ON THIS DAY    5 August      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1973: Athens attack leaves three dead

Three people have been killed and 55 have been wounded after two Arab gunmen opened fire and threw grenades into a crowded passenger lounge at Athens airport.

The gunmen took about 35 of the passengers hostage and held them at gunpoint for more than two hours before finally surrendering to police.

There were about 1,500 people packed into the transit hall when the first grenades were thrown, sparking panic among the crowd.

As chandeliers fell from the ceiling, the guerrillas, who say they belong to the Palestinian militant group Black September, opened fire with sub-machine guns shooting indiscriminately into the crowd.

Ripped by bullets

The shooting began as passengers were about to be searched before boarding a flight for Tel Aviv in Israel.

It is believed the gunmen intended to hijack the plane.

One American passenger described how the man standing next to him had his whole chest ripped by bullets and died on the spot. Another older man was also hit.

A German radio correspondent said he saw a young child hit in the upper body and a woman screaming for her child as blood spurted from her own shoulder.

The gunmen took about 35 of the passengers hostage and held them at gunpoint for more than two hours before finally surrendering to police.

The gunmen have been named as Senhud Muhammad and Talat Hussan.

Two young women who had been seen talking to the Palestinians at the airport were later questioned by police and released.

Two of the dead have been identified as Americans, Elbert Kersing of New Jersey and Jeanne Salandri of New York. The third victim has not been named.

The list of injured included mostly Greeks and Americans.

A waiter in the departure lounge coffee bar, Elias Panou, said: "There were two men, aged about 18 or 20. One wore yellow trousers and a beige shirt, the other black trousers and a spotted shirt. There were two girls with them.

"Suddenly they started throwing bombs and shooting. There was blood all over the transit lounge. They told us to lie down. One said in English, 'I'm sorry'. The other said, 'Get down or I'll kill you'.

Police cordoned off the airport building after the attack, while airport traffic was directed to the old airport normally used for domestic flights.

A party of 24 British holidaymakers caught up in the attack was asked to remain in Athens for the night to help police with inquiries.

Thomson Holidays said no-one in their party had been hurt seriously and it was expected they would all return to Britain tomorrow.

In Context
The two guerrillas, whose names were officially confirmed as Talaat Hussein Abdallah and Zemed Mohammed Ahmed, were charged with wilful manslaughter and sentenced to death.

Both were 21 years of age and members of the Black September group.

It seems their intention was to attack passengers travelling to Israel, however the flight to Tel Aviv, contrary to initial reports, had already boarded. The gunmen ended up attacking passengers bound for New York.

In December 1973 guerrillas attacked Rome airport, killing 30 people before hijacking a Lufthansa jumbo jet and demanding the release of the Black September gunmen.

The Rome gunmen were eventually forced to give themselves up.

But in February 1974, Arab guerrillas hijacked a Greek freighter demanding the release of the gunmen. They eventually released the ship and in return the Greek government agreed to commute the terrorists' sentences to life imprisonment.

Your Memories?
Write your account of the events.


Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |