowed a September day in another city many years later.
(Excerpt) Read more at sportsillustrated.cnn.com ...
Details about the massacre in Munich have dribbled out since 1972, slowly at first, and then, over the past decade, in a rush. First came interviews during the 1970s with the surviving terrorists in France's Jeune Afrique and Germany's Stern. Then came the 1978 memoir of late Black September leader Abu Iyad, in which he explained how he handpicked the two commandos who led the attack within the Village: Issa, who served as lead negotiator and became known to millions of TV viewers as "the man in the white hat"; and Tony, a short but fiery fedayee, or "fighter for the faith," who was in charge of operations. Excerpts from a long-suppressed Bavarian State Prosecutor's Office report on the debacle surfaced in 1992, after an anonymous whistle-blower leaked documents to the families of the Israeli victims when he learned how his government had for 15 years stonewalled their efforts to learn the truth about what happened that night. In 1999 the lone terrorist to have survived Israel's furious revenge operation, Jamal Al-Gashey, spoke to the producers of One Day in September, the Academy Award-winning documentary about the attack. And another Black Septembrist, Abu Daoud, perhaps gulled by the false peace of the 1993 Oslo Accords, published a memoir in which he described how he and Abu Iyad masterminded the operation. In late July, Abu Daoud also answered SI's questions about the attack. These accounts, most self-serving and some maddeningly incomplete and contradictory, nonetheless reveal how a kind of perfect storm gathered over the Munich Olympics, a confluence of determination and naiveté.
It turns out that Georg Sieber envisioned the events of Sept. 5 even before Black September had planned them. The plot wasn't hatched until July 15, when Abu Daoud and Abu Iyad joined another Black September leader, Abu Mohammed, at a café in Rome's Piazza della Rotonda. Leafing through an Arabic newspaper, they spotted a report that the IOC had failed even to respond to two requests from the Palestinian Youth Federation that Palestine be permitted to take to Munich an Olympic team of its own. "If they refuse to let us participate, why shouldn't we penetrate the Games in our own way?" Abu Mohammed asked. They conceived their plan, giving it the code name Biraam and Ikrit, after two Palestinian villages from which Zionists had evicted Arab residents in 1948.
Two days later Abu Daoud was in Munich to reconnoiter the Olympic Village, then still under construction. On Aug. 7 he returned, this time with Tony. Together they determined that the commandos could hurdle the fence now ringing the Village by jumping off one another's backs. "Each of you will boost the other," Abu Daoud said, likening the maneuver to what tumblers do when they dismount from human pyramids.
"But then one of us will be left behind," Tony replied.
"I'll be there to help the last man over," Abu Daoud told him.
On Aug. 24, two days before the opening ceremonies, Abu Iyad flew from Algiers to Frankfurt via Paris with a male and a female associate and five identical Samsonite suitcases as checked luggage. As Abu Daoud watched through plate glass outside the baggage claim, customs officials picked out one of the five bags and popped it open. They saw nothing but lingerie. The female associate looked on indignantly, which may explain why the other four bags went uninspected. Taking a separate taxi, Abu Daoud met Abu Iyad and his colleagues at a hotel in downtown Frankfurt, where they consolidated the contents of the five suitcases -- six Kalashnikovs and two submachine guns, plus rounds of ammunition -- into two bags. Later that day Abu Daoud transported the weaponry by train to Munich, where he stored it in lockers at the railway station.
Over the following days Abu Daoud took delivery of another two Kalashnikovs and a cache of grenades, and regularly moved the weapons from locker to locker. And he returned once more to the Village, this time with a Syrian woman, a friend who was visiting a sister married to a professor in Munich. As a group of Brazilian athletes, back from training, made their way through one of the gates, she told the guard, in German, "My friend here is Brazilian and just recognized an old schoolmate. Can we say hello? Only for 10 minutes." The guard waved them through. It made sense to pass as Brazilian, Abu Daoud says, given his complexion and the unlikelihood that anyone would chat him up in Portuguese. On this visit he was able to inspect the quarters of the Saudis and the Sudanese, thereby getting a sense of the layout of Village housing.
Two days later, back this time with Tony and Issa, Abu Daoud approached the same guard.
"Ah! You come every day!"
"Naturally -- we've come all the way from Brazil to cheer our guys on."
The guard gestured at Abu Daoud's two companions. "Brazilians too?" he said.
