The Munich massacre was an attack during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, at which eleven Israeli Olympic team members were taken hostage and eventually killed, along with a German police officer, by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. Shortly after the crisis began, they demanded 234 prisoners jailed in Israel and the German-held founders of the Red Army Faction (Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof) be released. Black September called the operation “Iqrit and Biram”, after two Palestinian Christian villages whose inhabitants were expelled by the IDF in 1948.
Unlike most modern terrorism in the Middle East, the attack was motivated by secular nationalism, with the commander of the terrorist group having been born to Jewish and Christian parents. German neo-Nazis gave the attackers logistical assistance. Police officers killed five of the eight Black September members during a failed rescue attempt. They captured the three survivors, whom West Germany later released following a Lufthansa airliner hijacking in October. Mossad responded to the release with Operation “Spring of Youth” and Operation “Wrath of God”, tracking down and killing Palestinians suspected of involvement in the massacre.
At the time of the hostage-taking, the 1972 Munich Olympic Games were well into their second week. The West German Olympic Organizing Committee had hoped to discard the military image of Germany. The Committee was wary of the image portrayed by the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler used for his benefit. The documentary film One Day in September claims that security in the athletes’ village was unfit for the Games and that athletes could come and go as they pleased. Athletes could sneak past security, and go to other countries’ rooms, by going over the fencing that encompassed the village.
The absence of armed personnel had worried Israeli delegation head Shmuel Lalkin even before his team arrived in Munich. In later interviews with journalists Serge Groussard and Aaron Klein, Lalkin said that he had also expressed concern with the relevant authorities about his team’s lodgings. The team was housed in a relatively isolated part of the Olympic Village, on the ground floor of a small building close to a gate, which Lalkin felt made his team particularly vulnerable to an outside assault. The West German authorities apparently assured Lalkin that extra security would be provided to look after the Israeli team, but Lalkin doubts that these additional measures were ever taken.
Olympic organizers asked West German forensic psychologist Georg Sieber to create 26 terrorism scenarios to aid the organizers in planning security. His “Situation 21” accurately forecast armed Palestinians invading the Israeli delegation’s quarters, killing and taking hostages, and demanding Israel’s release of prisoners and a plane to leave West Germany. Organizers balked against preparing for Situation 21 and the other scenarios, since guarding the Games against them would have gone against the goal of “Carefree Games” without heavy security.
– Accusation of German knowledge of the attack
The German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel wrote in a cover story in 2012 that the West German authorities had a tip-off from a Palestinian informant in Beirut three weeks before the massacre. The informant told West Germany that Palestinians were planning an “incident” at the Olympic Games, and the Foreign Ministry in Bonn viewed the tip-off seriously enough to pass it on to the secret service in Munich and urge that “all possible security measures” be taken. However, according to Der Spiegel, the authorities failed to act on the tip, and have never acknowledged it in the following 40 years. The magazine further adds that this is only part of a 40-year cover-up by the German authorities of the mishandling of the massacre.
On Monday evening, 4 September, the Israeli athletes enjoyed a night out, watching a performance of Fiddler on the Roof and dining with the play’s star, Israeli actor Shmuel Rodensky, before returning to the Olympic Village. On the return trip in the team bus, Lalkin denied his 13-year-old son, who had befriended weightlifter Yossef Romano and wrestler Eliezer Halfin, permission to spend the night in their apartment—an innocent refusal that probably saved the boy’s life.
At 4:30 am local time on 5 September, as the athletes slept, eight tracksuit-clad members of the Black September faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, carrying duffel bags loaded with AKM assault rifles, Tokarev pistols, and grenades, scaled a 2-metre (6 1⁄2 ft) chain-link fence with the assistance of unsuspecting athletes who were also sneaking into the Olympic Village. The athletes were originally identified as Americans, but were claimed to be Canadians decades later. Once inside, they used stolen keys to enter two apartments being used by the Israeli team at Connollystraße 31.
Yossef Gutfreund, a wrestling referee, was awakened by a faint scratching noise at the door of Apartment 1, which housed the Israeli coaches and officials. When he investigated, he saw the door begin to open and masked men with guns on the other side. He shouted a warning to his sleeping roommates and threw his nearly 300 lb. (135 kg) weight against the door in a futile attempt to stop the intruders from forcing their way in. Gutfreund’s actions gave his roommate, weightlifting coach Tuvia Sokolovsky, enough time to smash a window and escape. Wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg fought the intruders, who shot him through his cheek and then forced him to help them find more hostages. Leading the intruders past Apartment 2, Weinberg lied by telling them that the residents of the apartment were not Israelis. Instead, Weinberg led them to Apartment 3; there, the gunmen corralled six wrestlers and weightlifters as additional hostages. It is possible that Weinberg had hoped that the stronger men would have a better chance of fighting off the attackers, but they were all surprised in their sleep.
