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Monday, February 6th, 2023

From the Archives, 1972: Terror at the Munich Olympic Games

MUNICH, September 5. — An Arab commando group armed with machine-guns this morning invaded the Israeli quarters at the Olympic Village, killing one team member, wounding another, and taking at least 13 hostages.

The guerrillas, who also carried boxes of explosives, threatened to kill all their hostages unless 200 Arab terrorists held in Israel were released.

They also demanded safe passage out of West Germany in an “Arab airliner”.

They rejected a West German offer of an “unlimited amount of money” for the release of their hostages and reaffirmed their demands.

The Arabs originally placed a noon (9 p.m. Melbourne time) deadline on their demands, but this passed without incident as negotiations between the terrorists and West German authorities continued.

Later, the deadline was extended to 5 p.m. (2 a.m. Wednesday Melbourne time).

They also threatened to shoot one hostage every two hours alter the new deadline If their demands were not met.

There was speculation that the Games would be called off but the President of the National Olympic Commune (Mr. Willi Daume) said later that they would continue. “The insane crime of last – night will meet with abhorrence all over the world,” he said.

Arab terrorists hold Israeli hostage in the Olympic village during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.Credit:Russell McPhedran

“But the Olympic committee believes peace is stronger than political, fanatical murder.”

Negotiations with the guerrillas were being conducted by Munich police chief Manfred Schreiber and the Mayor of the Olympic Village, Walther Troeger.

The West German Minister of the Interior was on his way to Munich to join the negotiations.

Allowed to go

Between eight and 10 Arabs — all members of the Palestinian “Black September” organisation —were believed to be Involved in the raid.

The commandos struck shortly after 5 a.m. after climbing the fence around the village.

They first burst into the quarters of the Hong Kong and Uruguayan teams, but were allowed to leave.

One man, identified as wrestling coach Moshe Weinberger, 32, was shot dead as the guerrillas moved into the Israeli section.

Another Israeli, a man, was shot during the invasion, but the commandos would not allow him to be removed from the building for treatment.

A postman who left the village at 430 a.m. said he had seen “two groups of four or five men each” lumping the fence around the living quarters.

Commenting on the postman’s report, an official said: “We didn’t pay much attention to it. We thought these were some athletes coming home a bit late and having some fun”.

Guards on all gates were trebled to prevent movement In and out of the village.

Hundreds of police swarmed into the village after the first report of the shooting and all athletes were told to stay in their quarters.

Others who had left the village on training runs were refused permission to return.

Australian runner Cheryl Peasley was forcibly ejected when she tried to enter the Village.

Miss Peasley, 21-year-old university student from Fairfield, NSW, walked up to the main gate with her father, Bruce Paisley.

One of the guards shoved Miss Peasley, grabbed the Olympic identification tag pinned to her blouse and tore it off.

Miss Peasley who, at 5 ft. 9 ½ in., was nearly as tall as the guard, promptly grabbed the tag back. The guard then shut her and Mr. Peasley outside the gate.

Miss Peasley was wearing a “civilian- skirt and blouse, not her Olympic uniform tracksuit. The brown-haired Sydney girl was distraught and nearly in tears after the Incident.

West German police captain Joseph Kisler said police had spoken to the Arabs through loud hailers asking them to let the hostages go.

“But they are not interested in talking,” he said.

“They want all the police in uniform and plain clothes to get out of the building,” he said.

The body of Israeli who was killed, Moshe Weinberger, was taken away in an ambulance.

An Israeli journalist said Weinberger was in bed when he was shot.

He said that among the hostages being held by the guerrillas were wrestlers, one swimmer, two fencers, three coaches, a doctor and the chef d’mission.

Unofficial sources said it was the first time in the history of modern Olympics that the Games had been marred by either political assassination or kidnapping.

Despite the extra security guards, there was a mood of calm inside the village itself.

Athletes walked and chatted, toted canoe paddles over their shoulders and listened to polka music over the village’s loudspeaker system while police bargained for the lives of the Israeli competitors.

The Lebanese team immediately took precautionary measures. No team member would walk alone – but only in groups of threes. Identification badges were hidden.

A member of the Syrian squad said: “We only know what we have seen on television. The German authorities are trying to sort out the matter.”

An Egyptian official said: “We have no relation with what these people are doing. As far as we are concerned, the Olympic Games are a sporting occasion, and have nothing to do with politics.”

Ace American swimmer Mark Spitz, who is Jewish, was guarded by West German soldiers when he arrived at a press conference at the Olympic Press Centre, about half a mile from the village today.

Spitz, 22, from Carmichael in California, appeared reluctant to go through with the press conference, organised after his 100 metres victory on Sunday night, and would not stand in front of a bank of microphones.

When asked why Spitz, wedged between American team officials, would not move closer to the microphones, press-liaison chiefs said it was because of the incident in the village.

It seemed likely that security chiefs had ordered Spitz, the winner of seven gold medals, to stay in the background.

When asked about the shootings, Spitz said: “I think it is very tragic. I have no other comment to make.”

Events went on as scheduled today.

The first events, canoeing and equestrian, were underway even as Mr. Schreiber was negotiating with two dark-haired men outside the Israeli building.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli Prime Minister (Mrs. Meir) called an emergency cabinet meeting.

In the past, the Israeli Government has refused to do a deal with kidnappers or hijackers holding hostages against the release of guerrilla prisoners.

But on at least two occasions the Israelis have freed Arab prisoners in exchange for Israelis seized by commando groups.

In December, 1969, Fatah guerrillas kidnapped an Israeli watchman in northern Israel. He was exchanged about a year later for a guerrilla captured in 1965.

In August 1969, the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked and American airliner to Syria.

The passengers included four Israeli women and two men. The women were allowed to fly out but the men were held for three months before being exchanged for 13 Syrians held in Israel.

The men behind the Munich killings

The “Black September” group of Arab guerrillas took its name from the month of September 1970, when fierce fighting between the troops of King Hussein of Jordan and Palestinian guerrillas plunged Jordan into civil war.

But it was not until the following year that the extremist group was actually formed.

It arose out of the big onslaught that Hussein’s army launched against the guerrillas in their new positions on the heights over the Jordan Valley. This was in July, 1971. The guerrilla casualties were huge. Many of the leaders were taken to the Jordan capital, Amman, as prisoners and executed.

Among them was the guerrilla field commander, Abu Ali Iyad, the hero of many of the more youthful Palestinian fighters.

It was when they learned of his death that they formed the new movement with its members sworn to make any kind of suicidal attack under the banner of “freedom for Palestine”.

Their first act, which revealed their existence to the outside world, was the assassination of Jordan’s Prime Minister, Wasfi Tal, as he was entering the Sheraton luxury Hotel in Cairo while attending an Arab defence council meeting.

Wasfi Tal was alleged to have been responsible for the execution of Abu Iyad. Abu had, before his capture, told his followers that should he die then Wasfi Tal must be killed in revenge.