Massacre begins at Munich Olympics

Massacre begins at Munich Olympics

During the 1972 Summer Olympics at Munich, in the early morning of September 5, a group of Palestinian terrorists storms the Olympic Village apartment of the Israeli athletes, killing two and taking nine others hostage. The terrorists were part of a group known as Black September, in return for the release of the hostages, they demanded that Israel release over 230 Arab prisoners being held in Israeli jails and two German terrorists. In an ensuing shootout at the Munich airport, the nine Israeli hostages were killed along with five terrorists and one West German policeman. Olympic competition was suspended for 24 hours to hold memorial services for the slain athletes.

READ MORE: When World Events Disrupted the Olympics

The Munich Olympics opened on August 26, 1972, with 195 events and 7,173 athletes representing 121 countries. On the morning of September 5, Palestinian terrorists in ski masks ambushed the Israeli team. After negotiations to free the nine Israelis broke down, the terrorists took the hostages to the Munich airport. Once there, German police opened fire from rooftops and killed three of the terrorists. A gun battle erupted and left the hostages, two more Palestinians and a policeman dead.

After a memorial service was held for the athletes at the main Olympic stadium, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage ordered that the games continue, to show that the terrorists hadn’t won. Although the tragedy deeply marred the games, there were numerous moments of spectacular athletic achievement, including American swimmer Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals and teenage Russian gymnast Olga Korbut’s two dramatic gold-medal victories.

In the aftermath of the murders at the ’72 Olympics, the Israeli government, headed by Golda Meir, hired a group of Mossad agents to track down and kill the Black September assassins. The 2005 Stephen Spielberg movie Munich was based on these events.

How Accurate is Munich?

&ldquoThe world was watching in 1972 as 11 Israeli athletes were murdered at the Munich Olympics. This is the story of what happened next.&rdquo Thus begins the trailer for Steven Spielberg&rsquos recently Oscar-nominated film Munich. While this &ldquoinspired by a true story&rdquo movie, which covers the revenge missions the Mossad Israeli spy agency took against the group responsible for the massacre &ndash Black September &ndash has received much critical praise, the claim that it is factually accurate is suspect. Indeed, we have many reasons to believe that in a number of ways it is grossly inaccurate as a work of history.

How Accurate Was the Composition of the Group of Assassins?

Even basic facts about the Mossad&rsquos operation, such as the composition of the hit teams, are most likely depicted inaccurately in the film. According to an article by Reuters journalist Dan Williams, contrary to Munich, which portrays the group of assassins as being entirely Israeli, one of the original members of the squad was a Danish-born volunteer who was not trained by the intelligence agency. Furthermore, while the hit team in the film is composed entirely of men, former Mossad agent Gad Shimron says that teams in the field always include some women in order to avoid arousing suspicion. "It's standard practice to include female agents in such operations," he told Reuters. &ldquoAnyone who has been on a stakeout knows that having a lady on hand helps you avoid being spotted.&rdquo Shimron also said that unlike in the film, the revenge squads probably did not contain document forgers, as such personnel would not have the time necessary to produce high quality documents due to the short duration of their missions. The team of assassins was most likely much larger than the five-man group in the movie as well. Mossad veterans told Reuters that because of their high priority, every reprisal operation involves a massive number of field agents. Moreover, contrary to the film, in which then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir handpicks the leader of the mission, Avner, Meir had nothing to do with the selection of the teams responsible for tracking down and eliminating the members of Black September involved in the massacre. Indeed, although Munich accurately portrays her as authorizing the operation, Shimron says that Meir &ldquohad nothing to do with Mossad personnel.&rdquo

How Accurate Was the Assassins&rsquo Methodology?

The film almost certainly inaccurately depicts the tactics and training of the hit teams as well. While in Munich, the group of assassins obtains the vast majority of its information from a mysterious Frenchman in actuality the Mossad agents received information from a variety of sources, such as paid informants, other Israeli case officers, and friendly European intelligence agencies. Moreover, every assassination carried out by the hit teams is depicted in the film as being done with little to no practice beforehand. Mossad veterans claim, however, that each group of agents involved in the operation underwent extensive &ldquotest runs&rdquo prior to the actual attempts. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one former operative told Reuters, "We would set up 'models', by choosing areas in Israel that resembled the place where the person in question would be hit. Then we would drill to make sure the mission went without a hitch.&rdquo Furthermore, while Avner and his colleagues spend months tracking and killing their targets with virtually no contact with their superiors, the same former operative said that the Mossad&rsquos agents actually are in the field for a maximum of several weeks at a time.