"My friends are upset with me. I told them yesterday that I'd been able to enter the Village and meet our athletes."
"That's why I'm asking this favor."
"Fine, go with your friends."
In his memoir Abu Daoud writes, "It couldn't have begun better -- but the best was yet to come. Five minutes later we arrived in front of 31 Connollystrasse, and suddenly I saw a young, tanned woman coming out the door."
She was attached to the Israeli delegation. They chatted her up, telling her they were Brazilians who had always wanted to visit Israel. She escorted them through the foyer by the stairwell and through the doorway into the ground-floor apartment, a duplex with an interior stairway. "For six or seven people, this is sensible, don't you think?" she said. "The rest of the delegation is in other apartments just like this." Inside, the Palestinians took note of the details of each room, including the locations of telephones and TV sets and the sightlines from each window.
"She gave us a fistful of flags, and we had no recourse but to thank her," Abu Daoud writes. "She had no way of knowing that she had considerably facilitated our task. We now knew our first mission would be to take control of this ground-floor apartment. It had the most exits and controlled access to the upper floors and basement. Once the building was taken, the commandos would regroup here with the captured Israelis."
In the meantime six junior Palestinians -- mostly shabab, "young guys" culled from refugee camps in Lebanon -- were training in Libya, with an emphasis on hand-to-hand combat and jumping from high walls. Black September commanders told them that they had been selected for an unspecified mission in a foreign country. Using fake passports, they converged on Munich in pairs soon after the Games began. Although it is unclear where in the city they stayed, some attended Olympic events. Only on the eve of the attack did they assemble and learn the details of their mission.
That evening, in his room at the Hotel Eden Wolff, near the train station, Abu Daoud stuffed ammunition, grenades, food and a first-aid kit into eight sport duffel bags, each graced with the Olympic rings. He also included nylon stockings for making masks, rope precut to use for binding hostages and a supply of the amphetamine Predulin for keeping his men alert. Before Abu Daoud added the Kalashnikovs, Issa and Tony kissed each of the weapons and said, "Oh, my love!"
At 9 p.m. the Palestinians gathered at a restaurant in the train station for final instructions. Once the Israelis had been seized, no one was to be admitted to the building except a senior German official who might want to check on the condition of the hostages. Abu Daoud says he told the eight fedayeen to exercise restraint: "The operation for which you've been chosen is essentially a political one ... to capture these Israelis alive.... No one can deny you the right to use your weapons to defend yourselves. Nonetheless, only fire if you truly can't do otherwise.... It's not a matter of liquidating your enemies, but seizing them as prisoners for future exchanges. The grenades are for later, to impress your German negotiating partners and defend yourselves to the death."
To which Issa added, "From now on, consider yourself dead. As killed in action for the Palestinian cause."
Each was issued a packed duffel and a track suit with the name of an Arab nation. Abu Daoud collected everyone's passports. Sometime after 3:30 a.m. they took off in taxis for the Village.
As they approached the fence, they noticed another group in warmup gear: American athletes back from a night on the town, laughing and tipsy. Abu Daoud urged his comrades to join them, to use the Americans' innocent comportment as cover while they all scaled the fence. "Not only did our men mix in with the Americans, we helped them over," he says. "And they helped us. 'Hey, man, give me your bag.' This was surreal -- to see the Americans, obviously far from imagining they were helping Black September get into the Village."
Much of the Israeli delegation had been out on the town that night, too -- at a performance of Fiddler on the Roof.
Perhaps Yossef Gutfreund was at the Games to provide security for his fellow Israelis. Perhaps not. An Israeli government report, commissioned by the Knesset in the aftermath of the massacre, surely settled that question, but the earliest the report would be made public is 2003. In its next-day account of the incident, The New York Times suggested that both Gutfreund, a wrestling referee, and Jacov Springer, a weightlifting judge, doubled as security personnel. "Rubbish," says Gilady, the Israeli IOC member. "Simply not true."
