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This month, we are celebrating Evidence Locker’s third birthday, as well as our 150th episode. We decided to do a Blockbuster theme for the month of July. This week, we revisit Steven Spielberg’s powerful film Munich, and look at the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and the retaliation that followed.
Warning: This episode contains details of terrorist attacks and may not be suitable for all listeners.
The Summer Olympics of 1972 took place in the Bavarian city of Munich, West Germany. The city opened its arms to welcome international athletes, officials and spectators. Events kicked off on the 26th of August and they were off to a great start. The opening ceremony alone made broadcasting history, raking in record viewer numbers around the world. Millions of people were watching events, cheering on their nations’ best athletes.
American swimmer Mark Spitz became swimming royalty, winning seven gold medals. The USSR’s basketball team caused an upset by beating the USA in the last second with a long shot.
Munich 1972 was the 20th Olympic Games and West Germany was keen to prove that they had evolved and rebuilt their country in the decades following World War II. It was hard to forget the Nazi-flavoured 1936 Berlin Olympics, and it was an opportunity to wipe the slate clean. The West German Olympic Organising Committee was adamant to host a flawless, welcoming and inclusive tournament.
In the end, the Games of that year would be memorable for all the wrong reasons. A hostage drama and a botched rescue attempt left 17 people dead. The events that transpired in the wake of the tragedy, inspired the book Vengeance by George Jonas, which eventuated in an epic film, directed by Steven Spielberg, simply called Munich. In a world where eye-for-an-eye justice reigned, there was no podium, no world records, only those who lost everything.
The 1936 Berlin Olympics was a grotesque affair with cannon fire, Swastika flags waving all over the stadium, and thousands raising their arms in the Nazi salute ‘Heil Hitler. Instead of celebrating the best of the best in sport, Hitler used the event as a vehicle for Nazi propaganda. It was an ominous prelude to the war that was brewing, and Hitler lapped up every minute. What followed – one of the most destructive wars the world has ever experienced, was still fresh in everyone’s memory 27 years after it ended. Hosting the Olympic Games in Germany was a delicate matter and organisers’ biggest challenge was to place Germany in a good light. They didn’t want any reminders of the Second World War, no violence and no fear.
Preparing security for the Games, was of the utmost importance. 2000 security guards were appointed, and could be spotted everywhere at events, wearing baby blue sports jackets and white caps. There was to be no military presence and for the most part, Munich Police could only have a discreet presence, carrying no weapons, only smiles. It was essential to let the world know that Germany was no longer Nazi territory.
Organisers wanted to be prepared for anything and asked forensic psychologist and terrorism expert, Georg Sieber to prepare 26 possible scenarios that could play out. One of his scenarios, ‘Situation 21’ warned of a Palestinian attack on Israeli athletes, including a hostage situation. Sieber theorised that the terrorist would likely demand the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the Israeli athletes. In such situations it would be typical for the attackers to kill one hostage, so as to serve as a warning to others to comply. However, preparing for this situation would have required heavier security, which could have caused panic and ruined the carefree spirit of the event. That is when Dr Sieber was reportedly asked to come up with a different scenario, that was more aligned with the event the organisers had in mind. Perhaps the Olympic Committee did not want to consider the possibility of a terrorist attack, because the implication was too ghastly to contemplate.
Once the Olympics were underway, things were running smoothly. There was a festive atmosphere as athletes from all over the world competed for gold on the field and socialised as friends when it was all done. They encouraged each other and shared tips and techniques. Journalists who covered the Olympics that year, recalled that security seemed non-existent, especially in the Athlete’s village where, as long as you wore a tracksuit, you’d be waved through.
Having the Israeli team at the Games was historically significant. Witnessing them marching in the opening ceremony in Germany, was a poignant moment for international relations. In an effort to address the unspeakable horrors that occurred in that very country only a few decades before, a memorial was held at Dachau concentration camp, six miles from the Olympic Village. The Israeli team paid their respects in an emotional ceremony, and the world watched the broadcast.
Israeli team manager, Shmuel Lalkin, raised his concerns about the lack of security provided for his team. Their presence stirred up a lot of emotion and he would have preferred armed protection. Lalkin was promised increased security, but no additional measures were taken.