How Accurate Were the Events of the Revenge Mission?

Munich also falsely depicts a number of events that occurred throughout the revenge squad&rsquos mission. Perhaps most significantly, it does not show the hit team&rsquos July 1973 assassination of a Moroccan man unconnected with the massacre and the series of events that followed this incident. Because the murder took place in Lillehammer, Norway, the Norwegian government began tracking the operatives, eventually capturing the aforementioned Danish volunteer. The authorities were then able to create a paper trail using the receipts he saved to locate, capture, and prosecute the rest of the team. It is to prevent such a thing, Shimron insisted, that Mossad agents are discouraged from maintaining financial records while they are in the field. &ldquoAgents are expected to account for their expenses, but not if it means incurring the risk of discovery,&rdquo he told Reuters. &ldquoThey can just as easily declare their expenses from memory when they return home, and it's accepted on trust.&rdquo It is highly unlikely, therefore, that the Mossad operatives involved in the reprisals would be required to keep their receipts, as they were in the film. Furthermore, while in the movie three members of the revenge squad are assassinated, historian Michael Bar-Zohar, who wrote a book on the history of the revenge operations, told Reuters that only two officers involved in the mission were killed throughout its entirety. He also stated that, contrary to what Munich seems to imply, Black September was most likely not responsible for these assassinations because it had been effectively &ldquowiped off the map for months&rdquo as a result of the Mossad&rsquos operations against it. Moreover, although the field agents in Munich are tracking eleven Black September agents, some historians have written that those involved in the reprisal missions may have killed as many as eighteen Palestinians who played a role in the massacre.

Did the Assassins Feel Remorse and Guilt?

Lastly, unlike the one in the film, the actual hit team most likely did not experience doubts and regrets about their mission. Indeed, Aaron Klein, who interviewed fifty current and ex-Mossad agents for a book about Israel&rsquos response to the Munich massacre, said that none expressed reservations about any work they had ever done on behalf of the agency. A former Israeli special forces officer who took part in assassination missions during the 1980s agreed, calling the notion that any members of the hit team would question the morality of their mission &ldquofanciful,&rdquo and saying, &ldquowe all accepted the necessity of hitting at our enemies.&rdquo Shimron also told Reuters that Mossad offers psychological help for any operatives who have doubts about their work. It is for these reasons, then, that we can conclude that the hit teams which undertook reprisal missions against the members of Black September involved in the Munich massacre most likely did not experience the kinds of doubt those in the film did.

Accuracies of Munich

Despite these probable errors, Munich does have some factual basis. As noted earlier, Golda Meir did order the Mossad to track down and kill those responsible for the massacre. Furthermore, according to Klein, the actual Israeli hit team, like the one in Munich, took great lengths to prevent killing those not responsible for the massacre. Moreover, as in the film, in 1973 the Mossad launched a joint operation with the Israeli Defense Forces against Black September operatives located in Beirut, Lebanon. Still, overall, Munich is most likely a factually inaccurate film. It is little wonder, then, that Shimron called it &ldquoan absurd version of the modus operandi."


The Operation Spring of Youth later became known as part of the retaliation for the bloody Munich massacre at the Summer Olympics in 1972. The terror organization Black September claimed responsibility for the attack. The Munich massacre is an informal name for the barbaric events that occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Southern Germany. The members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by a terrorist group named Black September .

Operation Spring of Youth was considered as retaliation for the 1972 Munich Massacre. This photo shows 11 Israeli athletes that were killed during the Olympics. (Photo: XY)

The IDF troops arrived at the Lebanese beaches in specially designed speedboats launched from missile boats offshore. The great preparation from Mossad agents was crucial. They awaited the IDF special forces, troops, on the beaches with cars rented the previous day. They used cars to drove IDF troops to their objectives and later back to the beaches for extraction.

Operation Spring of Youth has taken out three of the highest-level PLO leaders. They were surprised at home and killed along with other PLO members. As collateral damage, several Lebanese security people and civilian neighbors were also killed. The IDF had only two casualties.