As the athletes from Apartment 3 were marched back to the coaches’ apartment, the wounded Weinberg again attacked the gunmen, allowing one of his wrestlers, Gad Tsobari, to escape via the underground parking garage. Weinberg knocked one of the intruders unconscious and slashed another with a fruit knife before being shot to death. Weightlifter Yossef Romano, a veteran of the Six-Day War, also attacked and wounded one of the intruders before being shot and killed. In its publication of December 1, 2015, the New York Times reported that Yossef Romano was castrated after he was shot.
The gunmen were left with nine hostages. They were, in addition to Gutfreund, sharpshooting coach Kehat Shorr, track and field coach Amitzur Shapira, fencing master Andre Spitzer, weightlifting judge Yakov Springer, wrestlers Eliezer Halfin and Mark Slavin, and weightlifters David Berger and Ze’ev Friedman. Berger was an expatriate American with dual citizenship; Slavin, at 18 the youngest of the hostages, had only arrived in Israel from the Soviet Union four months before the Olympic Games began. Gutfreund, physically the largest of the hostages, was bound to a chair (Groussard describes him as being tied up like a mummy); the rest were lined up four apiece on the two beds in Springer and Shapira’s room, and bound at the wrists and ankles and then to each other. Romano’s bullet-riddled corpse was left at his bound comrades’ feet as a warning. Several of the hostages were beaten during the stand-off, with some suffering broken bones as a result.
Of the other members of Israel’s team, racewalker Professor Shaul Ladany had been jolted awake in Apartment 2 by Gutfreund’s screams. He jumped from the second-story balcony of his room and fled to the American dormitory, awakening U.S. track coach Bill Bowerman and informing him of the attack. Ladany was the first person to spread the alert as to the attack. The other four residents of Apartment 2 (sharpshooters Henry Hershkowitz and Zelig Shtroch, and fencers Dan Alon and Yehuda Weisenstein), plus chef de mission Shmuel Lalkin and the two team doctors, managed to hide and later fled the besieged building. The two female members of Israel’s Olympic team, sprinter and hurdler Esther Shahamorov and swimmer Shlomit Nir, were housed in a separate part of the Olympic Village. Three more members of Israel’s Olympic team, two sailors and their manager, were housed in Kiel, 550 miles (900 km) from Munich.
The attackers were subsequently reported to be part of the Palestinian fedayeen from refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. They were identified as Luttif Afif (using the codename Issa), the leader (three of Issa’s brothers were also reportedly members of Black September, two of them in Israeli jails), his deputy Yusuf Nazzal (Tony), and junior members Afif Ahmed Hamid (Paolo), Khalid Jamal (Salah), Ahmed Chic Thaa (Abu Halla), Mohammed Safady (Badran), Adnan Al-Gashey (Denawi), and his cousin Jamal Al-Gashey (Samir). According to author Simon Reeve, Afif, Nazzal and one of their confederates had all worked in various capacities in the Olympic Village, and had spent a couple of weeks scouting out their potential target. A member of the Uruguayan Olympic delegation, which shared housing with the Israelis, claimed that he found Nazzal actually inside 31 Connollystraße less than 24 hours before the attack, but since he was recognized as a worker in the Village, nothing was thought of it at the time. The other members of the group entered Munich via train and plane in the days before the attack. All of the members of the Uruguay and Hong Kong Olympic teams, which also shared the building with the Israelis, were released unharmed during the crisis.
On 5 September, Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel, appealed to other countries to “save our citizens and condemn the unspeakable criminal acts committed.” She also stated that “if we [Israel] should give in, then no Israeli anywhere in the world shall feel that his life is safe … it’s blackmail of the worst kind.”
King Hussein of Jordan—the only leader of an Arab country to denounce the attack publicly—called it a “savage crime against civilization … perpetrated by sick minds.”
U.S. President Richard Nixon privately discussed a number of possible American responses, such as declaring a national day of mourning (favored by Secretary of State William P. Rogers), or having Nixon fly to the athletes’ funerals. Nixon and Henry Kissinger decided instead to press the United Nations to take steps against international terrorism.
The hostage-takers demanded the release of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel, along with two German terrorists held by the German penitentiary system, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, who were founders of the German Red Army Faction. The hostage-takers threw the body of Weinberg out the front door of the residence to demonstrate their resolve. Israel’s response was immediate and absolute: there would be no negotiation. Israel’s official policy at the time was to refuse to negotiate with terrorists under any circumstances, as according to the Israeli government such negotiations would give an incentive to future attacks. It has been claimed that the German authorities, under the leadership of Chancellor Willy Brandt and Minister for the Interior Hans-Dietrich Genscher, rejected Israel’s offer to send an Israeli special forces unit to Germany. The Bavarian interior minister Bruno Merk, who headed the crisis centre jointly with Genscher and Munich’s police chief Manfred Schreiber, denies that such an Israeli offer ever existed.
According to journalist John K. Cooley, the hostage situation presented an extremely difficult political situation for the Germans because the hostages were Jewish. Cooley reported that the Germans offered the Palestinians an unlimited amount of money for the release of the athletes, as well as the substitution by high-ranking Germans. However, the kidnappers refused both offers.
