By Mitchell Bard
It was 4:30 in the morning on Sept. 5, 1972, when five Arab terrorists wearing track sweat suits climbed the six-foot six-inch fence surrounding the Olympic Village. Although they were seen by several people, no one thought anything was unusual since athletes routinely hopped the fence; moreover, the terrorists' weapons were hidden in athletic bags. These five were met by three more men who are presumed to have obtained credentials to enter the village.
Just before 5, the Arabs knocked on the door of Israeli wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg. When Weinberg opened the door he realized something was wrong and shouted a warning to his comrades. He and weightlifter Joseph Romano attempted to block the door while other Israelis escaped, but they were killed by the terrorists. The Arabs then succeeded in rounding up nine Israelis to hold as hostages.
At 9:30, the terrorists announced that they were Palestinians and demanded that Israel release 200 Arab prisoners and that the terrorists be given safe passage out of Germany.
After hours of tense negotiations, the Palestinians, who it was later learned belonged to a PLO faction called Black September, agreed to a plan whereby they were to be taken by helicopter to the NATO air base at Firstenfeldbruck where they would be given an airplane to fly them and their hostages to Cairo. The Israelis were then taken by bus to the helicopters and flown to the airfield. In the course of the transfer, the Germans discovered that there were eight terrorists instead of the five they expected and realized that they had not assigned enough marksmen to carry out the plan to kill the terrorists at the airport.
After the helicopters landed at the air base around 10:30 p.m., the German sharpshooters attempted to kill the terrorists and a bloody firefight ensued. At 11, the media was mistakenly informed that the hostages had been saved and the news was announced to a relieved Israeli public. Almost an hour later, however, new fighting broke out and one of the helicopters holding the Israelis was blown up by a terrorist grenade. The remaining hostages in the second helicopter were shot to death by one of the surviving terrorists.
At 3 a.m., a drawn and teary-eyed Jim McKay, who had been reporting the drama throughout the day as part of ABC's Olympic coverage, announced: "They're all gone."
Five of the terrorists were killed along with one policeman, and three were captured. A little over a month later, on Oct. 29, a Lufthansa jet was hijacked by terrorists demanding that the Munich killers be released.
The Germans capitulated and the terrorists were let go, but an Israeli assassination squad was assigned to track them down along with those responsible for planning the massacre. According to George Jonas in Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team, eight of the 11 men targeted for death were killed. Of the remaining three, one died of natural causes and the other two were assassinated, but it is not known for sure if they were killed by Israeli agents.
Meanwhile, the mastermind of the massacre remains at large. In fact, in 1999, Abu Daoud admitted his role in his autobiography, Memoirs of a Palestinian Terrorist. He claims his commandos never intended to harm the athletes and blamed their deaths on the German police and the stubbornness of then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (JTA, May 4, 1999).
The massacre of 11 Israeli athletes was not considered sufficiently serious to merit canceling or postponing the Olympics. "Incredibly, they're going on with it," Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times wrote at the time. "It's almost like having a dance at Dachau."
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