A shoot off resulted in nine more athlete deaths

The Munich Massacre ended with 11 Israeli athletes dead | Getty Images

After a 21-hour standoff, the Palestinian terrorists took the hostages to the Munich airport to flee. German snipers were ordered to take out the terrorists on the way to the plane, but the shoot off ended up killing all nine hostages.

All 11 Israeli athletes involved in the tragic attack died. The event became known as the Munich Massacre.

During the standoff, television channels broadcasted the terrorist attack, and 900 million people tuned in around the world. It was the first time a terrorist attack was broadcasted nationwide.

Germany set up a memorial service for the fallen Israeli athletes, but the Olympics continued a few days later.

Terrorists who planned Olympics Massacre of 11 Israeli athletes glorified on multiple Facebook pages by PA and Fatah

Tragically, the Corona crisis has not stopped the Palestinian Authority and Fatah from presenting terrorists as heroes and role models. This month, both of Abbas&rsquo institutions have made sure to mark the anniversary of the &ldquodeaths as Martyrs&rdquo of three terrorists from Fatah's Black September terror organization who were involved in planning the kidnapping and subsequent murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Mahmoud Yusuf Al-Najjar, Kamal Nasser, and Kamal Adwan were all senior members of the PLO and Black September in the 1970s and were all killed by Israeli forces in April 1973.

These terrorist leaders were honored by Abbas&rsquo PA Presidential Guard:

From left to right: Abu Yusuf Al-Najjar, Kamal Adwan, and Kamal Nasser.

Text on image: &ldquoThe 47th anniversary of the deaths as Martyrs of the two Kamals and Al-Najjar
The 47th anniversary of the deaths as Martyrs of the three leaders:
Martyr Muhammad Al-Najjar
Martyr Kamal Nasser
Martyr Kamal Adwan&rdquo

Posted text: "47 years after the deaths as Martyrs of the leaders &ndash the two Kamals and Al-Najjar
Tomorrow, Friday, April 10, 2020, will be the 47th anniversary of the assassination of leaders Mahmoud Yusuf Al-Najjar 'Abu Yusuf Al-Najjar,' Kamal Nasser, and Kamal Adwan.
On April 10, 1973, the Israeli Mossad (Secret Intelligence Service) assassinated the three leaders in Beirut because of their prominent activity in the Fatah Movement and the Palestinian resistance, claiming they participated in planning the Munich operation in September 1972."

[Official Facebook page of the PA Presidential Guard, April 10, 2020,
the posted text was also printed in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, April 10, 2020]

The Fatah Movement and Fatah Central Committee member Tawfiq Tirawi similarly honored them as &ldquoleaders&rdquo who understood &ldquothe value of self-sacrificing activity&rdquo and &ldquoredeemed Palestine with their souls&rdquo:

Posted text: "On the anniversary&hellip time brings back the memory of leader Martyrs Kamal Adwan, Kamal Nasser, and Abu Yusuf Al-Najjar who early on noticed the value of the [Palestinian] revolution and self-sacrificing activity and redeemed Palestine with their souls on this day."

[Facebook page of Fatah Central Committee member Tawfiq Tirawi, April 10, 2020]

Fatah posted the same image twice with different text:

Posted text: "The Verdun Martyrs"

[Official Fatah Facebook page, April 10, 2020]

Verdun is the Arabic name for the Israeli operation in Beirut during which the three were killed.

From left to right Kamal Nasser, Kamal Adwan, and Abu Yusuf Al-Najjar.

Text on picture: "The Martyrs
Muhammad Al-Najjar, Kamal Adwan, and Kamal Nasser
Who the Israeli Mossad assassinated in Beirut on April 10, 1973"

[Official Fatah Facebook page, April 10, 2020]

Palestinian Media Watch has documented that the Coronavirus crisis is not stopping the PA and Fatah from disseminating hate, glorifying terrorists, encouraging violence, and spreading libels about Israel, claiming for example that Israel deliberately spreads the virus among Palestinians.

