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Nightmare in Munich

By Henry Schuster

Editor's Note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's Investigative Unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism and efforts to combat those.

International terror was personified by images of a masked gunman at the Olympic Village.




Acts of terror

(CNN) -- Ankie Spitzer thinks she knows when terrorism took to the international stage. It was 33 years ago this week at the Olympics when 11 Israelis were killed -- including her husband.

Now, she's determined to make sure others don't forget what happened at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, Germany, when Palestinian terrorists took Israeli athletes hostage.

"The message was you could pull it off and get major exposure," Spitzer said.

"No one was punished, no one was held responsible. I am really convinced that if the world had reacted differently then, zero tolerance then ... everything would have looked different now."

In the early hours of September 5, 1972, eight Palestinian terrorists entered the Olympic Village in Munich. There was no security to speak of.

They stormed the apartments housing the Israeli athletes and took control. By the time the world woke up, the image it saw was of a masked man on the balcony of the Olympic Village.

Ultimatum hell

Ankie Spitzer, a Dutch native, was in Amsterdam. Her baby daughter was sick and she'd left Munich and gone to her parents to care for her.

Andre Spitzer was the Israeli fencing coach. He'd taken his wife to Amsterdam, but returned to Munich where he was taken hostage.

From the Olympic Village, the Palestinian terrorists issued ultimatums. They wanted 200 Arab inmates freed from Israeli prisons or they would start killing the athletes in Munich, one every hour.

"The hardest part was the ultimatums," Ankie Spitzer said. "Every time, you die a little bit because you think now it's going to happen to him."

Two Israeli athletes had been killed in the raid on the Village. The Games were put on hold, if only for a few hours.

The German government and the Bavarian state government began to talk with the terrorists. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir refused to negotiate.

Late on that Tuesday, the German government said the terrorists and their captives could be flown by helicopter to a nearby airbase. There, the terrorists were told, they would board a plane to take them to another country.

Botched rescue

The Germans had no SWAT team or special anti-terrorist unit then. Instead, 21 commandos were waiting on the plane, supposedly ready to overpower the Palestinians when they boarded, according to German government documents.

But that never happened. The German soldiers decided the mission put them at risk and left the plane, the accounts revealed.

That left only five police sharpshooters, who lacked radio contact with each other, to take on the eight terrorists.

The sharpshooters fired and missed. There was a gun battle and the Palestinians murdered at least some of their remaining captives. By the end, all the Israelis, five terrorists and one German police officer lay dead.

Ankie Spitzer was initially and erroneously told her husband had been rescued. It took her more than 20 years to get documents from the German government that told the full story of what happened that night.

"They were not prepared at all," Spitzer said. "They did not have infrared light and it was night. They had no communication between sharpshooters, and of the five sharpshooters, only two fired."

Israeli retaliation

start quoteI call it the first shot fired for international terror. Before that, it was never on such a level.end quote
-- Ankie Spitzer

In the Arab world, Munich was viewed as a triumph. Weeks later, the three captured Palestinian terrorists were freed by the German government after a Lufthansa plane was hijacked in the Balkans. The men got a heroes' welcome when they arrived in Libya.

Spitzer says a new era had begun. "I call it the first shot fired for international terror. Before that, it was never on such a level."

Only the Israelis retaliated. Spitzer says she and others were called to a meeting with Prime Minister Meir a week later.

"She told us ... those people who were involved, they won't live. There was a big silence.

"I remember that I said to her: 'So what? What does that bring us?'"

The Israeli government did carry out its campaign of vengeance. In one case, Mossad agents killed the wrong man, a waiter, in an attack in Norway, setting off an international furor.

Spitzer said she wanted to see the men who killed her husband in court, not murdered.

Ironically, Abu Daoud -- the man who claims he planned the attack -- was allowed back into the West Bank for several years by Israel, at a time in the 1990s when relations with Palestinians were improving.

He even invited Spitzer, now a journalist for Dutch TV, to meet him for an interview. She said the only place she wanted to see him was on trial.

Ongoing quest

For years, Ankie Spitzer and the families of the other victims have refused to let Munich die.

They sued the German government, which finally settled with them earlier this year in what Spitzer calls "a moral victory."

They want to expose Palestinian officials and those who helped fund the attack, plus the other terrorist groups and governments that helped in the plot's execution.

Most of all, they want the Olympics and the world to remember. That's why Spitzer and the others keep showing up at each Olympic Games, hoping for some sort of recognition.

She challenged the head of the International Olympic Committee last year in Athens. "Let all of us vow this will not happen again. Maybe it sounds naive, that is what I want from you."

"Then I feel that something positive has come from this tragedy."

With no response yet, the families are now setting their sights on Beijing in 2008, still looking for some kind of solace.

Your turn: Which is worse?

start quoteThose who advocate killing people should be a greater concern to the FBI than those who advocate property damage.end quote
-- Rose Grant

Many of you e-mailed Tracking Terror about last week's column. Most, but not all, felt that the extremist fringe that spawned the likes of Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph should be the FBI's top priority, not eco-terrorists.

Rose Grant expressed the opinion of many: "Clearly those who advocate killing people should be a greater concern to the FBI than those who advocate property damage."

Lest you think the animal rights/eco-terrorist movement only attacks property, there was also this interesting note from Dr. Jerry Vlasak, who publicizes the actions of the Animal Liberation Front.

"The big difference between animal liberation activists and other so-called 'terrorists' is the targets; no innocent victims are ever targeted in animal lib campaigns. If you are not abusing and exploiting animals, there is no need to fear for one's safety."

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