Abbas, Fatah Call Mastermind of Munich Olympics Attack A Hero

By Patrick Goodenough | July 8, 2010 | 4:14 AM EDT

President Barack Obama met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office on Wednesday, June 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

( – Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah organization have been hailing as a hero the man who masterminded the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
Mohammed Oudeh, better known as Abu Daoud, died in Syria last weekend at the age of 73.
He had been living in Syria since Israel in 1999 refused to allow him to return to the P.A. self-rule areas, following the publication of a biography in which he admitted planning the Munich assault.
Eleven members of Israel’s Olympic delegation – one of them a U.S. citizen – and a German policeman died during the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) hostage-taking and an abortive rescue attempt.
According to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), an independent Israeli monitor of Arab media, Abbas in a telegram of condolence described Oudeh as “a wonderful brother, companion, tough and stubborn, [and] relentless fighter.”
The official P.A. newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, quoted Abbas as telling a member of Oudeh’s family in a phone conversation that the dead man’s life had been “at the forefront on every battlefield, with the aim of defending the revolution.”
The paper in a separate article described Oudeh as a “great Fatah fighter and patriot,” one whose name had shone “brightly” in Munich in 1972.
Arab press coverage of Oudeh’s funeral near Damascus also quoted Fatah officials praising him as an important leader and “martyr.”
Fatah central committee member Abbas Zaki cited “his noble actions and his glorious history” and Samir Al-Refa’a, secretary of Fatah’s Syria branch, said Oudeh “will always remain our ideal and a role model for the generations to come.”
“The pride that P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement take in Palestinian terrorists who have killed Israeli civilians is part of a pattern,” said Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik of PMW, noting among other examples the veneration of Dalal Mughrabi, involved in a 1978 attack in which 35 Israelis were killed.
Last April it was reported that a street in Ramallah, the seat of Abbas’ administration, had been named after notorious Hamas bomb-maker, Yihye Ayyash.
‘Arafat briefed’
On September 5, 1972, eight heavily-armed Palestinian gunmen stormed the Israeli team’s apartment in the German city, killing an athlete and a coach in the process. They took nine others hostage, and demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir release 234 Arab prisoners in Israeli jails and two German terrorist leaders imprisoned in Frankfurt. They also wanted safe passage out of Germany.
A 17-hour standoff ended when German police snipers tried to shoot the terrorists at a German air base where a plane was standing by, ostensibly to fly them to Cairo. In the ensuing battle, all nine of the blindfolded Israeli hostages, a German police officer, and five of the Palestinians were killed.
Among the dead was 28-year-old Cleveland-born weightlifter David Marc Berger, an American citizen and former U.S. national youth middleweight weightlifting champion.
After the attack, which cast a pall over Germany’s first hosting of the Olympics since the 1936 Games in Nazi-ruled Berlin, Meir gave instructions for Israeli agents to hunt down and kill those behind it.
She told the Knesset on September 12: “We have no choice but to strike at the terrorist organizations wherever we can reach them. That is our obligation to ourselves and to peace. We shall fulfill that obligation undauntedly.”
At least 12 PLO members were reportedly killed across Europe in the ensuing months. (Oudeh was reportedly shot and wounded in a Polish cafe in 1981, in what he claimed was a Mossad assassination attempt.)
Three years after Israel and PLO leader Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo peace accords in 1993, an Israeli Labor government granted Oudeh permission to enter the self-rule areas to participate in a Palestine National Council meeting.
After the session he asked to remain and – despite Israel’s knowledge of his role in the Munich attack – he was allowed to settle in Ramallah.
In 1999, Oudeh published a French-language memoir entitled Palestine: From Jerusalem to Munich, in which he discussed the Munich operation.
He revealed that Arafat was briefed on the planning by another senior PLO leader, and said the PLO leader had seen him off on the mission with the words, “Allah protect you, Abu Daoud.” (The PLO had long denied direct links to Black September, the group blamed for the assault.)
In his book Oudeh offered no apology, blaming German police and Meir for the Israelis’ deaths.
The book’s release caused a storm. Prosecutors in Munich issued an international warrant for Oudeh’s arrest – although they decided not to pursue an investigation into Arafat’s role.
Oudeh was abroad at the time, and the Israeli government, now under Likud Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, revoked his travel pass and barred him from returning to the P.A. areas.
The Oslo Accords stipulated that Palestinians from abroad whose entry was approved would “not be prosecuted for offenses committed prior to September 13, 1993.”
The question of whether senior Palestinian figures should escape justice for past terrorist attacks caused considerable controversy in Israel.
Arafat himself, according to published accounts, gave the order for gunmen to shoot dead U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel and two other diplomats taken hostage at the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1973.
The terrorists involved in that attack were demanding freedom for Palestinian prisoners – including Oudeh, who was then in Jordanian custody.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow