Here's my summary of significant past events for this week. This week saw two of the most important acts of 20th century terrorism: the Munich Olympic Massacre in 1972, and the 'Dawson's Field' airliner skyjacking in 1970.
1997 (Israel) – Three coordinated suicide bombings in the center of Jerusalem killed eight persons and wounded over 150. The bombs were packed with nails to cause maximum casualties. HAMAS was responsible, and evidently intended the attacks to derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that were then underway.
1986 (Pakistan) – A Pan Am Boeing 747 was seized on the ground in Karachi, leading to a 16-hour siege and the death of 22 people. The attack began when five gunmen disguised as security guards boarded the Bombay-to-New York flight at Karachi Airport and immediately opened fire. Some of the passengers escaped down the plane's emergency chutes and the flight crew escaped from the cockpit, but the remaining passengers were held hostage when Pakistani Army troops arrived, about ten minutes after the firing began.
All the attackers were captured alive, and they later admitted to being members of the Palestinian Abu Nidal Organization (ANO). All the attackers were sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment. Pakistan released the leader of the attack, Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini in September 2001, but he was recaptured by the U.S. in 2004, convicted of air piracy, and sentenced to a 160-year prison term. A message Al Safarini delivered to a Pakistani journalist who covered his trial stated that the motive behind the hijacking was to use the aircraft as a missile to hit the Israeli defense ministry.
1975 (United Kingdom) – Two people were killed and 63 injured when an IRA bomb exploded in the lobby of the Hilton hotel in central London. A warning that a device would detonate at the hotel within 10 minutes was received by the Daily Mail newspaper, and the newspaper notified Scotland Yard which immediately sent three officers to investigate, but they were not able to evacuate the building before the bomb exploded.
1972 (West Germany) – The Munich Olympic Massacre began when eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist organization ‘Black September’ [a name used by Yasser Arafat’s Al Fatah organization to create deniability]. The incident, which was perhaps the most significant terrorist act of the late 20th century, ended with all the athletes and one German police officer killed, and three surviving hostage-takers captured but later released by Germany in exchange for a hijacked Lufthansa airliner.
The terrorists demanded the release of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel, along with two German prisoners who were members of the Red Army Faction. Israel refused to negotiate, but offered to send response forces to Munich, an offer the German authorities declined. The genius of this terrorist action was that it played upon the extremely difficult political situation it created for the Germans, who were caught between their obligation to protect Jewish hostages and their inability to effectively deal with modern terrorism under the glare of the world’s news media. The authorities offered the Palestinians an unlimited amount of money for the release of the athletes, as well as the substitution of high-ranking Germans for the hostages, but the terrorists refused both offers. The Tunisian and Libyan ambassadors to Germany also tried to intercede with the kidnappers, unsuccessfully.
After intense negotiations, the terrorists demanded transportation to Cairo. The authorities feigned agreement and conveyed the terrorists and their hostages into two military helicopters which transported them to nearby Fürstenfeldbruck military airbase, where a Boeing 727 was staged and authorities planned an ambush. The disaster that followed has been blamed on: poor intelligence (the police discovered only during the transfer to the helicopters that there were eight terrorists rather than four or five, as they had believed), poor planning (the snipers were deployed where they could not see all sides of the helos) lack of specialized training and equipment (the five German police snipers had no particular training, used ordinary G3 military rifles, and had no body armor), and lack of centralized command (the police waiting inside the 727 voted to abandon the mission and left, without consulting their command authority).
When the terrorists discovered the 727 was empty they ran back to the helos, at which point the German authorities ordered the snipers to open fire. Two of the kidnappers were killed, but the remaining terrorists got to cover behind the helicopters – where they were out of the sniper’s line of sight – and returned fire, killing a policeman in the control tower. The German helicopter pilots fled, but the hostages, who were tied up inside the helos, could not.
A stand-off ensued for the next hour, then, at four minutes past midnight of September 6, one of the terrorists opened fire on the hostages and threw a hand grenade into one of the helicopters where they were held. Police and the remaining terrorists then engaged in a chaotic running battle across the airport. Three of the terrorists were captured alive on the tarmac. One escaped the scene, but was tracked with dogs to an airbase parking lot where he was killed.
The bodies of the five terrorists killed at Fürstenfeldbruck were delivered to Libya, where they were buried with military honors. On September 9, Israeli planes bombed Palestinian camps in Syria and Lebanon in retaliation. On October 29, a German Lufthansa passenger jet was hijacked, and the three surviving terrorists in German custody were released in exchange for the hostages.
The fate of the three Fürstenfeldbruck survivors is in dispute. The prevailing belief is that only one, Jamal Al-Gashey, is still alive today, but is living underground in fear of retribution. He is the only one of the surviving terrorists to consent to interviews since 1972, having granted an interview in 1992 to a Palestinian newspaper, and having briefly emerged from hiding in 1999 to participate in an interview for the film One Day in September.