In February, Fatah saluted the Munich terrorist murderers in a video that included the infamous photo of one of them standing masked on the balcony of the building in which they held the Israeli athletes hostage in the Olympic Village in Munich. Fatah&rsquos video also included photos of arch-terrorist Abu Jihad and Black September terrorist Salah Khalaf &ldquoAbu Iyad&rdquo:

Lyrics: &ldquoWho are you, who are you?
Who are you, who are you? A Palestinian.
So beware of my bomb, of my belts.
As I am the sparks and I am the destiny.
Wait, wait!&rdquo

[Official Fatah Facebook page, Feb. 10, 2020]

Another terrorist involved in the murder of the Israeli athletes in 1972 was Hassan Ali Salameh, who was Black September&rsquos commander of operations in Europe in the 1970s. Palestinians refer to him as &ldquothe Red Prince.&rdquo In January, both the PA and Fatah marked the 41st anniversary of his death. The official PA daily stressed that terror attacks he was involved in were &ldquoquality operations,&rdquo and specifically emphasized the kidnapping and murder of the Israeli athletes in the Munich massacre:

&ldquoHis [Salameh&rsquos] name is connected to many quality operations, such as sending explosive packages from Amsterdam to many Mossad agents in Europe&hellip and also the Munich operation that was carried out by the Black September organization, which kidnapped a number of Israeli athletes and killed some of them.&rdquo

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 23, 2020]

Fatah likewise glorified terrorist Salameh:

Posted text: &ldquoToday is the 41st anniversary of the death of the Red Prince as a Martyr&rdquo

[Official Fatah Facebook page, Jan. 21, 2020]

On the left is a picture of terrorist Ali Hassan Salameh. On the right are pictures of Salameh with his children, Salameh with former PLO and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, and Salameh with his wife.

Posted text: &ldquoOn this date in 1979 the occupation authorities assassinated Palestinian intelligence officer

[Official Fatah Facebook page, Jan. 22, 2020]

Then PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat (left) and Ali Hassan Salameh (right) with Salameh&rsquos son in the middle.

Posted text: &ldquoOn the 41st anniversary of the death of the Red Prince as a Martyr, the promise is the promise and the oath is the oath&rdquo

[Facebook page of Fatah Central Committee member Jamal Muhaisen, Jan. 21, 2020]

PMW has documented that the PA and Fatah celebrate the anniversary of the murders every year in September and commemorate the days the terrorists involved in the Munich massacre died &ldquoas Martyrs.&rdquo

The following is additional information on the terrorists mentioned above and a longer excerpt of one of the statements cited:

The Munich Olympics massacre - terrorist attack perpetrated by the Palestinian terror organization Black September, a secret branch of Fatah, during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, in which they murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team.

The Verdun Operation is the Arabic name for an Israeli military operation against PLO targets in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Sidon on April 10, 1973 (Operation Spring of Youth in Israel.) During the operation, Israeli army forces killed three senior PLO leaders, all of whom were also senior members of the Black September terror organization: Kamal Adwan, Kamal Nasser, and Abu Yusuf Al-Najjar.

Kamal Adwan and Kamal Nasser were both senior members of Black September, a secret branch of Fatah, who were killed by Israeli forces in April 1973. Kamal Nasser was also the spokesperson for the PLO and Fatah. Kamal Adwan was responsible for Fatah terrorist operations in Israel.

Abu Yusuf Al-Najjar - was Arafat's deputy and among the founders of Fatah. He was the Commander of Al-Asifa, Fatah's military unit, and member of Fatah's Central Committee and PLO's Executive Committee. He also was the Commander of Operations of the terror organization Black September, a secret branch of Fatah, and involved in the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics (Sept. 5, 1972). He was killed by Israel in 1973.

Headline: &ldquo41 years since the death as a Martyr of the Red Prince [Ali Hassan Salameh]&rdquo
&ldquoAt 3:37 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 22, 1979, a powerful explosion rocked Beirut, and the target was Palestinian leader Martyr Ali Hassan Salameh &lsquoAbu Hassan&rsquo (i.e., commander of operations of the Black September terror organization).
Salameh died as a Martyr together with four of those accompanying him after then [Israeli] occupation Prime Minister Golda Meir said: &lsquoFind this monster and kill him&rsquo (sic., PMW could find no record of such a statement) &hellip
His [Salameh&rsquos] name is connected to many quality operations (i.e., terror attacks), such as sending explosive packages from Amsterdam to many Mossad agents (Israeli Secret Intelligence Service) in Europe&hellip and also the Munich operation (i.e., the Munich Olympics massacre, 11 murdered see note below) that was carried out by the Black September organization, which kidnapped a number of Israeli athletes and killed some of them.&rdquo