The location of their appointed housing left them vulnerable. The Israeli team’s apartments were in a somewhat isolated part of the Olympic village, on the ground floor of a building, with a security gate being their only protection.
The two female Israeli teammates had their own apartment, in a different housing section to their male counterparts. The sailing team was in Kiel, in the north of West Germany. The remaining 13 team members shared three townhouse-style apartments at 31 Connolystrasse. The first apartment was where the coaches and referees stayed. Apartment 2 housed track athletes and support staff. Weightlifters and wrestlers shared the third apartment.
Monday evening, the 4th of September was a beautifully mild evening in Munich. It was the second week of the Games and most of the athletes had completed the competition. The Israeli team and their families went out for a night at the theatre to watch their fellow countryman, Shmuel Rodensky, starring in Fiddler on the Roof. After the show, the actor joined the team for dinner. They took a bus back to the Athlete’s Village where they arrived around midnight. It had been a long day and night out and they all went straight to bed.
Outside their building, at 4:30am, eight men in tracksuits scaled a six-and-a-half-foot chain link fence, along with some unsuspecting, drunken Canadian athletes who had missed their curfew. They hoisted each other up and patted each other on the backs before going their separate ways. The group of eight carried duffel bags containing AK-47 assault rifles, Tokarey pistols, hand grenades, ski masks, amphetamines and a first aid kit. They made their way to the Israeli quarters and, using stolen keys, quietly entered Apartment 1.
The first to notice them was wrestling coach Yossef Gutfreund, who woke up because he heard a scratching noise at the door. When he went closer to investigate, he saw the front end of a rifle as they opened the door. Gutfreund jumped on the door, barricading it with his 300lbs body, and shouted so his roommates could wake up. He yelled:
“Hava Tistalku!” Which translates to “Take cover, boys!”
When weightlifting coach, Tuvia Sokolovsky saw the intruders coming in, he broke a window with his fist and escaped. The intruders forced another wrestling coach, 33-year-old Moshe Weinberg to take them to the athletes. The leader of the terrorist group remained in Apartment 1, keeping an eye on the hostages. Weinberg, who by this time had suffered a gunshot-wound to the face, lied about the athletes in Apartment 2, and said they were not part of the Israeli team. With his back against the wall, as a matter of speaking, he made a decision that he thought would give them the best chance to retaliate. Apartment 2 did house Israelis, but they were track and field athletes. Weinberg opted to lead the attackers to the strongest men in the team: the wrestlers and weightlifters.
But the sleeping athletes, no matter how strong they were, had no chance against the arsenal of firearms their masked attackers had brought with them. David Berger, an American from Ohio with dual citizenship, shouted to his teammates to attack, seeing as they had nothing to lose. Before they could attack the intruders, the athletes were all overpowered and made to march back to Apartment 1.
Weinberg realised this would be a fight to the death, and attacked one of the gunmen, allowing Gad Tsobari, one of the wrestlers to escape via an underground garage. The terrorists fired at Tsobari, but he just kept on running, and managed to escape. Meanwhile, Weinberg had rendered one of the assailants unconscious and stabbed another one with a fruit knife before he was shot and killed. His bullet-riddled body was thrown out of the building onto the pavement outside of 31 Connolystrasse.
The eight attackers were left with ten hostages: wrestling coach Yossef Gutfreund, sharpshooting coach Kehat Shorr, track and field coach Amitzur Shapira, fencing master André Spitzer, weightlifting judge Yakov Springer, wrestlers Eliezer Halfin, 18-year-old Soviet resident Mark Slavin and weightlifters Ze’ev Friedman and David Berger. Yossef Romano, a weightlifter, followed Weinberg’s lead and also attacked one of the gunmen, only to be shot dead with an AK-47. Then there was nine.
The others were tied up, four-in-a-row on two beds facing each other in Springer and Shapira’s room. Gutfreund was the largest of the hostages and he was tied to his own chair with a rope. Yossef Romano’s body was left at their feet to serve as a warning. During this time, waiting for the world to catch on to what was happening, the hostages suffered several beatings, to keep them in check.