Of those believed to have planned the Munich massacre, only Abu Daoud, the man who claims that the attack was his idea, is known to be alive and he is believed to be in hiding somewhere in the Middle East or Africa. On July 27, 1981, he was shot thirteen times from a distance of around two meters in the Warsaw Victoria (now Sofitel) hotel coffee shop, but survived. Abu Daoud was allowed safe passage through Israel in 1996 so he could attend a PLO meeting convened in the Gaza Strip for the purpose of rescinding an article in the PLO charter that called for Israel’s eradication. In his autobiography, From Jerusalem to Munich, first published in France in 1999 [later published in English as Memoirs of a Palestinian Terrorist], and in a written interview with Sports Illustrated, Abu Daoud wrote that funds for the Munich attack were provided by Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), Chairman of the PLO since 2004, and President of the Palestinian National Authority since 2005.
1977 (Germany) – Hanns Martin Schleyer, businessman and President of the Employers Association, was kidnapped in Cologne, West Germany, by the Red Army Faction. The attackers killed three escorting police officers and his chauffeur. He was later murdered after the imprisoned Red Army terrorists for whom he was to be exchanged committed suicide in prison. Schleyer was held for 43 days. His body was discovered in the town of Mulhouse, France.
Wednesday, September 6
1901 (United States) – Leon Czolgosz, an Anarchist, shot and fatally wounded U.S. President William McKinley at a reception line at the Pan-America Exposition in Buffalo, New York. His motives were ideological, although based on a primitive understanding of anarchism. Czolgosz claimed he had been incited to kill McKinley by the speeches of Emma Goldman, and she was arrested for questioning. Upon her release, Goldman stated: "He (Czolgosz) had committed the act for no personal reasons or gain. He did it for what is his ideal: the good of the people. That is why my sympathies are with him." Czolgosz was particularly inspired by the 1901 assassination of Italy’s King Umberto by the Italian-American Anarchist Gaetano Bresci. He kept news clippings of that assassination, and even bought the same type of revolver Breschi had used, a .32 caliber Iver-Johnson.
Czolgosz’s trial began and ended on September 23, 1901, in the Supreme Court building in Buffalo. The total elapsed time, from jury selection to verdict, was eight hours and 26 minutes. He was executed on October 20, just 45 days after the assassination. Before his execution, Czolgosz explained his motive thusly: "I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people - the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime."
It is perhaps indicative of the fear of anarchism in 1901, and its equation with an infectious disease, that prison authorities destroyed all trace of Czolgosz’s remains: his corpse was dissolved in acid, and his clothes and belongings were burned.
1970 (Jordan) – Four New York-bound airliners were hijacked over Europe in an unprecedented operation carried out by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Three of the aircraft were flown to Dawson’s Field in Jordan (re-named “Revolution Airstrip” during the incident) where the 382 passengers were held hostage for the release of three Arab dissidents. The fourth hijacking, on an El Al flight, was foiled by the pilots (who put the plane into a steep dive that knocked the hijackers off their feet), the passengers (who hit one of the hijackers in the head with a bottle) and on-board security personnel (who apprehended the two hijackers, killing one). The hijackers of the El Al flight had thought that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin would be on board.
The majority of the hostages were transferred to Amman and freed on September 11, but the PFLP segregated the flight crews and Jewish passengers, keeping 56 hostages in custody, and on September 12 used explosives to destroy the empty planes in front of the international news media. On September 30, the Kingdom of Jordan negotiated a deal in which the remaining hostages were released in exchange for Leila Khaled [the PFLP hijacker captured on the El Al flight and in custody in Britain] and three PFLP members in a Swiss jail.
Leila Khaled was born in 1944 in Haifa and had been employed as a teacher in Kuwait when she joined PFLP. She is currently a member of the Palestinian National Council. Khaled became something of a cult figure in Europe during the ‘70s and ‘80s, and returned to Britain many times as a popular speaker on Palestinian and leftist causes
The Dawson’s Field incident resulted in the initiation of aviation security measures in the U.S. On September 11, 1970, President Nixon began a crash program to address the problem of "air piracy" by immediately assigning 100 federal agents as armed air marshals on U.S. flights, and ordering the Defense and Transportation Departments to determine whether X-ray devices then available to the military could be used at civilian airports.
1986 (Chile) – General Augusto Pinochet, president of Chile, survived an assassination attempt. An ambush was set on the highway between Pinochet’s countryside estate and Santiago, catching him as he retuned to the Capitol. Twenty-one members of the armed branch of the Chilean Communist Party, the Patriotic Front Manuel Rodriguez (FPMR), fired on Pinochet's convoy with machine guns, rifles, rockets and hand grenades, killing five bodyguards and wounding eleven, but leaving the General with only a minor injury to one hand. The General’s armored Mercedes sedan withstood the attack and the driver managed to return to the President’s El Melocoton residence. The attack, which came shortly after the General announced his intention to remain in power, was the first attempt on his life and marked an escalation of resistance to his continued rule.