Munich police chief Manfred Schreiber and Bruno Merk, interior minister of Bavaria, negotiated directly with the kidnappers, repeating the offer of an unlimited amount of money. According to Cooley, the reply was that “money means nothing to us; our lives mean nothing to us.” Magdi Gohary and Mohammad Khadif, both Egyptian advisers to the Arab League, and A.D. Touny, an Egyptian member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also helped try to win concessions from the kidnappers, but to no avail. However, the negotiators apparently were able to convince the fedayeen that their demands were being considered, as Issa granted a total of five extensions to their deadlines. Elsewhere in the village, athletes carried on as normal, seemingly oblivious of the events unfolding nearby. The Games continued until mounting pressure on the IOC forced a suspension some 12 hours after the first athlete had been murdered. United States marathon runner Frank Shorter, observing the unfolding events from the balcony of his nearby lodging, was quoted as saying, “Imagine those poor guys over there. Every five minutes a psycho with a machine gun says, ‘Let’s kill ’em now,’ and someone else says, ‘No, let’s wait a while.’ How long could you stand that?”
At 4:30 pm, a squad of 38 German police was dispatched to the Olympic Village. Dressed in Olympic sweatsuits (some also wearing Stahlhelme and carrying Walther MP sub-machine guns), they were members of the German border-police, although according to former Munich policeman Heinz Hohensinn they were regular Munich police officers, with no experience in combat or hostage rescue. Their plan was to crawl down from the ventilation shafts and kill the terrorists. The police took up positions awaiting the codeword “Sunshine”, which upon hearing, they were to begin the assault. In the meantime, camera crews filmed the actions of the officers from the German apartments, and broadcast the images live on television. Thus, the terrorists were able to watch the police prepare to attack. Footage shows one of the kidnappers peering from the balcony door while one of the police officers stood on the roof less than 20 ft (6 m) from him. In the end, after Issa threatened to kill two of the hostages, the police retreated from the premises.
At one point during the crisis, the negotiators demanded direct contact with the hostages to satisfy themselves the Israelis were still alive. Fencing coach Andre Spitzer, who spoke fluent German, and shooting coach Kehat Shorr, the senior member of the Israeli delegation, had a brief conversation with German officials while standing at the second-floor window of the besieged building, with two kidnappers holding guns on them. When Spitzer attempted to answer a question, he was clubbed with the butt of an AK-47 in full view of international television cameras and pulled away from the window. A few minutes later, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Walter Tröger, the mayor of the Olympic Village, were briefly allowed into the apartments to speak with the hostages. Tröger spoke of being very moved by the dignity with which the Israelis held themselves, and that they seemed resigned to their fate. He also noticed that several of the hostages, especially Gutfreund, showed signs of having suffered physical abuse at the hands of the kidnappers, and that David Berger had been shot in his left shoulder. While being debriefed by the crisis team, Genscher and Tröger told them that they had seen “four or five” attackers inside the apartment. Crucially, these numbers were accepted as definitive.
While Genscher and Tröger were talking with the hostages, Kehat Shorr had told the Germans that the Israelis would not object to being flown to an Arab country, provided that strict guarantees for their safety were made by the Germans and whichever nation they landed in. At 6 pm Munich time, the Palestinians issued a new dictate, demanding transportation to Cairo.
– Ambush plan
The authorities feigned agreement to the Cairo demand (although Egyptian Prime Minister Aziz Sedki had already told the German authorities that the Egyptians did not wish to become involved in the hostage crisis). Two Bell UH-1 military helicopters were to transport the terrorists and hostages to nearby Fürstenfeldbruck, a NATO airbase. Initially, the perpetrators’ plan was to go to Riem, which was the international airport near Munich at the time, but the negotiators convinced them that Fürstenfeldbruck would be more practical. The authorities, who preceded the Black Septemberists and hostages in a third helicopter, had an ulterior motive: they planned an armed assault at the airport.
Realizing that the Palestinians and Israelis had to walk 200 metres through the underground garages to reach the helicopters, the German police saw another opportunity to ambush the perpetrators, and placed sharpshooters there. But Issa insisted on checking the route first. He and some other Palestinians walked pointing their AK-47s at Schreiber, Tröger and Genscher. At that time, the gunmen of the police were lying behind cars in the sidestreets, and when they approached the latter crawled away, making noise in the process. Thus the terrorists were immediately alerted of the dangerous presence, and they decided to use a bus instead of walking. The bus arrived at 10:00 pm and drove the contingent to the helicopters. Issa checked them with a flashlight before boarding in groups.
Five German soldiers were deployed around the airport in sniper roles—three on the roof of the control tower, one hidden behind a service truck and one behind a small signal tower at ground level. However, none of them had any special sniper training, nor any special weapon (being equipped with the H&K G3, the ordinary assault rifle of the German Armed Forces without optics or night vision devices). The soldiers were selected because they shot competitively on weekends. During a subsequent German investigation, an officer identified as “Sniper No. 2” stated: “I am of the opinion that I am not a sharpshooter.” The members of the crisis team—Schreiber, Genscher, Merk and Schreiber’s deputy Georg Wolf—supervised and observed the attempted rescue from the airport control tower. Cooley, Reeve and Groussard all place Mossad chief Zvi Zamir and Victor Cohen, one of Zamir’s senior assistants, at the scene as well, but as observers only. Zamir has stated repeatedly in interviews over the years that he was never consulted by the Germans at any time during the rescue attempt and that he thought that his presence actually made the Germans uncomfortable.