The residents of Apartment 2 awoke hearing shouting and gunshots. Team manager Shmuel Lalkin, four track athletes and two team doctors realised the situation was bad. Racewalker Shaul Ladany escaped through a window and made it to the American section of the Olympic Village. He woke track coach Bill Bowerman and told him about the ambush. Bowerman raised the alarm with the US Embassy in Berlin. By this time escapee Gad Tsobari had made it to the press hub and asked the early-hour journalists to contact police. Weightlifting coach Tuvia Sokolovsky, bloodied and injured after jumping from the window, ran until he found a police officer before he collapsed in tears and shock.
The team members in Apartment 2 remained hidden, and eventually managed to escape unharmed. As soon as he reached a telephone, Shmuel Lalkin called the Sheraton in Munich where the Israeli journalists resided for the duration of the Games. He informed them about the situation and urgently shouted to ‘Call Israel’.
Police became involved at 5:30 am. They found Moshe Weinberg’s body on the pavement and arranged for an ambulance to take him away. At 6am, the contact between the terrorists and German authorities commenced. A typed list of demands was thrown out of a window and floated to the sidewalk below. It was noted that a group called the Black September Organisation (or BSO) – a militant Palestinian organisation was behind the ambush. The BSO were known for their ruthless acts, like assassinating the prime minster of Jordan, Wasfi Tal.
The BSO demanded the release of 234 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. He also wanted the release of founders of the Red Army Faction, Andrea Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, who was being held in West Germany. If they did not receive confirmation of the releases, they were going to shoot the hostages. The German-speaking negotiator identified himself as Issa. In in effort to disguise himself, he had smeared his face with black shoe polish and wore a white hat and sunglasses.
The world’s media was already in Munich, and instead of covering track, pool and gymnastics events, they gathered at Connolystrasse and broadcasted events, live for the whole planet to see. It was an explosive and extremely sensitive issue: Jewish athletes were being held captive in Germany – the world was not ready for it. The whole event unfolded in uncanny similarity to Dr Sieber’s prediction, ‘Situation 21’, the one that did not ‘fit into’ the baby blue suit and dimpled smile vibe organisers wanted to create.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Golda Meir, responded to Black September’s demands before the deadline and said that Israel would NOT release the prisoners and made it clear that Israel would NOT negotiate with terrorists. She said:
“If [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.”
Olympic Village Security and Munich Police were caught completely off-guard and neglected to evacuate the immediate area. Journalists and curious spectators gathered at the scene. If the terrorists opened fire into the crowd, it could have had catastrophic results. Fortunately, they didn’t.
It was a strange situation as the news spread through Munich that morning. For the most part, scheduled Olympic events carried on. While West German and Bavarian police joined forces to deal with the hostage crisis the men’s heavyweight boxing Quarterfinals took place, Germany played Australia in a Basketball qualifier and Poland beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in the men’s football semi-finals. Later in the afternoon, organisers realised the magnitude of the hostage situation and events were finally suspended until further notice. Meanwhile, the family, friends and loved ones of all the hostages back home in Israel held their breaths as they watched how negotiations dragged on for hours.
German authorities were desperate to resolve the situation and made an open offer of an unlimited amount of cash to be paid in exchange for the hostages. The captors insisted that it was not about money, only about freeing the prisoners.
Police bluffed and told the BSO negotiator that Israel was willing to trade. But they needed to know if the athletes were still alive and well. Issa agreed to grant access to two members of the Olympic Committee. The men cautiously made their way to Apartment 1, where they were appalled to see the blood from the shootings and felt that the palpable fear of the athletes being held hostage. After the quick recce, they reported back to police that there were five gunmen inside. Actually, there was eight. This miscalculation would be detrimental to the rescue operation in the hours that followed.
Negotiators said they were waiting for instruction from Jerusalem and begged Issa to extend the deadline. He agreed to 5pm, but threatened that he would kill one hostage publicly, every hour they had to extend the deadline.
Plain-clothes police officers accessed the roof of the apartment block, hoping to gain entry from the top. But when the captors saw what was going on, by watching TV inside the apartment. The command came to stand down. At 5pm Issa changed his demands and requested an aeroplane to transport his group as well as their hostages to Cairo, Egypt.
Police saw an opportunity to intercept and save the hostages somewhere en route. At 10pm the gunmen and their captives all entered a bus in the underground parking lot of 31 Connolystrasse. It transported them to a helipad only 200 metres away where two helicopters were standing by to airlift them to Fürstenfeldbruck – a NATO airbase nearby.