In any case Gutfreund apparently heard the rattling of the door at the threshold of that ground-floor duplex, the apartment the other Israelis called the Big Wheels' Inn because it housed senior members of the delegation. When the door cracked open in the darkness, he could make out the barrels of several weapons. He threw his 290 pounds against the door and shouted a warning: "Danger, guys! Terrorists!" For critical seconds Gutfreund succeeded in staying their entrance, allowing his roommate, weightlifting coach Tuvia Sokolovsky, to shatter a rear window and flee to safety through a backyard garden. But the terrorists, using their rifle barrels to crowbar their way inside, soon had Gutfreund subdued on the floor. Quickly they prized track coach Amitzur Shapira and shooting coach Kehat Shorr from one downstairs bedroom. When Issa opened the door to the other downstairs bedroom, wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg lunged at him with a kitchen knife that had been lying on a bedside table. Issa stumbled to the side, unhurt, while another fedayee fired a round from his Kalashnikov that tore through the side of Weinberg's mouth.
The terrorists pushed their unharmed captives up the stairs of the duplex and overpowered the two occupants of the bedroom there, Springer and fencing coach André Spitzer. Leaving their first group of captives behind, under guard, Tony and five other fedayeen nudged Weinberg -- he was able to walk, holding a scarf to his bleeding mouth -- out onto Connollystrasse and two doors down, where another apartment filled with Israelis issued directly onto the street. There they seized David Berger, a weightlifter from Shaker Heights, Ohio, who had recently immigrated to Israel another weightlifter, Yossef Romano, who was on crutches from an injury suffered in competition; and wrestlers Eliezer Halfin, Mark Slavin and Gad Tsabari. Most had heard the shot that wounded Weinberg, and, curious, left their rooms, only to walk into captivity. The fedayeen led their five new hostages the few steps back to join the others.
The stairwell by that first apartment led up to other lodgings, but also down to a parking garage. As soon as the group had reentered the foyer, Tsabari made a dash down the stairs and into the garage, where he zigged and zagged, taking cover behind concrete support posts as a Palestinian shot after him. Weinberg tried to take advantage of the chaos. He tackled one of the fedayeen, knocking his gun free -- whereupon another terrorist gave up on Tsabari, who escaped, and finished Weinberg off.
The commandos herded their captives to the second floor of that first duplex apartment. Romano, a Libyan-born weightlifter and veteran of the Six Day War, gimped along, but here he threw down his crutches and grabbed a Kalashnikov from one of the terrorists. Another fedayee shot him dead. For the next 17 hours the pulpy corpse of their countryman would keep the Israelis company.
A cleaning woman on her way to work had called the Olympic security office at 4:47 a.m. to report the sound of gunfire. An unarmed Oly dispatched to 31 Connollystrasse found a hooded commando with a Kalashnikov in the doorway. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. The gunman ignored him, but the intentions of Black September -- a group that took its name from the loss in September 1970 of 4,000 fedayeen in fighting in Jordan with King Hussein's Jordanian army -- would become clear soon enough. The fedayeen rolled Weinberg's body into the street as a sign of their seriousness.
At 5:08 a.m., a half hour before dawn would break over the Village, two sheets of paper fluttered down from the balcony, into the hands of a policeman. The communiqué listed the names of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails, and, in a gesture to win the sympathy of radical Europeans, those of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, Germany's most notorious urban guerrillas. If the lot weren't released by 9 a.m., a hostage would be executed. "One each hour," Issa told the policeman. "And we'll throw their bodies into the street."
At 8:15 a.m. an equestrian event, the grand prix in dressage, went off as scheduled.
That morning the Germans assembled a crisis team whose composition further underscored the shadow cast by Germany's past. The council included both city police chief Schreiber and West German interior minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. To further distance itself from the Nazi era, the West German government strictly limited federal power, leaving responsibility for domestic security to the country's 11 states. So the triumvirate also included Genscher's Bavarian counterpart, Bruno Merk -- perhaps one too many cooks for a simmering broth.
Soon came word, through West German chancellor Willy Brandt, of Meir's summary response to the Black September demands: "Under no conditions will Israel make the slightest concession to terrorist blackmail." That position remained firm throughout the day. The Germans, however, desperate to buy time, would keep feeding the Palestinians excuses: that some members of the Israeli cabinet couldn't be reached; that not all the prisoners could be located; that phone lines to Jerusalem had broken down.
|With the Arab grenade damaged helicopter on the foreground -- one or more of the Israeli hostages died in the helicopter. AP|
The crisis team groped for a plan. First Schreiber offered the terrorists an unlimited amount of money. Genscher, who would later become West Germany's foreign minister, pleaded with Issa not to subject Jews once more to death on German soil, then offered himself as a substitute hostage. Vogel, Schreiber, Merk and Walther Tröger, the ceremonial mayor of the Olympic Village, joined Genscher in that offer, but Issa refused. Avery Brundage, the president of the IOC, said he recalled that in the 1920s, the Chicago police had piped knockout gas into buildings to overpower gangsters. But after placing fruitless calls to U.S. police departments asking for more information, the authorities abandoned Brundage's idea. They tried to have policemen disguised as cooks deliver food to the compound and overpower the terrorists, perhaps after igniting a "blitz bomb" to blind them. But the fedayeen weren't going to fall for that; they ordered that provisions be left at the building's threshold.