A Boeing 727 jet was positioned on the tarmac with sixteen German police inside dressed as flight crew. It was agreed that Issa and Tony would inspect the plane. The plan was that the Germans would overpower them as they boarded, giving the snipers a chance to kill the remaining terrorists at the helicopters. These were believed to number no more than two or three, according to what Genscher and Tröger had seen inside 31 Connollystraße. However, during the transfer from the bus to the helicopters, the crisis team discovered that there were actually eight of them.
At the last minute, as the helicopters were arriving at Fürstenfeldbruck, the German police aboard the airplane voted to abandon their mission, without consulting the central command. This left only the five sharpshooters to try to overpower a larger and more heavily armed group. At that point, Colonel Ulrich Wegener, Genscher’s senior aide and later the founder of the elite German counter-terrorist unit GSG 9, said “I’m sure this will blow the whole affair!”.
The helicopters landed just after 10:30 pm and the four pilots and six of the kidnappers emerged. While four of the Black September members held the pilots at gunpoint (breaking an earlier promise that they would not take any Germans hostage), Issa and Tony walked over to inspect the jet, only to find it empty. Realizing they had been lured into a trap, they sprinted back toward the helicopters. As they ran past the control tower, Sniper 3 took one last opportunity to eliminate Issa, which would have left the group leaderless. However, due to the poor lighting, he struggled to see his target and missed, hitting Tony in the thigh instead. Meanwhile, the German authorities gave the order for snipers positioned nearby to open fire, which occurred around 11:00 pm.
In the ensuing chaos, Ahmed Chic Thaa and Afif Ahmed Hamid, the two kidnappers holding the helicopter pilots, were killed while the remaining gunmen—possibly already wounded—scrambled to safety, returning fire from behind and beneath the helicopters, out of the snipers’ line of sight, shooting out many of the airport lights. A German policeman in the control tower, Anton Fliegerbauer, was killed by the gunfire. The helicopter pilots fled; the hostages, tied up inside the craft, could not. During the gun battle, the hostages secretly worked on loosening their bonds and teethmarks were found on some of the ropes after the gunfire had ended.
The Germans had not arranged for armored personnel carriers ahead of time and only at this point were they called in to break the deadlock. Since the roads to the airport had not been cleared, the carriers became stuck in traffic and finally arrived around midnight. With their appearance, the kidnappers felt the shift in the status quo, and possibly panicked at the thought of the failure of their operation. At four minutes past midnight of 6 September, one of them (likely Issa) turned on the hostages in the eastern helicopter and fired at them with a Kalashnikov assault rifle from point-blank range. Springer, Halfin and Friedman were killed instantly; Berger, shot twice in the leg, is believed to have survived the initial onslaught (as his autopsy later found that he had died of smoke inhalation). The attacker then pulled the pin on a hand grenade and tossed it into the cockpit; the ensuing explosion destroyed the helicopter and incinerated the bound Israelis inside.
Issa then dashed across the tarmac and began firing at the police, who killed him with return fire. Another, Khalid Jamal, attempted to escape and was gunned down by one of the snipers. What happened to the remaining hostages is still a matter of dispute. A German police investigation indicated that one of their snipers and a few of the hostages may have been shot inadvertently by the police. However, a Time Magazine reconstruction of the long-suppressed Bavarian prosecutor’s report indicates that a third kidnapper (Reeve identifies Adnan Al-Gashey) stood at the door of the western helicopter and raked the remaining five hostages with machine gun fire; Gutfreund, Shorr, Slavin, Spitzer and Shapira were shot an average of four times each. Of the four hostages in the eastern helicopter, only Ze’ev Friedman’s body was relatively intact; he had been blown clear of the helicopter by the explosion. In some cases, the exact cause of death for the hostages in the eastern helicopter was difficult to establish because the rest of the corpses were burned almost beyond recognition in the explosion and subsequent fire.
Three of the remaining men lay on the ground, one of them feigning death, and were captured by police. Jamal Al-Gashey had been shot through his right wrist, and Mohammed Safady had sustained a flesh wound to his leg. Adnan Al-Gashey had escaped injury completely. Tony escaped the scene, but was tracked down with police dogs 40 minutes later in an airbase parking lot. Cornered and bombarded with tear gas, he was shot dead after a brief gunfight. By around 1:30 am on September 6, the battle was over.
Initial news reports, published all over the world, indicated that all the hostages were alive, and that all the attackers had been killed. Only later did a representative for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suggest that “initial reports were overly optimistic.” Jim McKay, who was covering the Olympics that year for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), had taken on the job of reporting the events as Roone Arledge fed them into his earpiece. At 3:24 am, McKay received the official confirmation:
We just got the final word … you know, when I was a kid, my father used to say ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They’ve now said that there were eleven hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.