Ordinary police officers were pulled in to act as snipers and were placed all along the way. A decree was issued in Germany after the war, prohibiting the German army to get involved in domestic affairs. All specialist snipers were in the army and police did not train their officers in sharp shooting. In this scenario, police shooters were placed at strategic spots, but they were hesitant to shoot. They did not want to risk harming the hostages.
West German police never had the intention of allowing the group to leave, and planted undercover officers inside the aircraft, to pose as air crew. Issa and his deputy, a cowboy hat wearing man he referred to as ‘Tony’, were supposed to board the plane to inspect. The officers were ordered to shoot them as soon as they boarded. Sharp shooters would then shoot the other three terrorists in the helicopters.
However, officers on plane decided it was a suicide mission, as they feared the terrorists would activate a hand grenade – and they would all die. So the officers got off the plane and disappeared into the crowd.
Soon, everything came undone. Firstly, the helicopters landed in the wrong position, so the police shooters were not able to see the passengers. They were also only looking for five targets, when in fact there was eight. Quiet tension rose as police officers and journalists standing outside the fence watched Issa and Tony board the airplane. They saw no one on board and realised it was a trap. They ran back to the helicopter and police fired at them, missing Issa and injuring Tony.
A gruelling 30-minute shoot-out ensued between the terrorists and West German police. All the hostages were tied up in the helicopters and could only hope that it would end in their favour. But it didn’t. For a brief moment, the gunfire stopped, and news leaked to the media that everyone was safe and that it was over. However, this was premature. Police had ceased fire, only to request urgent backup. When armoured vehicles arrive at the airport, one of the Black Septembrists panicked and threw a live grenade into one of the helicopters, killing some of the Israeli athletes instantly. Another terrorist fired his AK-47 into the second helicopter, killing all of the others.
Just after 3am, almost 24 hours since the attack began, the news of the true disaster that took place was revealed. ABC sports correspondent, Jim McKay’s words became the backtrack to the event that shook the world.
“They are all gone…”
All of the Israeli athletes had been killed, five of the eight members of Black September were dead, and a West German police officer was struck down in the crossfire.
It was unbelievable – the entire world bore witness to an unspeakable tragedy in real time. Much like the World Trade Tower attacks on September 11th 2001, everyone stood by, helpless, unsure what to do next. A memorial service was held the next day, paying respect to the Israeli victims, as well as the fallen German police officer. After a day of no events, the Olympic Games resumed, with the scheduled events going ahead 24-hours after the initial programme.
The day after the attacks, the remainder of the Israeli team flew back to Israel, with the bodies of their teammates. David Bergman’s body was repatriated to his family in Ohio.
Jewish athletes representing other countries, like America’s gold-medallist Mark Spitz, also left Munich as soon as they could, while the siege was still underway, fearing they could be targeted too. However, BSO made it clear that their issue was not religious, it was not an anti-Semitic attack, but rather a stand against the State of Israel for occupying Arab Palestine and forcing their people into refugee camps.
The bodies of the five attackers were flown to Libya where they were buried as heroes. A spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the PLO, declared:
“Operation Iqrit and Biri’m had been a 100% publicity success.”
But violence was not the way to gain the rest of the world’s sympathy. And Israeli authorities were not going to take the massacre sitting down. No less than two days after the event, Israeli forces retaliated by bombing PLO bases in Syria and Lebanon, in turn causing the deaths of many innocent people.
The main role players were identified by Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad: Abu Iyad (Yasar Arafat’s co-founder of the Fatah), Abu Daoud (Arafat’s right-hand man) and Ali Hassan Salameh (known by his nickname The Red Prince), who was in charge of working out the details of the Munich attack. These three men did not take part in the events, but put together the cell of eight terrorists. They recruited the men, all members of Fatah, living in refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. They were young, all of them in their late teens or early twenties, and had spent most of their lives, growing up in the harsh conditions of refugee camps. A hatred towards Israel came with the territory. The eight were hand-picked from a shortlist of 50, after completing intensive guerrilla training. They accepted the job with honour and believed that they were doing it for the greater good. The thinking was to create a shocking international event to shine the light on the Palestinian cause. In the book The Mossad - Six Landmark Missions of the Israeli Intelligence Agency, author Mark E Vargo quotes Iranian-born British-educated psychologist Fathali Moghaddam explains the notion:
“From the terrorist’s point of view, terrorism is a rational problem-solving strategy.”