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 23, 2020]

Ali Hassan Salameh - Palestinian terrorist and commander of operations in Europe of the Black September terror organization - a secret branch of Fatah - in the 1970s. He planned many terror attacks, including the attack on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics on Sept. 5, 1972, in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered. Salameh was killed by a car bomb in Beirut on Jan. 22, 1979. Israel is thought to be responsible for his death, but has not officially taken responsibility for it.

Abu Jihad (Khalil Al-Wazir) - was a founder of Fatah and deputy to Yasser Arafat. He headed the PLO terror organization's military wing and also planned many deadly Fatah terror attacks in the 1960’s - 1980’s. These attacks, in which a total of 125 Israelis were murdered, included the most lethal in Israeli history - the hijacking of a bus and murder of 37 civilians, 12 of them children.

Abu Iyad (Salah Khalaf) - PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s deputy, one of the founders of Fatah, and head of the terror organization Black September, a secret branch of Fatah. Attacks he planned include the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics (Sept. 5, 1972) and the murder of two American diplomats in Sudan (March 1, 1973). It is commonly assumed that his assassin, a former Fatah bodyguard, was sent by the Abu Nidal Organization, a rival Palestinian faction.

Yasser Arafat – Founder of Fatah and former chairman of the PLO and PA. During the 1960s, 70s and 80s Arafat was behind numerous terror attacks against Israelis. Although he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 together with then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East" after signing the Oslo Accords peace agreement, Arafat launched a 5-year terror campaign - the second Intifada (2000-2005) – in which more than 1,000 Israelis were murdered. Arafat died of an illness in 2004.

Remembering John Lennon: All They Were Saying in Munich Was Give Peace a Chance

John Lennon and Yoko Ono Today in Japan, it is December 9, but in the US, it is still December 8, the day John Lennon was murdered, the day the music died.

On the closing day of the Munich Olympics in 1972, the torch was extinguished, the lingering waves of joy of Olympic competition and camaraderie merging with countervailing waves of sadness. Eleven Israeli athletes had been killed by the hand of terrorists. According to the book, Secret Olympian: The Inside Story of the Olympic Experience, athletes left the closing ceremony and gathered in the Olympic Village. And as the athletes struggled with their mixed and roiling emotions, a song by John Lennon unified them all.

At the John Lennon memorial event at Central Park on December 14, 1980_photo taken by Roy Tomizawa Following the closing ceremony, the athletes returned to the Village and converged on the discotheque. John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ was played several times with its poignant relevance. Fencer Susie Murphy’s overriding memory of Munich was a touchingly united scene with athletes of all nations singing along to Lennon in one unified voice, arms round each other’s shoulders, in defiance of the atrocity.

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The History Behind Munich

Co-written by the playwright Tony Kushner and based in part on a book, Vengeance by George Jonas, that has been widely called into question, Steven Spielberg’s Munich is not a documentary. Indeed, it is full of distortions and flights of fancy that would make any Israeli intelligence officer blush. Before the opening credits, Spielberg informs us that the movie was “inspired by real events”—which raises the question, where in Munich does fact end and fiction begin?

The dark event at the heart of the movie is presented starkly, accurately for the most part, and well. This is the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympics, when Palestinian terrorists held 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage, which led to a botched rescue attempt and the murder of the surviving athletes (two had already been killed) by the terrorists. (The hostage crisis is inserted sequentially throughout the film.) Much is left out. For instance, it would have been nice to know that it was German incompetence—their “rescue operation” was, operationally, a disaster—that led directly to the massacre. But a film can’t show everything, and the meat of Spielberg’s narrative is not the massacre itself but Israel’s response to it, a counter-terror campaign that has long been shrouded in mystery—and to some extent still is. It is here that artistic license overwhelms, when it doesn’t entirely dispense with, the true story of what happened after Munich.