The terrorists pushed back their deadline twice more, to 3 p.m., then to 5, knowing that each postponement only redoubled the TV audience. "The demand to free our imprisoned brothers had only symbolic value," Al-Gashey would say later. "The only aim of the action was to scare the world public during their 'happy Olympic Games' and make them aware of the fate of the Palestinians."
In the late afternoon one more plan -- to have 13 policemen infiltrate the building through the heating ducts -- advanced far enough that the men, dressed ludicrously in track suits, began to loosen ventilation grates on the roof. But this operation, too, was called off, mercifully: Television cameras had long since been trained on the building and were broadcasting the police team's movements live to a worldwide audience, including the fedayeen.
Shortly before 5 p.m. the terrorists made a new demand. They wanted a jet to fly them and their captives to Cairo. "I did not believe [the Israelis] would negotiate with us in Germany, and that is why we made a plan to take a plane and the hostages to another Arab country," Abu Daoud told SI. "From there I believed they would negotiate the release of our prisoners." The freed Palestinians were to be waiting on the tarmac in Cairo by 8 the following morning, Issa told the Germans. If not, Black September would execute the hostages before leaving the plane.
"These are innocent people," Genscher told Issa.
"I am a soldier," Issa said. "We are at war."
Yet here, finally, the Germans saw a potential opening. If the crisis relocated, there would be buses and helicopters and planes, embarkations and disembarkations, the agora of an airport tarmac -- perhaps an opportunity to draw a bead on the fedayeen. But before going forward, the Germans wanted to make sure of two things: that the hostages were still alive and that they were willing to fly to Cairo.
Genscher and Tröger were escorted into the second-floor room of Apartment 1. The hostages told them that yes, if they had to be routed through an Arab capital to freedom, they would be willing to go. But the hostages' spokesman, Shorr, the senior member of the delegation and a resistance fighter during World War II, added that in such a case, they assumed that "our government would meet the demands of the terrorists. For otherwise we would all be shot."
"In other words," said Genscher, "if your government did not agree to the prisoner exchange, you would not be willing to leave German territory."
"There'd be no point to it," Shorr said.
Genscher tried a stab at bravado with his reply: "You will not be abandoned." But to be an Israeli is to know well your government's policy toward terrorists. Surely each hostage must have suspected that his fate rested in the hands of the German government -- that the episode would end in Munich, not Cairo, for better or worse.
Nonetheless, Brandt would try for hours to reach Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, to secure permission for an aircraft to land and a guarantee of safety for the hostages. Sadat didn't come to the phone. Finally, at 8:20 p.m., Brandt spoke to Prime Minister Aziz Sidky, who would not or could not pledge his government's help.
The Egyptian response plunged the Germans back into despair. Issa had set a final deadline, 9 p.m., and renewed his promise to kill one hostage an hour until the Germans provided the jet. The Israeli government would never countenance the kidnapping of its citizens to a hostile destination. Certainly Germany, given its history, couldn't acquiesce in such an endgame. Perhaps a jet could appear to be at the disposal of the terrorists, but under no circumstances could it be permitted to take off.
The Germans entertained one last plan to liberate the hostages before they were to be helicoptered out of the Village to this supposed jet to Cairo. Schreiber proposed to place police gunmen behind the concrete pillars of the underground garage, the same obstructions that had saved Gad Tsabari's life. The police would pick off the fedayeen while they walked the hostages from the apartment complex to the helicopters. But a suspicious Issa demanded that the transfer be by bus; the bus pulled up to the doorway, and the fedayeen with their captives piled directly into the vehicle, affording the police no clear shot. Moments later, in the plaza of the Village, 17 captors and captives boarded two Iroquois helicopters.