Several sources listed Ladany as having been killed. Ladany recalled later:
The impact did not hit me at the time, when we were in Munich. It was when we arrived back in Israel. At the airport in Lod there was a huge crowd—maybe 20,000, people—and each one of us, the survivors, stood by one of the coffins on the runway. Some friends came up to me and tried to kiss me and hug me as if I was almost a ghost that came back alive. It was then that I really grasped what had happened and the emotion hit me.
Author Simon Reeve, among others, writes that the shootout with the well-trained Black September members showed an egregious lack of preparation on the part of the German authorities. They were not prepared to deal with this sort of situation. This costly lesson led directly to the founding, less than two months later, of police counter-terrorism branch GSG 9.
The authors argue that German authorities made a number of mistakes. First, because of restrictions in the post-war West German constitution, the army could not participate in the attempted rescue, as the German armed forces are not allowed to operate inside Germany during peacetime. The responsibility was entirely in the hands of the Munich police and the Bavarian authorities.
It was known a half-hour before the hostages and kidnappers had even arrived at Fürstenfeldbruck that the number of the latter was larger than first believed. Despite this new information, Schreiber decided to continue with the rescue operation as originally planned and the new information could not reach the snipers since they had no radios. It is a basic tenet of sniping operations that there are enough snipers (at least two for each known target, or in this case a minimum of ten) deployed to neutralize as many of the attackers as possible with the first volley of shots. The 2006 National Geographic Channel’s Seconds From Disaster profile on the massacre stated that the helicopters were supposed to land sideways and to the west of the control tower, a maneuver which would have allowed the snipers clear shots into them as the kidnappers threw open the helicopter doors. Instead, the helicopters were landed facing the control tower and at the centre of the airstrip. This not only gave them a place to hide after the gunfight began, but put Snipers 1 and 2 in the line of fire of the other three snipers on the control tower. The snipers were denied valuable shooting opportunities as a result of the positioning of the helicopters, stacking the odds against what were effectively three snipers versus eight heavily armed gunmen.
According to the same program, the crisis committee delegated to make decisions on how to deal with the incident consisted of Bruno Merk (the Bavarian interior minister), Hans-Dietrich Genscher (the West German interior minister) and Manfred Schreiber (Munich’s Chief of Police); in other words, two politicians and one tactician. The program mentioned that a year before the Games, Schreiber had participated in another hostage crisis (a failed bank robbery) in which he ordered a marksman to shoot one of the perpetrators, managing only to wound the robber. As a result, the robbers shot an innocent woman dead. Schreiber was consequently charged with involuntary manslaughter. An investigation ultimately cleared him of any wrongdoing, but the program suggested that the prior incident affected his judgment in the subsequent Olympic hostage crisis.
As mentioned earlier, the five German snipers at Fürstenfeldbruck did not have radio contact with one another (nor with the German authorities conducting the rescue operation) and therefore were unable to coordinate their fire. The only contact the snipers had with the operational leadership was with Georg Wolf, who was lying next to the three snipers on the control tower giving orders directly to them. The two snipers at ground level had been given vague instructions to shoot when the other snipers began shooting, and were basically left to fend for themselves.
In addition, the snipers did not have the proper equipment for this hostage rescue operation. The Heckler & Koch G3 battle rifles used were considered by several experts to be inadequate for the distance at which the snipers were trying to shoot. The G3, the standard service rifle of the Bundeswehr at that time, had a 20-inch (510 mm) barrel; at the distances the snipers were required to shoot, a 27-inch (690 mm) barrel would have ensured far greater accuracy. None of the rifles were equipped with telescopic or infrared sights. Additionally, none of the snipers were equipped with a steel helmet or bullet-proof vest. No armored vehicles were at the scene at Fürstenfeldbruck, and were only called in after the gunfight was well underway.
There were also numerous tactical errors. As mentioned earlier, “Sniper 2”, who was stationed behind the signal tower, wound up directly in the line of fire of his fellow snipers on the control tower, without any protective gear and without any other police being aware of his location. Because of this, “Sniper 2” didn’t fire a single shot until late in the gunfight, when hostage-taker Khalid Jamal attempted to escape on foot and ran right at the exposed sniper. “Sniper 2” killed the fleeing perpetrator but was in turn badly wounded by a fellow police officer, who was unaware that he was shooting at one of his own men. One of the helicopter pilots, Gunnar Ebel, was lying near “Sniper 2” and was also wounded by friendly fire. Both Ebel and the sniper recovered from their injuries.
Many of the errors made by the Germans during the rescue attempt were ultimately detailed by Heinz Hohensinn, who had participated in Operation Sunshine earlier that day. He stated in One Day in September that he had been selected to pose as a crew member. He and his fellow policemen understood that it was a suicide mission, so the group unanimously voted to flee the plane. None of them were reprimanded for that desertion.
