Munich Crisis

Published: 1972
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI

Announcer: Israel would like its Arab neighbors to do that with Palestinian guerillas. So far except for Jordon, they haven't. The violence in the Mideast continues.

Peter Lynch: "Here at Lod Airport, Arab guerilla hijackers are still insisting they will bomb the aircraft with its 90 passengers, crew of 10 and themselves unless Israel releases all the Arab guerillas that it is at present holding in prison."

Announcer: Correspondent Peter Lynch early in May. Israeli troops eventually captured the plane, killing two of the Arabs. That led to the next incident, the Lod Massacre.

Unknown Speaker: "I was sitting in my seat reading, and suddenly I heard one very loud explosion, and then shots from machineguns were fired."

Unknown Speaker: "I was sitting in the line of fire, and people around me were wounded and falling into."

Unknown Speaker: "The three simply pulled out Kalashnikov submachine guns with hand grenades from their suitcases in the customs hall, and they very indiscriminately began firing at anybody and everybody and at the same time throwing hand grenades. There was puddles of blood everywhere."

Announcer: Twenty-six Israelis and visitors, many of them Puerto Rican pilgrims to the Holy Land, and two of the Japanese gunmen were killed. The third, Kozo Okamoto, survived, was tried and sentenced to life in prison.

That set the stage for the Munich Massacre. The Summer Olympics, like their winter counterparts in Sapporo, Japan, were plagued by controversy even before the games began. Eligibility decisions were questioned, and when the summer events got underway, there were bitter recriminations about the officiating. That stopped briefly when early on the morning of September the 5th, Arab guerillas entered the Olympic Village.

Unknown Speaker: "The Palestinians demand the release of about 200 prisoners, Arabic prisoners held in Israel, and all these hostages, ten of these were members of the Olympic team."

Announcer: Even then, German police were releasing faulty information. Two Israelis had already been killed, and nine were held hostage. The games went on while negotiations continued. The Arabs threatened to murder their hostages, then extended their deadlines.

Pete Willett kept a vigil above the Israeli headquarters.

Pete Willett: "The Israeli leader's looking up towards his the windows, now he's nodding to them. And now there's a man in a blue shirt at the window with his hands tied in front of him, a very husky-looking man, young-looking man. One of the Israeli athlete nodding his head; now he's turning around, being led back in the room."

Announcer: Eventually, International Olympic Committee Chairman Avery Brundage suspended the competition. Night fell, and Stan Sabik joined the watches at Building 31.

Stan Sabik: "We don't always see them. You know, the Munich police are over around, some disguised as athletes. Some say an attack on the building is imminent; others don't believe it will happen."

Announcer: It did not happen. Instead apparently acquiescing to the Arab demands, the Germans bused the guerillas and the hostages to helicopters which flew them away. But they landed not at the commercial airport where three jets were to await the Palestinians, but at an ambush at a military field. Reporters were kept away; shots were heard. Even when the Germans announced all the hostages were safe, Ed Engels stayed with the story.

Ed Engels: "Avery Brundage retired for the night saying it was a tremendous achievement that all the Israeli athletes taken hostage were saved. It was only at around 3:30 this morning that we learned the awful truth. At a news conference, a West German official gave the grim details of the aborted airport ambush, as translated through an interpreter.

Interpreter: "'In the process, the hostages were killed, and one policeman over the Munich city police was also killed; a pilots of one of the helicopters is badly injured and is at present in the Hospital of...'"

Announcer: Eleven Israelis died, along with five Arabs. Three of the terrorists were captured. Olympic Chairman Brundage declared the next day a day of mourning.

Chairman Avery Brundage: "The games must go on, and we must... and we must continue our efforts to keep them clean, pure and honest."

Announcer: The Olympic spirit was not enough. In October, more guerillas seized a German airliner and eventually traded the plane and the passengers for the surviving Munich terrorists. Israel was appalled and launched yet more punitive strikes into Arab territory.

September the 19th, an explosion in the Israeli Embassy in London: a man killed, another hurt. The cause? A mail bomb. Soon, others cropped up, some of them in New York, addressed to Israeli UN diplomats. Walt Wheeler was there.

Walt Wheeler: "Police intercepted the deadly letters and took them to a cold, windy range to disarm. Reporters and others watching were shivering, but Detective William Schmidt and the bomb squad were whipping sweat from their faces."

Detective William Schmidt: "That's that type of a job, you gotta wipe your brow every once in a while"

Walt Wheeler: "How would you rate this one in terms of difficulty of disarming it?"

William Schmidt: "Well, it's very difficult, because it's a sophisticated-type bomb. It's and then with the full knowledge that the night before last a man was killed in London and they had one in Montreal today and they had two in France; and this weighs on you a little bit, and you know that what you have will kill, so be pretty careful."

Walt Wheeler: "Schmidt was being careful of an envelope, a fat, but otherwise ordinary envelope, one that you or I might have given no more than a casual glance before opening. If it had been opened, Schmidt's boss, Lieutenant Ken O'Neill, would have been describing a body, not a bomb."

Lieutenant Ken O'Neill: "It's an envelope, and then there was a piece of tissue paper that served as a wrapper; and the interior material was folded cardboard, and so apparently some sort of a pressure-release device."

Walt Wheeler: "That pressure-release device, says O'Neill, would have triggered a tiny blasting cap and set off the high explosives."

Lieutenant Ken O'Neill: "The overall quantity and -- and weight is probably not very impressive; but when we see what something like this has done in London, we well understand they certainly had enough explosives here to kill someone."

Walt Wheeler: "What Schmidt and O'Neill learned by disarming that one may have prevented other deaths as more mail bombs were found. Walt Wheeler, New York."