September 28, 1973: Terrorists hijack train transporting immigrants in Austria

On September 28, 1973 terrorists from the Syrian-sponsored organization As Sa’iqa overtook a train carrying Soviet Jews immigrating to Israel

MARCHEGG, AUSTRIA – You have to hand it to some terrorists: they really do seem to think about the attacks they carry out.

As I am sure I have written and said on far too many occasions, my career in Canadian intelligence began at what later proved to be the tail end of the Cold War. Not that we knew then that we in the West had all but won the half-century conflict, mind you!

This period in human history saw two WWII allies, the US (and its team) and the USSR (and its side), duke it out for global ideological supremacy. And while we never – thankfully! – got to MAD (mutually assured destruction), there were some tense moments. My own first few months in intel coincided with the late August 1983 shootdown of a Korean passenger aircraft by the Soviets and US President Ronald Reagan’s October decision to ‘invade’ the Caribbean island of Grenada. All very heady stuff for a 22-year old Canadian newbie spy!

I was not a Soviet ‘expert’ back the but it was impossible to ignore the work of my colleagues at Communications Security Establishment (CSE) in contributing to the West’s monitoring of Soviet intentions and capabilities. Yes, ‘we’ won, but it was not that certain that we would. Ever since Lenin disembarked at the Finland Station in St Petersburg in April 1917 the future course of world history was irrevocably changed.

Here today, built to last in every city, in every nation from Lake Geneva to the Finland Station (Photo: Anirudh Koul on flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Nuclear brinkmanship was not the only threat back then. Terrorism – yes, there was terrorism before 9/11! – was a scourge, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. As we shall see below.

On this day in 1973

Terrorists from the Syrian-sponsored organization As Sa’iqa overtook a train carrying Soviet Jews immigrating to Israel. When the train stopped in Marchegg, just inside Austria, the terrorists, who had boarded in Bratislava, struck: taking out their rifles they wounded one person, and took five Jews and an Austrian customs official hostage.

We have carried out this attack because we feel that the immigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is a serious threat to our goal.

Statement given to Austrian authorities by the terrorists

The Soviet Jews were on their way to a transit camp in Schoenau. The terrorists delivered an ultimatum: if the Austrian government refused to immediately close the camp, they would not only kill the hostages, but Austria would become the next target of the organisation’s vengeance. Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky eventually agreed not only to close the transit camp but provided the extremists with a light plane for their flight to Libya.

It must be excruciatingly hard for a head of state to give in to terrorists. I would not want to be the one having to make that call.

Read More Today in Terrorism

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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