The bodies of the five Palestinian attackers—Afif, Nazzal, Chic Thaa, Hamid and Jamal—killed during the Fürstenfeldbruck gun battle were delivered to Libya, where they received heroes’ funerals and were buried with full military honours. On 8 September, Israeli planes bombed ten PLO bases in Syria and Lebanon in response to the massacre. Up to 200 people were killed.
The three surviving Black September gunmen had been arrested after the Fürstenfeldbruck gunfight, and were being held in a Munich prison for trial. On 29 October, Lufthansa Flight 615 was hijacked and threatened to be blown up if the Munich attackers were not released. Safady and the Al-Gasheys were immediately released by West Germany, receiving a tumultuous welcome when they touched down in Libya and (as seen in One Day in September) giving their own firsthand account of their operation at a press conference broadcast worldwide.
The massacre prompted many European countries to establish permanent, professional, and immediately available counter-terrorism forces, or reorganize already existing units to such purpose. The massacre also prompted prominent arms designers and manufacturers to produce new types of weapons more suitable for counter-terrorism.
– Effect on the Games
In the wake of the hostage-taking, competition was eventually suspended for the first time in modern Olympic history, after public criticism of the Olympic Committee’s decision to continue the games. On 6 September, a memorial service attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes was held in the Olympic Stadium. IOC President Avery Brundage made little reference to the murdered athletes during a speech praising the strength of the Olympic movement and equating the attack on the Israeli sportsmen with the recent arguments about encroaching professionalism and disallowing Rhodesia’s participation in the Games, which outraged many listeners. The victims’ families were represented by Andre Spitzer’s widow Ankie, Moshe Weinberg’s mother, and a cousin of Weinberg, Carmel Eliash. During the memorial service, Eliash collapsed and died of a heart attack.
Many of the 80,000 people who filled the Olympic Stadium for West Germany’s football match with Hungary carried noisemakers and waved flags, but when several spectators unfurled a banner reading “17 dead, already forgotten?” security officers removed the sign and expelled those responsible from the grounds. During the memorial service, the Olympic Flag was flown at half-staff, along with the flags of most of the other competing nations at the request of Willy Brandt. Ten Arab nations objected to their flags being lowered to honor murdered Israelis; their flags were restored to the tops of their flagpoles almost immediately.
Willi Daume, president of the Munich organizing committee, initially sought to cancel the remainder of the Games, but in the afternoon Brundage and others who wished to continue the Games prevailed, stating that they could not let the incident halt the Games. Brundage stated “The Games must go on, and we must … and we must continue our efforts to keep them clean, pure and honest.” The decision was endorsed by the Israeli government and Israeli Olympic team chef de mission Shmuel Lalkin.
On 6 September, after the memorial service, the remaining members of the Israeli team withdrew from the Games and left Munich. All Jewish sportsmen were placed under guard. Mark Spitz, the American swimming star who had already completed his competitions, left Munich during the hostage crisis (it was feared that as a prominent Jew, Spitz might now be a kidnapping target). The Egyptian team left the Games on 7 September, stating they feared reprisals. The Philippine and Algerian teams also left the Games, as did some members of the Dutch and Norwegian teams. American marathon runner Kenny Moore, who wrote about the incident for Sports Illustrated, quoted Dutch distance runner Jos Hermens as saying “It’s quite simple. We were invited to a party, and if someone comes to the party and shoots people, how can you stay?” Many athletes, dazed by the tragedy, similarly felt that their desire to compete had been destroyed, although they stayed at the Games.
Four years later at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, the Israeli team commemorated the massacre: when they entered the stadium at the Opening Ceremony, their national flag was adorned with a black ribbon.
The families of some victims have asked the IOC to establish a permanent memorial to the athletes. The IOC has declined, saying that to introduce a specific reference to the victims could “alienate other members of the Olympic community,” according to the BBC. Alex Gilady, an Israeli IOC official, told the BBC: “We must consider what this could do to other members of the delegations that are hostile to Israel.”
The IOC rejected an international campaign in support of a minute of silence at the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics in honour of the Israeli victims on the 40th anniversary of the massacre. Jacques Rogge, the IOC President, said it would be “inappropriate”. Speaking of the decision, Olympian Shaul Ladany, who survived the attack, commented: “I do not understand. I do not understand, and I do not accept it.”
In 2014 the International Olympic Committee agreed to contribute $250,000 towards a memorial to the murdered Israeli athletes.
There is a memorial outside the Olympic stadium in Munich in the form of a stone tablet at the bridge linking the stadium to the former Olympic village. There is also a memorial tablet to the slain Israelis outside the front door of their former lodging at 31 Connollystraße. On 15 October 1999 (almost a year before the Sydney 2000 Games), a memorial plaque was unveiled in one of the large light towers (Tower 14) outside the Sydney Olympic Stadium.
– Israeli response
Golda Meir and the Israeli Defense Committee secretly authorized the Mossad to track down and kill those allegedly responsible for the Munich massacre. The accusation that this was motivated by a desire for vengeance was disputed by Zvi Zamir, who described the mission as “putting an end to the type of terror that was perpetrated” (in Europe). To this end the Mossad set up a number of special teams to locate and kill these fedayeen, aided by the agency’s stations in Europe.