With logistical assistance from German neo-Nazis, commander Luttif Afif led the operation and also served as a negotiator, using the codename Issa. He had a Jewish mother and a Christian father and three of his brothers were also reportedly members of Black September, two of them in Israeli jails. Afif was an experienced soldier who gained experience in the Jordan war. He had studied engineering in Berlin and was fluent in German, so was a natural choice as the leader. He’d be able to negotiate with German authorities and avoid miscommunication.
His deputy was 25-year-old Yusuf Nazzal, or ‘Tony’. He had similar experience to Afif and could also speak German. Afif and Nazzal were thoroughly briefed about the ambush and knew exactly how it was supposed to play out. The junior members of the cell, were kept in the dark, ensuring no information would be leaked.
The operation, as they would learn only hours before the attack, was named ‘Iqrit and Biri’m’ after two Palestinian Christian villages. In 1948, during the Arab-Israeli war, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) forced all inhabitants out. The name insinuated that the siege at the Munich Olympics was an act of revenge. The trained men arrived, along with spectators from all over the world, via train and airplane in the days before. They were still not sure what their mission was and killed time doing sightseeing in Munich and familiarising themselves with the Olympic Village.
Luttif Afif worked with the construction team of in the Olympic Village, as a qualified civil engineer. Nazzal secured a job as a cook in one of the canteens. This gave them time and opportunity to scout their victims and finalise their plans to attack. A Uruguayan athlete told police that he saw one of the terrorists inside 31 Connolystrasse the day before the ambush, but did not find it suspicious, as he had seen him around the village before – he was referring to Nazzal.
Operation ‘Iqrit and Biri’m’ was supposed to unfold as follows: the group of eight BSO mitilants would take the Israeli Olympic team hostage inside their living quarters. Because of the high profile of the Olympic Games, they counted on the possibility that Israel would make an exception and negotiate to ensure their release. If their demands were not met within 24 hours, they would arrange an airplane that would take all the hostages to an Arab nation, from where negotiations would continue.
This only surviving member of Black September told his version of events in the Academy Award winning documentary, One Day in September. He said they were excited to confront Israel on behalf of all Palestinians. The group of eight were told not to kill, only in self-defence. Which, in his opinion is why Moshe Weinberg was killed.
In 2012, German news magazine Der Spiegel published an article claiming that an informer in Beirut provided information about the attack two weeks before it happened, and West German authorities failed to act. But the issue wasn’t between Germany and Israel or Germany and the Palestinians. It was the Arab-Israeli conflict, a turnstile of attack and retaliation.
Police managed to arrest the surviving three terrorists on the runway at Fürstenfeldbruck: Adnan Al-Gashey, Jamal Al-Gashey and Mohammed Safady. A month later, Lufthansa Flight 615 from Beirut to Frankfurt was highjacked, and the hijackers demanded their release. West German authorities were desperate to put the Munich Massacre behind them, so they complied, washing their hands of the terrorists.
In a massive act of counter terrorism, the Israeli government gave the green light to their national intelligence agency, Mossad, to direct retaliation effort, called ‘Operation Wrath of God’.
And this is where Steven Spielberg’s Blockbuster film Munich begins. The film is based on a book Vengeance by Canadian journalist and author, George Jonas. Although the validity of his account has been brought into question over the years, ‘Operation Wrath of God’ was everything but fiction. The main source of information was Juval Aviv, a Mossad agent in the thick of things. Jonas and his publisher concluded that Aviv’s story was discredited by the Israeli government, who did not want to make it known that this string of assassinations was ordered by the prime minister.
Before Spielberg made the film, he personally vetted and interviewed Aviv, and was satisfied that his account was legit. Spielberg’s researchers uncovered FBI files that supported most of Aviv’s claims. In the end it is so, that there are certain things one simply cannot make up.
Mossad chief, Zvi Zamir, convinced Golda Meir that the most powerful form of retaliation would be a personal, targeted attack on every single individual involved in the planning, bankrolling and execusion of the Munich Massacre. Although this breached international law, Meir agreed. A series or targeted assassinations followed, spanning over many years and continents.