By now, the crisis team had essentially accepted the hostages' deaths as inevitable. "We were 99 percent sure that we wouldn't be able to achieve our objective," Schreiber would later say. "We felt like doctors trying to bring the dead back to life."
No Israelis survive to dispute him, but if you believe Al-Gashey, the mood on board the helicopter was lighter, if only from the change of scenery. "Everyone seemed to be relaxed, even the Israelis," he has said of the flight to Fürstenfeldbruck. "For our part, in the air we had the feeling that somehow we had achieved what we'd wanted. For the first time I really thought about the hostages sitting so close -- in physical contact. My cousin [Adnan Al-Gashey, another commando] was talking above the noise of the blades with an Israeli about personal things. I think they talked about his wife and kids. Even the Israelis realized our lives were inextricably linked.
"I remembered our orders to kill the hostages if it were to become a hopeless military situation. But I also thought how nobody had trained us how to kill bound, unarmed people."
But on the plane, not 15 minutes before the helicopters touched down, the policemen were in an uproar over what they regarded as a suicide mission. Most of the officers were to be holed up in the rear of the aircraft, where they believed a single terrorist grenade could incinerate them. As for the officers posing as pilots, they would be in the line of fire from the police at the rear of the plane -- and were unpersuasively disguised besides, having been issued incomplete Lufthansa uniforms. After hearing them out, the officer in charge, Reinhold Reich, polled his men, who voted unanimously to abandon the mission. It was a mutiny inconceivable to an Israeli, and Ankie Spitzer, Andrè Spitzer's widow, still fumes at the Germans' lack of courage. But West Germany, not to be trusted with soldiers and guns, had no special forces unit, nothing like Israel's Sayeret Matkal or the U.S. Army's Delta Force.
|American Air Force officers accompanied the coffin of weightlifter David Berger, the last hostage to die, back to the U.S. AP|
The helicopter pilots had flitted about the sky to give the Germans time to prepare the assault and permit a third helicopter, carrying Schreiber, Genscher and Merk, to beat the others to the airfield.
"Lousy thing to happen at the last minute," Schreiber told Wolf when he found him.
"What lousy thing?" asked Wolf.
"That there are eight of them."
"What? You don't mean there are eight Arabs?"
"You mean you're just finding that out from me?"
Wolf was. For unknown reasons, he thought that there were only five terrorists. No one had told him that three postal workers headed for work that morning had seen the Palestinians scaling the fence and had already provided police with their best guess as to the number: seven or eight, according to two of the postmen; 10 or 12, according to the third. In the underground garage, a policeman had counted the eight terrorists boarding the bus.
Yet now, critically, the snipers didn't know they were outnumbered, even though German TV had reported the postal workers' accounts. Schreiber's testimony to investigators from the Bavarian prosecutor's office as to why he hadn't focused early in the day on the number of terrorists would reflect the crossed signals characterizing the operation: "I was sure somebody" -- somebody else -- "would count them as soon as an opportunity presented itself."
Now the plan rested on the accuracy of five sharpshooters, none of whom deserved the title. Two had been picked from the Bavarian riot police. The other three were Munich police officers. None had any special training. All had been chosen simply because they shot competitively on weekends.
Nevertheless, three took positions on the terrace of the control tower. A fourth lay on the tarmac, behind a low concrete parapet. The fifth took cover behind a fire truck.
The helicopters touched down at 10:35 p.m. The four pilots and six of the fedayeen emerged. As other Black Septembrists held the pilots at gunpoint, Issa and Tony walked over to inspect the jet. Their suspicions already aroused by the lengthy helicopter transfer, they must have gone on full alert when they found the plane empty. As they jogged hastily back toward the helicopters, Wolf gave the order to open fire.
The events that followed are still a Rashomon-like fog of chaos, gore and contradiction. This much seems likely, however: Gunfire filled the air for the first four minutes. With six terrorists visible, snipers killed two and mortally wounded a third. But the other three, including Issa and Tony, scrambled to safety. As the pilots dashed for cover, the Palestinian survivors of that first fusillade ducked beneath and behind the helicopters, from where they shot out as many of the airport lights as they could. Anton Fliegerbauer, a police brigadier posted near a window at the base of the control tower, took a fatal bullet.
