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‘All dead’: the Munich Olympics massacre 50 years ago

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September 5, 1972: Palestinian gunmen storm the Olympic Village at the Summer Games in Munich and take a group of Israeli athletes hostage, triggering a standoff that ends in a massacre.

AFP was the first news outlet to report on the tragic climax of the attack that shocked the world 50 years ago. Here’s a look at how it unfolded.

It is the 11th day of the Munich Olympic Games, dubbed the “Games of Peace and Joy” by organisers eager to erase memories of the 1936 Games in Berlin, presided over by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Those running into them think they are athletes returning from a night on the town.

Two men who try to stop them are killed: wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg and weightlifter Yossef Romano. Some escape, but nine other Israelis are taken hostage, hands bound behind their backs.

“It was between 4 and 5 am… when I opened my door I saw in the stairwell a man in plain clothes wearing a cap and brandishing a machine gun,” a witness living in the same building as the Israelis, tells AFP.

“Shortly after 0700 GMT (8 am local time) nearly 3,000 police officers are deployed in and around the Olympic Village. Elite marksmen arrive and surround the building,” AFP reporters at the scene write.

They demand the release of more than 200 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel — a demand refused outright by the government of Golda Meir.

Meanwhile, several thousand people congregate around the Olympic Village to wait for news of the hostages.

Gunbattle at airport –

At around 10 pm the eight militants and their nine hostages are taken by helicopter from the Olympic Village to the Fuerstenfeldbruck military air base, where German police had decided to mount a rescue operation.

A gun battle erupts, in which a Palestinian fighter throws a hand grenade into a helicopter which explodes.

AFP journalists at the scene, however, report that “a battle is raging. Machine gunfire can be sporadically heard, isolated gunfire also, no doubt from the elite marksmen”.

The police call a news conference in Munich, but one of AFP’s reporters at the airport, Charles Bietry, is sceptical, suspecting a diversionary tactic. He decides to remain at the scene with two colleagues from French newspapers.

“Everything went wrong, all the hostages are dead,” the man, who turns out to be the mayor of Munich, Georg Kronawitter, says in German.

“The worst thing was hearing on the radio the chants of joy coming from Israel” where they believed the hostages had been saved, he said.

German authorities only confirm the scoop, one of the biggest in AFP’s history, 56 minutes later.

Five hostage-takers are also killed and three are arrested.

“I am sure the public will agree that we cannot allow a handful of terrorists to destroy this nucleus of international cooperation and goodwill we have in the Olympic movement,” its President Avery Brundage says.

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Article source: Courier Mail
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2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000