When The Terror Began

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OLYMPIC SYMBOL: A Black September commando appears on the balcony of the building where the Israeli team members were held

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At 9 p.m. the Palestinians gathered at a restaurant in the train station for final instructions. Once the Israelis had been seized, no one was to be admitted to the building except a senior German official who might want to check on the condition of the hostages. Abu Daoud says he told the eight fedayeen to exercise restraint: "The operation for which you've been chosen is essentially a political one ... to capture these Israelis alive ... No one can deny you the right to use your weapons to defend yourselves. Nonetheless, only fire if you truly can't do otherwise ... It's not a matter of liquidating your enemies, but seizing them as prisoners for future exchanges. The grenades are for later, to impress your German negotiating partners and defend yourselves to the death."

To which Issa added, "From now on, consider yourself dead. As killed in action for the Palestinian cause."

Each was issued a packed duffel and a track suit with the name of an Arab nation. Sometime after 3:30 a.m. they took off in taxis for the Village.

As they approached the fence, they noticed another group in warmup gear: American athletes back from a night on the town, laughing and tipsy. Abu Daoud urged his comrades to join them, to use the Americans as cover while they all scaled the fence. "Not only did our men mix in with the Americans, we helped them over," he says. "And they helped us. 'Hey, man, give me your bag.' This was surreal — to see the Americans, far from imagining they were helping Black September get into the Village."

Much of the Israeli delegation had been out on the town that night, too — at a performance of Fiddler on the Roof.

"Danger, guys! Terrorists!"

Perhaps Yossef Gutfreund was at the games to provide security for his fellow Israelis. Perhaps not. An Israeli government report, commissioned by the Knesset in the aftermath of the massacre, surely settled that question, but the report won't be made public until at least 2003. In its next-day account of the incident, the New York Times suggested that both Gutfreund, a wrestling referee, and Jacov Springer, a weightlifting judge, doubled as security personnel. "Rubbish," says Gilady, the Israeli I.O.C. member. "Simply not true."

In any case Gutfreund apparently heard the rattling of the door at the threshold of that ground-floor duplex. When the door cracked open in the darkness, he could make out the barrels of several weapons. He threw his 132 kg against the door and shouted: "Danger, guys! Terrorists!" For critical seconds Gutfreund succeeded in staying their entrance, allowing his roommate, weightlifting coach Tuvia Sokolovsky, to shatter a rear window and flee to safety through a backyard garden. But the terrorists, using their rifle barrels to crowbar their way inside, soon had Gut- freund subdued on the floor. Quickly they prized track coach Amitzur Shapira and shooting coach Kehat Shorr from one downstairs bedroom. When Issa opened the door to the other downstairs bedroom, wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg lunged at him with a kitchen knife that had been lying on a bedside table. Issa stumbled to the side, unhurt, while another fedayee fired a round from his AK-47 that tore through the side of Weinberg's mouth.

The terrorists pushed their unharmed captives up the stairs of the duplex and overpowered the two occupants of the bedroom there, Springer and fencing coach Andr� Spitzer. Leaving their first group of captives behind, under guard, Tony and five other fedayeen nudged Weinberg — holding a scarf to his bleeding mouth — out onto Connollystrasse and two doors down, where another apartment filled with Israelis issued directly onto the street. There they seized David Berger, a weightlifter from Shaker Heights, Ohio, who had recently immigrated to Israel; another weightlifter, Yossef Romano, who was on crutches from a competition injury; and wrestlers Eliezer Halfin, Mark Slavin and Gad Tsabari. Most had heard the shot that wounded Weinberg, and, curious, left their rooms, only to walk into captivity. The fedayeen led their five new hostages the few steps back to join the others.

As soon as the group had re-entered the foyer, Tsabari made a dash down the stairs and to the parking garage below, where he zigged and zagged, taking cover behind concrete support posts as a Palestinian shot after him. Weinberg tried to take advantage of the chaos. He tackled one of the fedayeen, knocking his gun free — whereupon another terrorist gave up on Tsabari, who escaped, and finished Weinberg off.

The commandos herded their captives to the second floor of that first duplex apartment. Romano, a Libyan-born weightlifter and veteran of the Six Day War, gimped along, but here he threw down his crutches and grabbed an AK-47 from one of the terrorists. Another fedayee shot him dead.

A cleaning woman on her way to work had called the Olympic security office at 4:47 a.m. to report the sound of gunfire. An unarmed Oly dispatched to 31 Connollystrasse found a hooded commando in the doorway. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. The gunman ignored him, but the intentions of Black September — a group that took its name from the loss in September 1970 of 4,000 fedayeen in fighting with King Hussein's Jordanian army — would become clear soon enough. The fedayeen rolled Weinberg's body into the street as a sign of their seriousness.

At 5:08 a.m., two sheets of paper fluttered down from the balcony, into the hands of a policeman. The communiqu� listed the names of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails, plus, in a gesture to win leftist European sympathy, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, Germany's most notorious urban guerrillas. If the lot weren't released by 9 a.m., a hostage would be executed. "One each hour," Issa told the policeman. "And we'll throw their bodies into the street."

At 8:15 a.m. an equestrian event, the grand prix in dressage, went off as scheduled.

"Like doctors trying to bring the dead back to life"

That morning the Germans assembled a crisis team whose composition reflected the legacy of Germany's past. The council included both city police chief Schreiber and West German Interior Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. To further distance itself from the Nazi era, the West German government strictly limited federal power, leaving responsibility for domestic security to the country's 11 states. So the rather cumbersome triumvirate also included Genscher's Bavarian counterpart, Bruno Merk.

Soon came word, through West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, of Meir's summary response to the Black September demands: "Under no conditions will Israel make the slightest concession to terrorist blackmail." That position remained firm throughout the day. The Germans, however, desperate to buy time, would keep feeding the Palestinians excuses: that some members of the Israeli cabinet couldn't be reached; that not all the prisoners could be located; that phone lines to Jerusalem had broken down.

The fedayeen knew all along that the Israelis weren't likely to accede to their demands. Still, they extended their deadline to noon. Issa would emerge from the building from time to time to confer with German officials, usually with a grenade conspicuous in his shirt pocket, its pin sometimes pulled.

The crisis team groped for a plan. First Schreiber offered the terrorists an unlimited amount of money. Genscher, who would later become Foreign Minister, pleaded with Issa not to subject Jews once more to death on German soil, then offered himself as a substitute hostage. Vogel, Schreiber, Merk and Walther Tr�ger, the ceremonial mayor of the Olympic Village, joined Genscher in that offer, but Issa refused. Avery Brundage, president of the I.O.C., said he recalled that in the 1920s, the Chicago police had piped knockout gas into buildings to overpower gangsters. But the authorities abandoned Brundage's idea. They tried to have policemen disguised as cooks deliver food to the compound and overpower the terrorists. But the fedayeen weren't going to fall for that; they ordered that provisions be left at the building's threshold.
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