In Munich, a hastily assembled covert assassination team is gathered by Golda Meir and given a list of targets—the men responsible for the attack. There are 11 Palestinians (a convenient match to the 11 dead Israeli athletes) who must pay the price. It didn’t happen that way. Israel did authorize and empower a counter-terror assassination campaign in Munich’s wake (more on that below), but no list of targets was ever given to an assassination team. Indeed, there was no “one team” charged with carrying out any sort of ongoing revenge operation. Specific targets were identified and then approved for assassination by top Mossad officials, and ultimately by the prime minister, as evidence grew in Israeli eyes that these individuals were likely to plan further attacks. Palestinian operatives, including many who had nothing to do with the Munich Massacre, were sentenced to death on a case-by-case basis. The list of targets was constantly changing. Assassination teams were sent out, mission by mission, as evidence and opportunity warranted.

The assassins in Munich are presented as quintessential everyday guys—patriots who want to defend their country and who gradually grow disillusioned, guilt-ridden, and paranoid. The Mossad teams did draw from the ordinary Israeli population, but they were well-trained professionals intent on their missions. In the movie, a Mossad agent gingerly asks a target if he “knows why we are here?” That’s farfetched. In interviewing more than 50 veterans of the Mossad and military intelligence, I found not a single trace of remorse. On the contrary, Mossad combatants thought they were doing holy work.

The assassins in Munich are on their own—the Mossad denies their existence and cuts them off—much as Cold War spies were said to be. In fact, assassination teams were the head of a spear behind them were analysts and informational gathering units in Israel and in Europe, a whole network that was focused on both supplying the agents with information and properly directing their operations.

As Spielberg’s assassination squad begins work in Europe, they come to rely on a kind of freelance intelligence merchant who works for a shadowy organization, “Le Group,” that trades the names and locations of targets for big money. Whether or not such an organization existed, or might have, the Mossad never relied on such an entity. Security apparatuses don’t function that way. The Mossad gathered its own intelligence, relying mainly on human intelligence from Palestinian informants living in Europe and the Middle East. Operatives recruited and directed these sources all over Europe, while analysts in Israel sifted through mountains of data looking for concrete terror plans—and potential perpetrators. Unfortunately, much of the storyline of Munich concerns this fanciful “Le Group” subplot.

The Munich Massacre triggered a fundamental change in Israel’s approach to terrorism—a “Munich Revolution” (the phrase was used by the Mossad) that endures as a mindset and an operational protocol today. Finding and killing the perpetrators of the Munich Massacre was a part of that campaign only insofar as the men involved were deemed likely to act again. Revenge was the atmosphere—but preventing future attacks by networks that Israel saw as threatening its citizens was the goal. Mistakes were made, innocents were killed, and Israel’s government and intelligence agencies never publicly questioned their right to carry out assassinations on foreign soil. Indeed, the true story of Israel’s response to Munich is if anything more ambiguous than Spielberg’s narrative.

But Spielberg has bought into one of the myths of the Mossad—that after Munich they staged a revenge operation to hunt down and assassinate everyone responsible. Israelis, too, bought into this myth (myself included, at one time) which a shocked public demanded—but that doesn’t make it true. Spielberg, in inventing a story about violence begetting violence “inspired by real events” is raising questions worth asking. Even so, Israel’s response to Munich was not a simple revenge operation carried out by angst-ridden Israelis. Both the larger context, and the facts on the ground, rarely get in Spielberg’s way. A rigorous factual accounting may not be the point of Munich, which Spielberg has characterized as a “prayer for peace.” But as result, Munich has less to do with history and the grim aftermath of the Munich Massacre than some might wish.

Prelude to the Munich Massacre

A terrorist at the 1972 Munich Olympics

German negotiators leaned towards giving in to the terrorists’ demands, but Israeli officials took a harder line, insisting that capitulation would embolden more terror. Said prime minister Golda Meir, “If we should give in, then no Israeli anywhere in the world can feel that his life is safe.”

The games continued for 12 hours after the murders of Weinberg and Romano. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the games in the face of mounting pressure. (Competition resumed 34 hours later.)

West German police sought to rescue the hostages by ambushing the terrorists at the nearby Furstenfeldbruck airbase. But they were woefully ill-prepared and the plan was poorly executed. During the ensuing shootout, the nine helpless Israelis divided in two helicopters were murdered by Palestinian gunfire and grenades. Hence the name, Munich massacre.