That flurry of gunfire gave way to an eerie stalemate of more than an hour, during which neither side got off more than a few shots. At this point some sort of SWAT team might have stormed the Palestinian positions. But a police "special assault unit," helicoptered in about an hour after the shooting began, for some reason landed at the far end of the airfield, more than a mile from the action, and was never deployed. "The biggest failure was not having enough sharpshooters," says Ulrich Wegener, a lieutenant colonel in the Bundeswehr who served as Genscher's aide-de-camp that day and went on to lead the GSG-9, the special-forces unit that the West German government established within two weeks of the fiasco. "The second biggest failure was not having special forces that could storm the helicopters."
Alternatively, German forces might have attacked with armored personnel carriers. But six such carriers ordered to the scene had gotten stuck in traffic, much of it caused by curiosity seekers flocking to Fürstenfeldbruck, as if it were the venue for another Olympic event. One carrier had mistakenly lit out for Riem, Munich's civilian airport, on the other side of town, as had scores of police. In a Keystone Kops moment, the driver of one police car happened to hear the correct destination on the radio, slammed on the brakes and caused a pileup.
Just before midnight the carriers finally arrived to bear down on the helicopters. Only here did the hostages lose their lives, to judge by what can be pieced together from portions of that long-suppressed Bavarian prosecutor's office report. A terrorist strafed the four hostages inside one helicopter, killing Springer, Halfin and Ze'ev Friedman and wounding Berger. Then he sprang to the ground, wheeled, and flung a grenade back into the cockpit before being shot dead as he fled.
Before fire from that explosion reached the fuel tank and turned the helicopter into an inferno, Issa emerged defiantly from beneath the other chopper with Kalashnikov blazing, strafing the Germans. Police killed him and a second fedayeen with return fire. At this point another commando, believed to be Jamal Al-Gashey's cousin Adnan, raked the remaining five hostages -- Gutfreund, Schorr, Slavin, Spitzer and Shapira -- with fatal gunfire.
Berger would be the last hostage to die. He had taken two nonlethal bullets in his lower extremities, only to perish of smoke inhalation. (Firefighters at one point braved gunfire to douse the helicopter with foam but were forced to retreat to cover.) Three fedayeen, alive and largely unhurt, lay on their stomachs nearby, two of them playing dead. They were captured, and 40 minutes later, with the help of dogs and tear gas, police tracked Tony to the refuge he had taken beneath a railroad car on the fringe of the airfield, killing him during a brief gun battle.
The last shot, fired at about 12:30 a.m., ended nearly three hours of an operation that, as an official involved later put it, "was condemned to fail from the beginning." To this day the Germans have never satisfactorily explained why they didn't deploy two or three snipers for each terrorist. The gunmen had neither precision rifles nor bulletproof vests. The military airfield was only moderately lit, so the police had erected three mobile lighting towers, but on this moonless night the towers cast stark shadows, as did the helicopters' long rotor blades, and none of the snipers had been issued night-vision goggles. Several nights later, during a reconstruction exercise, members of a team from the Bavarian prosecutor's office positioned themselves exactly where the five police gunmen had been. With night-vision goggles, each was able to distinguish figures within the helicopters.
Indeed, the police shot as much in the figurative as the literal dark. They hadn't merely been kept ignorant of how many terrorists to expect; no one had told them precisely where the helicopters would be landing and hence what might be the optimal positions to take up. "The helicopters landed directly in front of me and thus exactly in the line of fire of the shooters on the tower," the policeman behind the concrete parapet told the inquiry of the prosecutor's office. "Had I known they were landing where they actually did, I would have chosen another position."
Finally, the policemen had no two-way radios with which to coordinate an operation that had to take out the commandos virtually at a stroke. When Wolf, from his post in the tower, gave the order to fire, only three gunmen were in a position to hear him; the other two, who were to begin shooting when they noticed the first three doing so, found themselves in the line of fire of their comrades and had to take cover. So in effect three riflemen were left to take out the eight terrorists. That trio's shooting was only enough to disable three of the fedayeen immediately and to alert the other five that the day's negotiations had been a ruse.
In their negligence suit the families of the victims charged that saving the hostages became subordinate to Brundage's desire to remove the crisis from the Olympic Village. Wegener suggests as much. "The Village," he says, "was like a church, a cathedral." It was almost as if the Germans had said, There's no way we can save the hostages. Let's at least save the Games.
