TERRORISM: Horror and Death at the Olympics

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Genscher boldly demanded to see the hostages. Taken to a bedroom in one of the apartments, he saw the nine bound men sitting on the beds. "I talked to one," the Interior Minister reported after he came out. "I asked him how he felt. He said all right. He hoped we were doing something, he said." At Genscher's pleading, the Arabs pushed back their deadline for executing the hostages if their demands were not met first to 3 p.m. and then to 5 p.m. In all, they were to change it four times before the climactic shootout that ended the tragedy; it is at least conceivable that they might have been stalled even longer, and with less horrible results.

West German authorities had by now brought up 15 volunteer police sharpshooters, who wore armored vests under athletic uniforms. They were tracked by zoom-lens television cameras from atop the Olympic TV tower, though TV audiences could not hear the strange coded radio messages that accompanied their moves: "Samira to Eagle, the sky is clear." "Akal to 25, take the iron but be careful." Finally the TV channel was switched off altogether on the chance that the Arabs were also watching the stealthy sharpshooters edge up on them. But there were not enough targets to fire at. If a sharpshooter hit one of the Arabs who peered out from time to time his colleagues inside would undoubtedly retaliate against the hostages.

Governments in Motion. Meantime crowds drawn by the live television and radio reports poured into the area. A German Olympic hostess walked boldly up the street and spotted a guerrilla peering out from a half-open door of the apartment house. "If you give yourselves up," she called to him in English, "nothing will happen." He answered gruffly in the same language: "No." A chorus of a hundred young Jews broke through police cordons and loudly sang the Hatikvah, Israel's national anthem, followed by the U.S. civil rights hymn We Shall Overcome. "We've got to let them know in there that we are with them, that they're not alone," explained one. The eerie wah-wah, wah-wah of police sirens echoed everywhere while army helicopters fluttered overhead. The mood inside Olympic Village changed under the stress from Gemütlichkeit to outrage. At one point, when a terrorist appeared on a balcony of the Israeli quarters, athletes badgered him from adjacent rooftops: "Take your guns and get out of here."

By then, governments were in motion everywhere, but there was more protocol than practical effect in most of their communications. An exception was Willy Brandt; after a special Cabinet meeting in Bonn, he headed for Munich to guide the decision-making personally. Mrs. Meir, in a ten-minute address to the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, asked that the Games be suspended—and they were, at 3:45 p.m. She also seemed to hint that Israel was still debating whether or not to release its Arab prisoners, though the decision had already been made not to do so. President Nixon, awakening in San Clemente when it was already early afternoon in Munich, sent an expression of sorrow to Jerusalem and ordered U.S. ambassadors in Arab capitals to press for the release of the hostages.

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