Five terrorists and one German police officer, Anton Fliegerbauer, were killed in the shootout.

Join the fight for Israel’s fair coverage in the news

34 Photographs of the Horrific 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre

A crowd gathers to get updates on the unfolding events. Black September demanded the release of 200 political prisoners. The Israeli government refused to negotiate. The German authorities, without anti-terrorist response unit, didn&rsquot know what to do. CNN Blood stains and bullet holes mark the place where the armed Palestinian terrorists killed two of the Olympians, the other nine died just hours later. Daily Mail Ankie Spitzer in the room where her husband, Andre, the Israeli fencing coach, was killed by terrorists in 1972. She has urged the I.O.C. to hold a moment of silence at the Olympic Games. Credit Associated Press A German Army bus is parked underneath the hotel that nine of the Israeli hostages were inside at the time. Daily Mail Helicopters were prepped and ready on the tarmac. The rescue mission failed and all the hostages were killed. CNN The wrecked helicopter that was the center of a failed rescue attempt at a military airport in Fürstenfeldbruck. All nine hostages left, five Arab terrorists and a Munich police officer lost their lives during the operation. Daily Mail The world watched as the crisis was televised. The world showed its support for Israel. CNN The stunned Israeli athletes and officials return home. CNN A coffin with one of the slain Israeli Olympians is carried out of the Munich Olympic Village a day after the horrendous attacks unfolded. Daily Mail A military escort transports the coffins of the dead athletes and officials back to Israel. CNN The Olympic flag hangs at half-mast during the funeral ceremony in the Olympic Stadium for the victims of the terrorist attack. Daily Mail There were plans for then-German Foreign Minister Walter Scheel (right, seen here with Chancellor Willy Brandt in September 1972) to meet in secret with one of the founders of Black September in Cairo. spiegel The German Foreign Ministry later asked the PLO not to carry out operations on German soil. The then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat apparently complied. In return, he was allowed to send an envoy to Bonn who championed the PLO&rsquos interests. Spiegel Weightlifter Yossef Romano was mutilated and tortured by Palestinian terrorists during the attack. Daily Mail Dan Alon is seen in his fencing gear when he was a member of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team. Alon, who survived the Munich Massacre, gave up the sport after the tragic event. naplesnews Members of Israel&rsquos Olympic team placed black ribbons in their pockets mourning for their comrades killed in the Arab terrorist attack and subsequent police shootout as they leave the Olympic stadium in Munich, West Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 1972, after a memorial service. All 11 Israeli hostages were killed. AP Photo Six of the 11 Israeli hostages killed by the Palestinian &lsquoBlack September&rsquo cell at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Yossef Romano, the torture victim, is top center. Daily Mail From left to right- Sirimer Mohammed Abdullah, Ibrahim Mosoud Badran and Abed Kair Al Dnawly, three of the Arab terrorists who broke into the Munich Olympic Village. Pinterest


The 1972 Olympic Games in Munich were supposed to be a joyous occasion Munich was set to celebrate a festival of peace. Over a quarter of a century after the disastrous war unleashed by the Nazis, Germany wanted to present itself as a modern and democratic state. Reminders of the 1936 Olympic propaganda in Berlin were nowhere to be found.

For 10 days, the Munich Games were indeed lively and cheerful – until the morning of September 5. At around 4:35 a.m., eight members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September stormed the Israeli athletes' quarters in the Olympic Village. They demanded the release of 232 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, along with left-wing militants Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof of Germany, and Kozo Okamoto of Japan.

German negotiators were inclined to give in to the demands but Israel strictly rejected them. "If we should give in, then no Israeli anywhere in the world can feel that his life is safe," said Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. By the end of the day, after a poorly planned rescue attempt, 11 Israeli Olympic team members, five Black September attackers and one policeman were dead.

Munich's police chief at the time, Manfred Schreiber, admitted that law enforcement authorities were not prepared. "We were trained for everyday offenses, to be close to the people, unarmed," he said, "but not for an action against paramilitary trained terrorists."

