Munich Olympics Massacre

Although it would be still a few more years before 24/7 news cycle, the 1972 Munich Olympics and the subsequent hostage crisis unfolded live on televisions around the globe. On 5th September — right in the middle of the Games — terrorists sympathizers of the Palestinian cause broke into the Olympic Village and kidnapped members of the Israeli Olympic squad. Although the security service prepared itself theoretically for such an event (the infamous Sieber scenario 21), the police didn’t realize that the kidnappers would able to follow their reactions and plans by simply turning on television sets.

The above photo of the hooded terrorist on the balcony of the Israelis’ hotel room, taken by AP’s Kurt Strumpf, is considered to be one of the defining images of international terrorism. Clad in a nondescript pull-over, his face hidden by a sinister looking balaclava with cut-out slits for eyes, he looked more like a dehumanized monster than a young man from a Palestinian refugee camp that he was. We don’t know for certain who he was, yet this faceless individual personified the very image of the modern terrorist: someone who is not like us, does not look like us, and comes from some faraway place of which we knew little; someone different, alien, and inherently evil.

Two athletes were already killed before the hostage crisis progressed to a military airport at Fürstenfeldbruck, where a failed rescue attempt ended up with nine remaining hostages dead . The Games continued during the crisis, but eventually they were halted for a few hours. There was a move to cancel the rest of the Games, but they continued, a decision which the Israeli authorities supported. When the Games re-started, it began with mournfully tunes from Beethoven and a memorial service held in the Olympic Stadium.

After every Olympics, organizers publish an official report; Munich’s one was “Teutonically comprehensive”, but recounted the atrocity in “dispassionate, mostly exculpatory prose”, according to Time magazine, ending with a “grotesque rationalization”. The organizers wrote: “After the terrible events of September 5, 1972, it was once again the atmosphere of the Olympic Village which contributed a great deal to calming down and preserving peace among the athletes.” Left unsaid of course were unsightly stories of a New Zealand weightlifter who took a Polaroid snapshot not different from Strumpf’s photo above and spent the rest of the game trying to sell the photo and of ten nations which vehemently refused to let their flags fly at half-mast.

For better or for worse, the hostage crisis brought the Palestinian cause to the world’s attention. It’s hard to imagine it now, but at the time of Munich, the Palestinians were still a forgotten people. Israeli prime minister Golda Meir insisted they did not exist, and all the footage from 1972 never used the word “Palestinian”; the gunmen were simply “Arabs.”

Carlos the Jackal

Once described as “the most dangerous man of all times” (by Robert Ludlum, who used him in his Bourne novels), Ilich Ramírez Sánchez — named Ilich after Lenin — was the Venezuelan revolutionary who once claimed to have killed more than 1,500 people in the pursuit of Palestinian liberation. At the peak of his infamy, he was wanted in at least five European countries and was given the nickname Carlos the Jackal after a copy of Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal was found in his belongings and mistakenly believed to be his.

He was not pleased with the appellation the Guardian bestowed upon him, ‘Jackal’ also being nickname of an unpopular police-chief in his native Venezuela. Carlos’ most audacious attacks included shooting of a Marks & Spencer CEO, bombing two trains and railway station in France and kidnapping of 11 oil ministers in Vienna in 1975, which elicited an estimated £10m in ransom. He eluded the CIA and French intelligence with the help of Gadaffi of Libya, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and connections that stretched beyond the Iron Curtain.

Carlos was arrested in 1994 in Sudan and is now serving life imprisonment for the murder of two French intelligence officials and their informant in 1975. He married a French lawyer while serving time, and now spent the remainder of his unhurried life alternately praising Osama bin Laden and sneering at Al-Qaeda’s ‘amateur’ skills from inside La Sante prison.

“Carlos is forever identified with the above black-and-white head shot in which he wears tinted goggle shades and a pimp’s leather jacket, his sideburns extending to his jawline: the very model of the insouciant, globe-trotting 1970s gangster. For those who romanticize criminality, the shot is an irresistible, silk-screen worthy image of cool. So taken with it was the druggy outlaw U.K. funk-pop band the Black Grape that they made a colorized version of the photo the cover of their debut album, 1995’s It’s Great When You’re Straight … Yeah.” (Vanity Fair). The photo was taken by a British journalist named Nik Wheeler.