Even as the shootout continued at the airport, a rumor had cruelly mutated into fact. At 11 p.m. Conrad Ahlers, a spokesman for the West German federal government, told reporters that all the hostages had been liberated. The wire services sent this misinformation around the world, and Israeli newspapers hit the streets on Sept. 6 repeating it in banner headlines. Even Golda Meir went to bed believing the Germans had freed the nine captives.
On the morning of the 6th the grim truth became known. "Until today, we always thought of Dachau as being near Munich," said Israeli interior minister Josef Burg. "From now on, unfortunately, we'll say that Munich is near Dachau."
Willi Daume, the president of the Munich organizing committee, at first wanted the remainder of the Games called off, but Brundage and others talked him out of it. "I too questioned the decision to continue," says Vogel, the former mayor of Munich, "but over time I came to believe that we couldn't let the Olympics come to a halt from the hand of terrorism."
So, after a memorial service on Sept. 6, the Carefree Games resumed. Many of the 80,000 people who filled the Olympic Stadium for West Germany's soccer match with Hungary carried noisemakers and waved flags, while authorities did nothing to intervene in the name of decorum. Yet when several spectators unfurled a banner reading 17 DEAD, ALREADY FORGOTTEN? security sprang into action. Officials seized the sign and expelled the offenders from the grounds.
It's part of the protocol of every Olympics that organizers shall publish an official report of great scope and heft. Munich's is Teutonically comprehensive. It praises Mark Spitz for his feats in the pool and Olga Korbut for hers on the mats, and the informal Olympic Village for its contribution to the relaxed spirit of the Games. And it recounts the atrocities perpetrated on members of the Israeli delegation in dispassionate, mostly exculpatory prose. Then it adds this grotesque rationalization: "After the terrible events of September 5, 1972, it was once again the atmosphere of the Olympic Village which contributed a great deal to calming down and preserving peace among the athletes."
Today most of the apartment block at 31 Connollystrasse is filled with middle-class Germans going about the banal business of living. Well-tended flowers spill from windowsills. A young girl prances off with her bicycle. A memorial plaque by the main doorway is in temporary storage, but it will return in the spring, after renovations are complete on the pedestrian-only street.
If you know what went on there, however, the scene hints at the sinister. The plastic tape of the construction cordon suggests the crime scene the spot once was. Chain-link fencing is a reminder of what the Black Septembrists scaled to steal into the Village. On the side of the building, faded graffiti evokes the ferment of another time, of shouted slogans and violent means.
The door that leads from the street to the foyer and stairwell is locked. During the 1972 Olympics that door was never locked.
The entryway and apartment where Moshe Weinberg and Yossef Romano were murdered now belong to the Max Planck Institute, a scientific think tank. A sign reads PLEASE RESPECT THE PRIVACY OF OUR GUESTS. "Of course we all know what happened," one of the three residents, all Russian scientists on contract with the institute, recently told a stranger who knocked on his door anyway, "but none of us knows exactly where the guys were murdered. We don't want to know. If we knew, it would make it very hard to live here."
In their negligence suit the families of the victims argued that the Germans should have anticipated some attack. If it wasn't enough that Georg Sieber laid out the entire plan, Black September had staged five operations in Europe over the previous 10 months, including three in West Germany, and, the families allege, German intelligence sources had received at least three reports between Aug. 21 and Sept. 2 of Palestinian terrorists flowing into the region. Early in 2001 the Germans, who the families say had for years denied that a report on the disaster even existed, finally settled with the families, offering a pool of $3 million in compensation, to be paid out in equal thirds by the German, Bavarian and Munich governments. (This was in addition to bereavement funds of $1 million doled out by the German Red Cross in the immediate aftermath of the attack.) But the families have yet to receive any money from this "humanitarian" fund, and they believe that the Germans haven't released all the evidence that exists. Moreover, they still wait for an expression of remorse or responsibility. "If they would only say to us, 'Look, we tried, we didn't know what we were doing, we didn't mean for what happened to happen, we're sorry' -- that would be the end of it," says Ankie Spitzer. "But they've never even said that."
Sieber has never again worked with an organizing committee for a sporting event. "It's nothing but frustration," he says. "The officials aren't able to develop a tradition because everyone is a rookie. Nine out of 10 aren't paid -- they're volunteers -- and the paid professional can't lead them. If you're not a professional, you incur no risk, take no responsibility. This disaster in Munich, it was a horror trip, the whole thing, a chain of catastrophes large and small. Who paid? O.K., the German government paid, but of those individuals who were responsible, no one paid. We can't change the past. But more important, we're not learning for the future, because nothing's really different."