In a February 2006 interview, former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir answered direct questions:
[blockquote quote=”Was there no element of vengeance in the decision to take action against the terrorists? ‘No. We were not engaged in vengeance. We are accused of having been guided by a desire for vengeance. That is nonsense. What we did was to concretely prevent in the future. We acted against those who thought that they would continue to perpetrate acts of terror. I am not saying that those who were involved in Munich were not marked for death. They definitely deserved to die. But we were not dealing with the past; we concentrated on the future.’ Did you not receive a directive from Golda Meir along the lines of ‘take revenge on those responsible for Munich? ‘Golda abhorred the necessity that was imposed on us to carry out the operations. Golda never told me to ‘take revenge on those who were responsible for Munich.’ No one told me that.'”]
The Israeli mission later became known as Operation Wrath of God or Mivtza Za’am Ha’El. Reeve quotes General Aharon Yariv—who, he writes, was the general overseer of the operation—as stating that after Munich the Israeli government felt it had no alternative but to exact justice.
[blockquote quote=”We had no choice. We had to make them stop, and there was no other way … we are not very proud about it. But it was a question of sheer necessity. We went back to the old biblical rule of an eye for an eye … I approach these problems not from a moral point of view, but, hard as it may sound, from a cost-benefit point of view. If I’m very hard-headed, I can say, what is the political benefit in killing this person? Will it bring us nearer to peace? Will it bring us nearer to an understanding with the Palestinians or not? In most cases I don’t think it will. But in the case of Black September we had no other choice and it worked. Is it morally acceptable? One can debate that question. Is it politically vital? It was.”]
Benny Morris writes that a target list was created using information from “turned” PLO personnel and friendly European intelligence services. Once completed, a wave of assassinations of suspected Black September operatives began across Europe.
On 9 April 1973, Israel launched Operation “Spring of Youth”, a joint Mossad-IDF operation in Beirut. The targets were Mohammad Yusuf al-Najjar (Abu Yusuf), head of Fatah’s intelligence arm, which ran Black September, according to Morris; Kamal Adwan, who headed the PLO’s so-called Western Sector, which controlled PLO action inside Israel; and Kamal Nassir, the PLO spokesman. A group of Sayeret commandos were taken in nine missile boats and a small fleet of patrol boats to a deserted Lebanese beach, before driving in two cars to downtown Beirut, where they killed Najjar, Adwan and Nassir. Two further detachments of commandos blew up the PFLP’s headquarters in Beirut and a Fatah explosives plant. The leader of the commando team that conducted the operations was Ehud Barak.
On 21 July 1973, in the so-called Lillehammer affair, a team of Mossad agents mistakenly killed Ahmed Bouchiki, a Moroccan man unrelated to the Munich attack, in Lillehammer, Norway, after an informant mistakenly said Bouchiki was Ali Hassan Salameh, the head of Force 17 and a Black September operative. Five Mossad agents, including two women, were captured by the Norwegian authorities, while others managed to slip away. The five were convicted of the killing and imprisoned, but were released and returned to Israel in 1975. The Mossad later found Ali Hassan Salameh in Beirut and killed him on 22 January 1979 with a remote-controlled car bomb. The attack killed four passersby and injured 18 others. According to CIA officer Duane “Dewey” Claridge, chief of operations of the CIA Near East Division from 1975 to 1978, in mid-1976, Salameh offered Americans assistance and protection with Arafat’s blessings during the American embassy pull-out from Beirut during the down-spiraling chaos of the Lebanese Civil War. There was a general feeling that Americans could be trusted. However, the scene of cooperation came to an end abruptly after the assassination of Salameh. Americans were generally blamed as Israel’s principal benefactors.
Simon Reeve writes that the Israeli operations continued for more than twenty years. He details the assassination in Paris in 1992 of Atef Bseiso, the PLO’s head of intelligence, and says that an Israeli general confirmed there was a link back to Munich. Reeve also writes that while Israeli officials have stated Operation Wrath of God was intended to exact vengeance for the families of the athletes killed in Munich, “few relatives wanted such a violent reckoning with the Palestinians.” Reeve states the families were instead desperate to know the truth of the events surrounding the Munich massacre. Reeve outlines what he sees as a lengthy cover-up by German authorities to hide the truth. After a lengthy court fight, in 2004 the families of the Munich victims reached a settlement of €3 million with the German government.
– Alleged German cover-up
An article in 2012 in a front-page story of the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that much of the information pertaining to the mishandling of the massacre was covered up by the German authorities. For twenty years, Germany refused to release any information about the attack and did not accept responsibility for the results. The magazine reported that the government had been hiding 3,808 files, which contained tens of thousands of documents. Der Spiegel said it obtained secret reports by authorities, embassy cables, and minutes of cabinet meetings that demonstrate the lack of professionalism of the German officials in handling the massacre. The newspaper also wrote that the German authorities were told that Palestinians were planning an “incident” at the Olympics three weeks before the massacre, but failed to take the necessary security measures, and these facts are missing from the official documentation of the German government.