When Aviv agreed to lead a group of secret operatives in the mission, he was sent to Geneva, where he was given access to a Swiss Bank account with 250,000 Dollars to fund operational expenses. A Mossad agent, who did not know anything about the operation, was tasked with topping up the account, so it would always contain a quarter of a Million Dollars.
Aviv’s handler, simply known as Ephraim, handed him a list of 12 names. All Black Septembrists or PLO members, prominent figures that, if taken out, would cause the Palestinian terrorist network to implode. At the same time Mossad targeted Palestinian youths, using psychological tactics, like placing their obituaries in local newspapers, as a grim warning. The idea was to topple all anti-Israeli efforts by culling it from the top and the bottom.
But who decided whose names made it onto the hitlist? Mossad agents compiled an extensive list of players, which was sent to Committee X, comprised of the Prime Minister and select members of her cabinet.
Aviv and his team were under strict orders to take out the target only, and that no innocent bystanders should be harmed during an execution. They should also not have any doubt as to the target’s identity. How they killed them, was up to Aviv and the members of his team.
And so, the string of assassinations begun: the first person on the list was a Palestinian poet called Wael Zwaiter, who was based in Rome. He was Yasar Arafat’s cousin and used words instead of weapons to incite violence, openly criticising the State of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Mossad was convinced that Zwaiter had deeper roots in terrorist organisations than he let on, which is why he had made the list. Specifically, that he played a role in the bombing of an El Al flight in August 1972, only weeks before the Munich Massacre.
Aviv and one of his team members watched as Zwaiter arrived home after an early dinner. A young couple, well Mossad agents posing as a couple, walked just ahead of him as he made his way home. Another female agent spotted them from across the road and ran over to them to happily greet them. All of these agents were on a need-to-know basis and did not know they were giving a signal to two assassins. As Zwaiter waited for the elevator in the lobby of his apartment building, the two gunmen stepped out of the shadows, asked him if he was Wael Zwaiter. Zwaiter was confused when he saw the pistols pointed at him, and before he could answer, he was brought down in a hail of gunfire. Aviv and his group evacuated Rome immediately and Zwaiter’s killing remained unsolved.
This became their typical MO. Teams were tasked with surveillance, usually involving female agents, as they attracted less attention. Then there was the logistical aspect – sourcing whatever was needed to carry out an attack and setting up the moment of the assassination. Lastly, agents with military experience would execute their target.
After Zwaiter’s death, his friends and colleagues came forward in his defence, claiming he was a pacifist who had nothing to do with terrorist attacks.
Their next target took them to France, where 38-year-old Dr Mahmoud Hamshari unwittingly awaited his fate. A Palestinian Historian and PLO envoy in Paris, Dr Hamshari appeared to be nothing but a wealthy, well-educated gentleman. However, Mossad had evidence linking him to Black September in France – in fact, they believed that he was second-in-command. He was also linked to a failed assassination attempt on former Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion during a state visit to Denmark, as well as the bombing of a Swiss Air flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv, that killed 47 passengers.
Aviv’s team were aware of the fact that Hamshari conducted his business from home and had to be careful not to harm his wife and young daughter in the course of his assassination. They planted a bomb in the telephone at his luxurious Rue d’Alésia apartment. With the help of Mossad agent Zvi Malkin, who was part of the team who retrieved Nazi high official Adolf Eichmann from Argentina, Aviv’s team, posing as phone repairmen, entered their target’s apartment to plant the bomb.
Because Hamshari’s wife and daughter lived with him, they could not simply have a mechanical trigger on the bomb. They had to make sure the person holding the receiver was Mahmoud Hamshari and no one else. Keeping surveillance on the apartment, they familiarised themselves with the family’s routine. When Marie-Claude Hamshari and their daughter Amina had left and were out of sight, they called the doctor. The phone exploded and rendered him severely injured, but not dead. After three weeks in hospital, Dr Mahmoud Hamshari succumbed to his injuries.
If the message wasn’t clear after Wael Zwaiter’s assassination, Palestinian leaders in Europe heard it loud and clear after Hamshari’s death. Many Black Septembrists and PLO leaders went underground, which made them harder to find, but Mossad were up to the task. More than 30 agents were involved, working independently, with limited contact. For the most part, they did not form part of regular Mossad operations, and even long-serving agents in Tel Aviv did not know the identity of agents working on Wrath of God.
