Excerpted from One Day in September: The Story of the
1972 Munich Olympics Massacre by Simon Reeve. Copyright
© 2001. Reprinted by permission. All rights
It was 4.30 a.m. on the morning of 5 September 1972,
when a small group of shadowy figures arrived on the
outskirts of the Olympic Village in Munich and made
their way silently to the six-foot perimeter fence
supposed to offer protection to the thousands of
athletes sleeping within.
Creeping through the darkness carrying heavy sports bags, the group made for a length of the fence near Gate 25A, which was locked at midnight but left unguarded. The 35-year-old leader of the small troop, Luttif Issa, a.k.a. ‘Issa’, had carefully chosen the point at which his men were to enter the village. On previous nights he had seen athletes climbing the fence near Gate 25A while returning drunk from late-night parties. Security was lax and none of the athletes had been stopped. So Issa dressed his seven colleagues in tracksuits, reasoning that if guards saw them they would assume they were just sportsmen returning to their quarters.
Jamal Al-Gashey, at 18 one of the younger members of the group, remembers the tension building as they approached the fence. There they came across a few drunk American athletes returning to their beds by the same route.
‘They had been forced to leave the village in secret for their night out,’ Al-Gashey remembered. ‘We could see they were Americans ... and they were going to go over the [fence] as well.’ Issa quickly decided the foreign athletes could give his group cover if they helped each other over the fence. ‘We got chatting,’ said Al-Gashey, ‘and then we helped each other over.’ Al-Gashey lifted one of the US team up onto the fence, which was topped not by barbed wire but small round cones, and then the American turned and helped to pull Al-Gashey up and over.
Several officials, including six German postmen on their way to the temporary post office in the Village Plaza, saw between eight and 12 people in two groups with sports bags climbing the fence at around 4.10 a.m. As Issa had assumed, none of these passers-by challenged them because they thought the fence-climbers were just athletes returning home.
‘We walked for a while with the American athletes,’ Al-Gashey recounted, ‘then said goodbye.’ The group split up and stole through the sleeping Village to a drab three-storey block on Connollystrasse, one of three broad pedestrianized streets, adorned with shrubbery and fountains, snaking from east to west through the Village. Even if the unarmed Olympic guards or the Munich police had been alerted it would probably have been too late.
The eight men were terrorists from Black September, an extremist faction within the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The fedayeen (‘fighters for the faith’) were carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles and grenades, hidden under clothing in the sports bags, and they were fully prepared to fight their way to their target: 31 Connollystrasse, the building in the heart of the Olympic Village that housed the Israeli delegation to the Olympic Games. New entrants were about to make their mark on the XXth Olympiad.