One of the eight Black September members, who wanted 232 Palestinian prisoners released by Israel

Warnings ignored

But the police actually could have prepared. Berlin historian Matthias Dahlke explained that the early 1970s were overshadowed by terror. "Airplane hijackings were practically the order of the day," he told DW. There was the Northern Irish IRA, ETA in France and Spain, right- and left-wing terrorism in Italy, and the conflicts in the Middle East.

In the run-up to the Olympic Games, Munich's police psychologist Georg Sieber had actually developed 26 terrorist attack scenarios and presented them to his team. Scenario number 21 was frighteningly similar to the actual Munich hostage crisis, as it involved an attack on Israeli athletes in the early morning hours. In an interview with DW, Sieber said that he was not the only person to warn German authorities. "There were all kinds of agencies, from America to China, who said, 'We heard something and this and that will happen,'" he said.

Sieber, now 82, raises the most serious allegations against former police chief Schreiber. It was he who was officially in charge of security for the Games. According to Sieber, Schreiber used the same line to brush off any warnings: "I am quoting literally: 'We receive laundry baskets full of warnings every day. If we were to process them all, we would have to delay the Olympic Games by 20 years.'"

Prior to the Games, Sieber had also suggested that for safety reasons, athletes living in the Olympic Village should not be divided into nationalities, but instead, into different sports. But sports officials were opposed to the idea, so it was not implemented.

Police psychologist Georg Sieber was in Munich during the hostage crisis

Communication chaos live on TV

The city of Munich, struck by Olympic fever, stumbled into an international disaster. "The confusing information was the main problem," said the historian Dahlke. "The different parties communicated so poorly with each other that some of the police snipers who were deployed in the end didn't even know how many terrorists were being targeted, even though others parties involved knew the exact number."

"There was a political party there was a police force there were several ad-hoc groups that sat down together to deliberate," Dahlke added. "But they did not follow a plan."

The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Germany's individual states were responsible for security – to an even greater degree than today – leading to confusion between state and federal authorities.

At the same time, the media provided the terrorists with information. Authorities not only forgot to switch off the electricity to the building occupied by the hostage takers, they also failed to remove the press from the Olympic village. That meant that the terrorists were able to observe how the snipers were positioned around the Israeli quarters, prompting the cancellation of one of the planned rescue operations.

The widow of killed Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer visited the scene of the hostage crisis

Botched rescue attempt

At one point, it seemed like the authorities agreed to the terrorists' demands to fly them to Cairo together with the hostages. Two helicopters took them to an airplane at the nearby Fürstenfeldbruck NATO air base that was expecting them. Only five police snipers were deployed because, as Dahlke points out, the German authorities did not know that they were dealing with eight terrorists. The snipers were poorly equipped, had no radio contact and could not coordinate their efforts.

When the Interior Ministry of Bavaria ordered them to open fire, a two-hour gunfight ensued. The armored personnel carriers for the snipers arrived later than expected. When the vehicles did show up, one of the hostage takers threw a hand grenade into the cockpit of a helicopter, incinerating the hostages and destroying the aircraft. The Israeli athletes in the other helicopter were riddled with bullets. Three of the attackers survived. Three weeks later they were released during the hijacking of a German Lufthansa flight, which infuriated Israel considerably.

To add to insult to injury, German government spokesman Conrad Ahlers declared that the hostage operation had been a success. Only hours later, the entire world found out about the failed rescue attempt and the death of the hostages. The Olympic Games resumed after a one-day pause and a memorial service. The International Olympic Committee president at the time, Avery Brundage, proclaimed: "The Games must go on!"

IOC President Avery Brundage declared: 'The Games must go on!'

The formation of GSG 9

As a result of the Munich Massacre, Germany founded the special police anti-terrorism and hostage rescue task force known as GSG 9. Five years later, GSG 9 experienced its baptism of fire when it successfully freed hostages on Lufthansa Flight 181 in Mogadishu, Somalia.

There were no staff-related consequences for the international debacle at the Munich Olympics. In a July 2012 issue, the German news magazine Der Spiegel described the line taken by the German Foreign Ministry on September 7, two days after the hostage crisis: "Mutual recriminations must be avoided. No self-criticism either." Manfred Schreiber was the chief of Munich's police until 1983 when he began a career in the German Interior Ministry. Police psychologist Georg Sieber, however, resigned from the police force on September 5, 1972.

Surviving gunmen

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.