Munich 1972: Looking back at Olympic terrorist attack

During Friday’s opening ceremony at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a moment of remembrance was held for the 11 victims of a terrorist attack during the Munich Olympics in 1972.

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During the 20th Olympic Games, eight members of the Palestine Liberation Organization splinter group Black September invaded the Israeli team’s area of the Olympic village, according to Reuters.

One weightlifter and one wrestling coach were killed at first and nine others were held hostage as gunmen demanded Israel release 236 prisoners, Reuters reported.

The events happened on live television, BBC News reported, with the hostage situation lasting 20 hours, according to The New York Times.

During that time, family members of the victims said they were beaten, the Times reported.

Eventually, the gunmen attempted to flee the country from Fuerstenfeldbruck military airfield, but police fired at the hostage-takers, Reuters reported. BBC News called it a botched rescue attempt. As shots were exchanged, the nine hostages were killed in two helicopters that had been carrying them from the Olympic site to the airport.

When shots ended, five gunmen and a police officer were also dead. Three other gunmen were captured but were freed when hijackers from Palestine took control of a Lufthansa airliner in Oct. 1972. They were flown to Libya and were welcomed as heroes. Hitmen were sent by Israel in retaliation for the attack, killing the men behind the attack. But not everyone they killed was connected to the attack and they did not get everyone who had a hand in the Munich hostage situation.

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Mohammed Daoud Odeh, the mastermind of the Olympic Village attacks, died in Damascus in July 2010 at the age of 71, BBC News reported at the time. He had survived an attempt on his life in Warsaw in 1981, BBC News reported.

He wrote a book in 1999 claiming responsibility for the attacks, BBC News reported. He also spoke about the event in 2006 with The Associated Press, saying that the attack was a turning point for Palestine. “Before Munich, nobody had the slightest idea about Palestine.” He also did not like the word “terrorists” being used to describe Black September.

Israel has also not officially claimed responsibility for the assassinations that killed the PLO members blamed for the Munich attack.

The games were delayed for a day and a memorial ceremony was held for the victims at the Olympic Stadium. But the games continued with the International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage saying, “Every civilized person recoils in horror at the barbarous criminal intrusion of terrorists into peaceful Olympic precincts. We mourn our Israeli friends, victims of this brutal assault. The Olympic flag and the flags of all the world fly at half mast. Sadly, in this imperfect world, the greater and the more important the Olympic Games become, the more they are open to commercial, political and now criminal pressure,” Reuters reported.