September 5, 1972: Massacre at Munich Summer Olympics

On September 5, 1972 members of Black September kidnapped Israeli athletes at the summer Olympics in Munich, , eventually killing 11 of them

MUNICH, GERMANY – Terrorist scholar Brian Jenkins has maintained that terrorists ‘want a lot of people watching’. What better audience than those watching the Olympics?

The US pop culture icon Andy Warhol is known for many things – his art was, shall we say, ‘different’ – but one line that is associated with him (even if he never said it as some claim) is “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Oh if that were true!

I suppose many, if not most, people want to be remembered for something. On the positive side that ‘something’ could be a cure for a disease or a life spent helping the less fortunate (think Mother Theresa). On the not so positive side it could be for a mass murder (a la Charles Manson and his ‘family’). For Andy Warhol maybe it was his portrait of Marilyn Monroe?

So if someone famous paints someone famous does that make them famous-squared? (Photo: Cory Doctorow on flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Terrorists all want to be famous too, and for more than 15 minutes if possible. The attack featured today is a good example of a spectacular attack that still resonates almost 50 years later.

On this day in 1972

Members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September kidnapped athletes of the Israeli national squad at the summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, eventually killing 11 of them (and one German police officer). Disguised as athletes and using stolen keys, the assailants scaled a fence surrounding the Olympic Village and forced their way into the quarters of the Israeli Olympic team. After a few athletes and coaches were shot, negotiations were opened to resolve the standoff.

German authorities tricked the terrorists into taking their hostages to a ride in helicopters to a nearby airport: the gunmen thought they would be allowed to leave Germany. A shootout ensued and many died, including the terrorists.

 I just had a terrible feeling of foreboding that this was the last we’d see of them — and I’m afraid that was correct.

Unidentified Canadian who was at the Olympic games

You want to talk about fame and media coverage? The actions of West German police were broadcast live to nearly 1 billion people around the world and to the many televisions throughout the Olympic Village, complicating their effectiveness. Now THAT is a helluva fifteen minutes!

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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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