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Sunday, 3 September, 2000, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
The Munich massacre
Andre Spitzer
One of the Israeli hostages is held at gunpoint
An Oscar-winning film to be broadcast on BBC Two tells the real story behind the massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The world looked on in horror 28 years ago as Israeli athletes were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists in the Olympic Village. Eleven were murdered.

Narrated by actor Michael Douglas, Storyville: One Day in September - which will be shown on Tuesday night - reveals a tale of mystery, conspiracy, tragedy and ineptitude.

Jamal Al Gashey, the lone surviving member of the Black September guerillas, gives his first interview since the killings.

The 1972 Games had been a great success for the first 10 days.

Swimmer Mark Spitz, a Jew, won seven gold medals, while Russian gymnast Olga Korbut captured the hearts of millions.

But the picture darkened on 5 September when a group of eight Palestinian terrorists raided the Israeli team headquarters.

  How the drama unfolded
4.40am, Sept 5, 1972, Terrorists raid Israeli team HQ. Two athletes are killed
6am Ransom note demands release of 236 political prisoners
3.50pm The Games are suspended
5pm Plan to storm building called off. Terrorists request jet
10pm Group transferred to helicopters
11.30pm As helicopters land, police crew aboard a decoy plane abort mission
12.30am Police snipers and terrorists exchange shots
1am Grenade thrown into one helicopter and bullets fired into other. All hostages die, five terrorists killed

Two athletes were killed in their rooms, while nine others were taken hostage as the captors demanded the release of political prisoners.

Over the next 24 hours, the tense stand-off between terrorists and police was played out in front of TV viewers worldwide.

A crowd of around 80,000 onlookers built up around the scene.

The gripping documentary examines how events unfolded, mixing archive footage with the interviews of key figures including athletes, police, and relatives of those who died.

For several hours, the International Olympic Committee resisted pressure to suspend the Games but eventually gave way to protests.

Zvi Zamir, the then chief of Israeli secret service Mossad, questions the priorities of the authorities in Germany.

"To let the Olympic Games carry on, this was their main objective. The Israeli team and its rescue was second to that," he says.

Meanwhile, the German government and police bungled their attempts to rescue the hostages.

One bid to storm the building with a squad of volunteers had to be abandoned when it became clear the targets could see what was happening on television.

Munich terrorist
A Palestinian look-out surveys the Olympic Village

When the terrorists requested a jet to fly them out of Germany, a plan was hatched to lay on a decoy plane filled with a police squad who could overpower them.

But the team felt they were not trained for this task.

Fearing a suicide mission, they pulled out just seconds before two helicopters containing the Palestinians and Israelis landed at the airport.

Even at this late stage, the Germans thought there was only four or five terrorists, rather than eight, and positioned just five snipers at the airport.

When they opened fire on the terrorists, a policeman standing near the tower was killed by a stray bullet.

The programme tells how a sniper and a fleeing helicopter pilot were shot and seriously injured by members of their own side.

Armoured police cars were called in late as reinforcements, and were then caught in traffic as crowds clogged the roads in an effort to see the drama.


The terrorists finally killed the athletes by throwing a grenade into one helicopter and firing a round of bullets into the other.

Yet as the shoot-out was happening, a German government spokesman claimed the operation had been a success, prompting "They're free" headlines around the world.

Ankie Spitzer, widow of the murdered Israeli fencing coach Andre, says: "At midnight came the official announcement from a spokesman of the German government who said all the Israelis are safe and all the terrorists are dead."

It was several hours before she learned the awful truth.

The three terrorist survivors were never tried, and were handed over to Libya in exchange for the freedom of hostages when a jet bound for Frankfurt was hijacked seven weeks later.

The documentary alleges the hijack was set up by the German government in collusion with the terrorists.

Police marksman
A police marksman dressed as an athlete

Secret Israeli assassination squads later killed two of the three surviving Munich terrorists, but Jamal Al Gashey is still alive.

Now in hiding in Africa after surviving numerous attempts on his life, he stands by his murderous actions.

"I'm proud of what I did at Munich because it helped the Palestinian cause enormously," he says.

"Before Munich, the world had no idea about our struggle, but on that day, the name of Palestine was repeated all around the world."

Director Kevin Macdonald has made a harrowing and unforgettable film, which won an Oscar for best documentary feature.

"One of the key things that piqued my interest as a film-maker was the morbid connection between sport and murder," says Macdonald.

"In some ways, the Munich massacre was the ultimate transgression - the destruction of an ideal of peace and brotherhood.

"But as we are now only too well aware, the Olympic movement is not as pure as snow, nor was it ever."

Storyville: One Day in September is broadcast on BBC Two on Tuesday, 5 September, at 21.00 BST

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02 Sep 00 |  Olympics2000
Olympic village welcomes athletes
10 Aug 00 |  History
Munich 1972
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