Abad al-Chir was an extremist and PLO’s envoy to Cyprus. He was also in frequent contact with KGB operatives, trading weapons to ensure the Soviets would train PLO soldiers. Aviv’s team plotted his assassination and vowed that they would ensure he does not survive his attack, like Hamshari in Paris. They followed him to the ironically named Olympic Hotel in Nicosia, where they hid a bomb in his mattress. The blast was unexpectedly powerful and nearly caused a catastrophe with a newlywed Jewish couple in the room next to al-Chir’s. Fortunately, they only suffered minor injuries, but it was a close call.
Black September, realising that did Mossad was attacking on their most prominent members, and arranged the assassination of Baruch Cohen, a Mossad agent in Madrid. Cohen was shot in the chest, in a café, in broad daylight – and as soon as he was pronounced dead, Black September claimed responsibility. More attacks followed throughout 1973, causing a silent war of, assassinations between Black September and autonomous teams of off-the-record Mossad agents.
The main role players were identified by Mossad: Abu Iyad (Yasar Arafat’s co-founder of the Fatah in the fifties), Abu Daoud (Arafat’s right-hand man) and Ali Hassan Salameh (known by his nickname The Red Prince).
But three big fishes were still out there – the main engineers of the Munich Massacre: Abu Iyad, Abu Daoud and Red Prince, Ali Hassan Salameh. Agents followed Salameh to Scandinavia, where they believed he was plotting an attack on the Israeli Consulate in Stockholm. However, Salameh made his way to Lillehammer, Norway. In a botched surveillance operation, they shot and killed an olive-skinned man, mistaking him for Salameh. The victim was 30-year-old Moroccan-born waiter, Achmed Bouchiki.
Norwegian authorities were furious and refused to cover up the blunder. They publicly pointed the finger at the State of Israel and all Israeli covert operations in the area had to be pulled. Mossad had no more support from Norway and all logistical assistance and safehouses were closed to them.
Operation Wrath of God was not complete, until they had taken out Salameh, the mastermind of the Munich Massacre.
Thanks to undercover agent, Erika Chambers, Mossad were able to catch up with him. Posing as an English expat, who loved cats and painting, she spent hours on her balcony in central Beirut, observing Salameh’s movements in the streets below. He usually drove in a convoy, surrounded with bodyguards. Beka Street was the way to his mother’s house, so it was a route he took frequently. On Monday the 22nd of January 1979, Mossad agents laid in wait, knowing that Salameh was attending his niece’s birthday party at his mother’s house in the afternoon. They had planted a bomb in a Volkswagen, parked next to the road and as soon as his convoy passed it, they flipped the switch. A massive blast shook the entire neighbourhood. An eyewitness recalled:
“It was like hell. There was a flash, then a big bang. It was incredible. I’d never seen anything like it before, nor even in Beirut. It was as if the whole city was on fire. So many dead people, burnt cars and young bodies littering the street.”
Salameh survived the blast and stumbled out of his vehicle. But metal shards had lodged in his head, causing him to die in hospital some hours later. Besides Salameh, nine other people died in the blast.
Although Mossad did not get to Abu Iyad directly, one of his bodyguards turned on him, shooting him with an AK-47 in 1991. It is believed Mossad backed the bodyguard, who as acting on behalf of another faction in the PLO. The last of the three men behind the Munich Massacre to die, was Abu Daoud, who succumbed to kidney failure in Syria in 2010. He never regretted his actions and maintained that it was necessary to make the world aware of the Palestinian cause.
As for the three surviving terrorists who held the athletes hostage… One was assassinated by Mossad, another one died due to heart failure, though many believe it was staged by Mossad. The third one is still alive and spoke for the first time, without showing his face, on the Academy Award-winning documentary, A Day in September.
So much blood has been shed – before, during and after the Munich Massacre. Acts of terror caused acts of retaliation. But where would it all end? Leviticus 24 verse 19-20 says:
"If someone injures his neighbour – just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Just as he has injured a person, so shall it be inflicted on him.”
Steven Spielberg’s film humanises the people behind the events that took place in the aftermath of the 1972 Summer Olympics. In the end, so many lives were lost – even those who were still breathing, were shells of their former selves, broken by blood-stained memories.
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