In August 2012, Der Spiegel reported that following the massacre, Germany began secret meetings with Black September, at the behest of the West German government, due to the fear that Black September would carry out other terrorist attacks in Germany. The government proposed a clandestine meeting between German Foreign Minister Walter Scheel and a member of Black September to create a “new basis of trust.” In return for an exchange of the political status of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO would stop terrorist attacks on German soil. When French police arrested Abu Daoud, one of the chief organizers of the Munich massacre, and inquired about extraditing him to Germany, Germany’s justice secretary Alfred Seidl (de) recommended that Germany should not take any action, causing the French to release Abu Daoud and the Assad regime to shelter him until he died at a Damascus hospital in 2010.
Two of the three surviving gunmen, Mohammed Safady and Adnan Al-Gashey, were allegedly killed by Mossad as part of Operation Wrath of God. Al-Gashey was allegedly located after making contact with a cousin in a Gulf State, and Safady was found by remaining in touch with family in Lebanon. This account was challenged in a book by Aaron Klein, who claims that Al-Gashey died of heart failure in the 1970s, and that Safady was killed by Christian Phalangists in Lebanon in the early 1980s. However, in July 2005, PLO veteran Tawfiq Tirawi told Klein that Safady, whom Tirawi claimed as a close friend, was “as alive as you are.”
– Jamal Al-Gashey
Jamal Al-Gashey was known to be alive as of 1999, hiding in North Africa or in Syria, claiming to still fear retribution from Israel. 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, during which he was disguised and his face shown only in blurry shadow.
– Abu Daoud
Of those believed to have planned the massacre, only Abu Daoud, the man who claims that the attack was his idea, is known to have died of natural causes. Historical documents released to Der Spiegel by the German secret service show that Dortmund police had been aware of collaboration between Abu Daoud and neo-Nazi Willi Pohl (de) (aka E. W. Pless and, since 1979, officially named Willi Voss) seven weeks before the attack. In January 1977, Abu Daoud was intercepted by French police in Paris while traveling from Beirut under an assumed name. Under protest from the PLO, Iraq, and Libya, who claimed that because Abu Daoud was traveling to a PLO comrade’s funeral he should receive diplomatic immunity, the French government refused a West German extradition request on grounds that forms had not been filled in properly, and put him on a plane to Algeria before Germany could submit another request. On 27 July 1981, he was shot 5 times from a distance of around two meters in a Warsaw Victoria (now Sofitel) hotel coffee shop, but survived the attack, chasing his would-be assassin down to the coffee shop’s front entrance before collapsing;
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 its charter that called for Israel’s eradication. In his autobiography, From Jerusalem to Munich, first published in France in 1999, and later in a written interview with Sports Illustrated, Abu Daoud wrote that funds for Munich were provided by Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the PLO since 11 November 2004 and President of the Palestinian National Authority since 15 January 2005.
Though he claims he didn’t know what the money was being spent for, longtime Fatah official Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, was responsible for the financing of the Munich attack.
Abu Daoud believes that if the Israelis knew that Mahmoud Abbas was the financier of the operation, the 1993 Oslo Accords would not have been achieved, during which Mahmoud Abbas was seen in photo ops at the White House.
Abu Daoud, who lived with his wife on a pension provided by the Palestinian Authority, said that “the Munich operation had the endorsement of Arafat,” although Arafat was not involved in conceiving or implementing the attack.” In his autobiography, Abu Daoud writes that Arafat saw the team off on the mission with the words “God protect you.”
Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre, declined several offers to meet with Abu Daoud, saying that the only place she wants to meet him is in a courtroom. According to Spitzer, “He [Abu Daoud] didn’t pay the price for what he did.” In 2006, during the release of Steven Spielberg’s film, Munich, Der Spiegel interviewed Abu Daoud regarding the Munich massacre. He was quoted as saying: “I regret nothing. You can only dream that I would apologize.”
Daoud died of kidney failure aged 73 on 3 July 2010 in Damascus, Syria.
List of fatalities
– Shot during the initial break-in
Moshe Weinberg, wrestling coach
Yossef Romano, weightlifter
– Shot and killed by grenade in eastern-side helicopter D-HAQO
According to the order in which they were seated, from left to right:
Ze’ev Friedman, weightlifter
David Berger, weightlifter (survived grenade but died of smoke inhalation)
Yakov Springer, weightlifting judge
Eliezer Halfin, wrestler
– Shot in western-side helicopter D-HAQU
According to the order in which they were seated, from left to right:
Yossef Gutfreund, wrestling referee
Kehat Shorr, shooting coach
Mark Slavin, wrestler
Andre Spitzer, fencing coach
Amitzur Shapira, track coach
– Shot on airstrip
Anton Fliegerbauer, German police officer
– Palestinians shot dead by German police
Luttif Afif (“Issa”)
Yusuf Nazzal (“Tony”)
Afif Ahmed Hamid (“Paolo”)
Khalid Jamal (“Salah”)
Ahmed Chic Thaa (“Abu Halla”)