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1985: Gunmen kill 16 at two European airports

VIDEO : Gunman Abdel Aziz Merzoughi is questioned in hospital

At least 16 people have been killed and more than 100 injured during simultaneous twin terrorist attacks at Rome and Vienna airports.

Gunmen opened fire on passengers queuing to check-in luggage at departure desks for Israel's national airline, El Al.

The attacks were indiscriminate and started within minutes of each other at about 0815 GMT today.

No group has yet admitted carrying out the attacks.

At least 13 people were killed, three of them gunmen, after six men, described by witnesses as being of Arab origin, fired bullets at travellers waiting in the main departure hall at Rome's international airport.

Chaos broke out during what is reported to have been a five minute attack as passengers fell to the floor for cover.

Italian police returned fire as bullets rang out across the concourse leaving a trail of blood and broken glass.

Some unconfirmed witness reports describe having heard two "bombs" explode before the gun fire.

Warnings

Two gunmen, in their twenties and of Arab origin, were captured alive.

One of them was taken to a military hospital for surgery and a third attacker is said to have escaped.

In similar scenes in neighbouring Austria, three gun men threw four hand grenades into crowds of passengers queuing to check-in for a flight to Tel Aviv.

It is understood they then pulled out Kalashnikov submachine guns as Austrian police returned fire.

They escaped by car but were pursued by police who opened fire.

One of the men is reported dead, the other two were severely wounded and eventually surrendered to police.

It comes amid reports airport authorities received warnings Arab militant groups were planning a pre-Christmas terrorist campaign at terminals across the world.

Security at London's Heathrow Airport has been stepped up with Israel's El Al planes currently grounded.

Extra police surveillance at check-in desks has been mounted while special branch officers are "mingling" with the crowds.

In Context
The final death toll rose to 18 and 120 people were injured.

Initially the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was blamed for the attacks but its leader Yasser Arafat denounced the killings.

It is widely believed Abu Nidal, Father of Struggle, whose real name was Sabri al-Banna, masterminded the assault.

He split from Arafat's group in 1974 and is believed to have been behind the murder several high ranking PLO officials and for terrorist attacks designed to undermine the organisation.

Abu Nidal fronted the rival group - Fatah Revolutionary Council - which was generally thought of as the world's most feared terrorist organisation before the rise of al-Qaeda.

He was found dead in mysterious circumstances in Iraq in August 2002.


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