In fact Munich changed forever how the Olympics are conducted. Athletes at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid stayed in a Village built to be so secure that it was eventually converted into a prison. Later that year, in Moscow, the Soviets X-rayed every piece of incoming luggage at the airport and deployed 240,000 militiamen to show they meant business. Though the U.S.S.R.'s boycott of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles was surely payback to the U.S. for passing up those Moscow Games, the Soviets claimed they stayed home because of inadequate security, even as the L.A. Olympics introduced such gadgets as a remote-controlled robot that could examine suspicious objects. Sixteen years ago the IOC began to collect and share information related to security and in 1997 formally established a "transfer of knowledge" program so Olympic know-how -- from the food tasters for athletes in Seoul to the palm-print recognition technology in Atlanta -- could be passed from one organizing committee to the next. To help Athens prepare for 2004, security experts from Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Spain and the U.S. are collaborating with Olympic organizers and the Greek authorities.
If you accept Santayana's maxim that those who fail to remember the past are condemned to repeat it, you could argue that Munich organizers recalled their past all too well, thereby inviting a horror of a different sort. But while the Greeks have their own historical baggage, they seem to be toting it more lightly. The military junta that ruthlessly ruled from 1967 to '74 was detested by most Greeks, who pride themselves on living in the birthplace of democracy. A homegrown terrorist group, November 17, took its name from a bloody student uprising on that date in 1973, and over the past three decades its members have targeted various representatives of Western governments that supported that military rule, including the United States. November 17 has claimed responsibility for more than 100 attacks that have killed 22 people and wounded scores of others, yet there hadn't been a single arrest in 26 years.
Then, in June, police caught a break. A bomb accidentally exploded in Piraeus, the port of Athens, gravely injuring the man carrying it. Tips poured in, and over the next several weeks police raided November 17 hideouts, seized weapons and charged at least 10 people with involvement in the group. A senior Western diplomatic official posted in Athens also points approvingly to the government's plan to deploy at least 7,000 armed troops in the streets during the Games. "The public reaction to that announcement was silence," he says. "Given the aversion of the average citizen here to anything that smacks of the junta, that was a big, big sign. But then this is a post-9/11 Olympics, and 9/11 changed the way all of us look at the world. Plus, people take a lot of pride in being Greek. They want to look good in the eyes of the world."
Those in the security field believe that no group poses a greater threat to the 2004 Olympics than al-Qaeda. Many experts suspect that "Afghan alumni" have joined up with al-Qaeda cells in Albania, the anarchic, predominantly Muslim nation that abuts Greece to the north. The challenge will be to secure a country that has long been a transfer point between Europe and the Middle East -- to protect not only Greece's rugged mountain borders, but also thousands of miles of coastline and hundreds of ports. As one Israeli counterterrorism expert puts it, "It's so much easier to bounce from the Middle East to a barren island in Greece and then make your way to Athens than to travel halfway around the globe to prepare for an attack in Sydney."
The concrete structures of Athens' Olympic Village are sprouting at the base of Mount Parnis, on the northern edge of the city. Builders and suppliers desperately try to keep to a schedule, despite several work stoppages and four on-the-job deaths. Most of the 2,300 workers on the site are Greek, but scores of them aren't. "We don't screen everyone," says Katerina Barbosa, an official with the private company building the Village. "But at this point we have nothing to fear. By the end of the year this will be a very secure place."
Sieber is out of the business of tabletopping the Olympics and refuses to talk specifically about Athens. But he brings up one of his 30-year-old scenarios, one that might give Greek organizers pause, especially in light of the dynamite and hand grenade discovered early this month buried next to the 1896 Olympic stadium, which is slated to be used as a venue in 2004. "[The Basque separatist group] ETA is very patient," Sieber says, his imagination vivid as ever. "They pick out a man they want to kill. They send one of their operatives, disguised as a worker, to the construction site for his new home and plant a bomb. For several years they do nothing. Then one morning, perhaps after he is married, with a family, they detonate it by radio. He finds himself up in the sky."
All the attacks were brutal and on innocent civilians.
I too shall celebrate when Araft is dead and buried.
He also tried to free sir han sirhan for some reason.
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