In Israel, the legacy of terrorism

Planner of '72 attack on athletes in Munich stirs fresh uproar

June 26, 1999|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- In his days as a Palestinian guerrilla fighting the Israeli occupation, Mohammed Daoud Odeh helped orchestrate operations for the terrorist group Black September. Among the most infamous was the abduction and murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. It caused an international uproar.

Today, the one-time terrorist known as Abu Daoud is a gray-haired grandfather, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's parliament-in-exile and a supporter of the peace process with Israel. But his admission in a tell-all autobiography of his role in the Munich operation is causing a stir here and abroad.

At 62, Abu Daoud is an outlaw wanted on a murder charge by the Germans and an outcast barred June 13 by Israel from re-entering the West Bank from Jordan. France also has refused him entry to promote his book.

The case against Abu Daoud surfaced more than a week ago with reports that German prosecutors had issued an international warrant for his arrest for his role in the Olympics attack.

The plan, according to Abu Daoud, was to kidnap Israeli athletes and trade them for 236 Palestinian guerrillas jailed in Israel.

But the kidnapping went awry.

Before dawn Sept. 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorists raided the Israeli quarters in the Olympic Village. Two Israeli athletes who resisted the kidnappers were killed immediately. The kidnappers then took the remaining nine Israeli hostages to the airport, where they were to be flown to the Middle East.

A rescue plan hatched by German authorities resulted in a shootout. When it was over, nine Israeli hostages and five of the eight kidnappers were dead.

The Israeli decision to bar Abu Daoud's passage to the West Bank raised anew the question of whether two peoples with a blood-soaked past can move beyond their personal and collective histories and commit to peace.

Abu Daoud, who since 1996 has divided his time between homes in Amman, Jordan, and the West Bank city of Ramallah, is stuck in Amman now. He is hoping that Israel's prime minister-elect, Ehud Barak, a retired commando who led attacks against terrorists, will bail him out.

"What happened in Munich occurred 27 years ago," Abu Daoud said in a telephone interview from Amman. "And the cases between us, the Palestinians and the Israelis, are supposed to be closed after the peace process. If we would like to open the files, Mr. Barak also has a file."

As a high-ranking member of the Black September terrorist organization, Abu Daoud spent much of his life traveling.

The group's mission was to carry out terrorist operations to further the Palestinian cause. Its name derived from the expulsion in 1970 of the Palestine Liberation Organization from Jordan by the army of then-King Hussein. The group assassinated a Jordanian prime minister in 1971 and tried to kill several other Jordanian leaders, including Hussein.

In 1973, Abu Daoud was arrested in Jordan after trying to take over the U.S. Embassy in Amman. He was sentenced to death but later pardoned.

Four years later, Abu Daoud was arrested in France. But a court released him before German authorities could seek his extradition. After that, Abu Daoud lived in Algeria; Tunis, Tunisia; and Eastern Europe.

In 1996, two years after the Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty was signed, Abu Daoud received permission from Israel to attend a meeting of the Palestine National Council, the Palestinians' parliament-in-exile, in the Gaza Strip. The council was convened to rescind parts of the charter that called for the destruction of Israel.

A previous Israeli government granted Abu Daoud and other notorious Palestinian figures permission to enter Israel and travel to the national council meeting.

Abu Daoud attended the meeting and voted to excise the offending charter clauses. He also decided to remain in the West Bank and bought a home in Ramallah, although he kept an apartment in Amman. Like other Palestinian officials, Abu Daoud received an Israeli-issued VIP pass that enabled him to travel easily between the two cities.

Abu Daoud was in Amman two weeks ago when news of the German murder warrant reached Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded with a decree June 13 barring Abu Daoud from entering Israel and stripping him of his VIP card.

Under the peace treaty, Israel maintains control of the borders for security reasons. That means it can prevent Palestinians from entering or leaving the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu's decision has been praised by families of the slain athletes.

"He [Abu Daoud] is simply a killer," said Ilana Romano, the widow of one of the Israeli athletes. "His hands are soaked with blood."

Abu Daoud is among the old guard of the PLO who support Yasser Arafat's peace deal with the Israelis. He is a senior member of Arafat's Fatah faction.

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