New Report Highlights Libya's Role in Munich Massacre of Israeli Athletes

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Munich Olympics attack, families of the Israeli victims demand compensation from Libyan funds frozen in Germany, and are aided by an extensive report on Libya's involvement in the massacre

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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The two West German border police helicopters that carried armed terrorists and nine Israeli Olympian hostages standing at an air force base west of Munich, September 7. 1972.
The two West German border police helicopters that carried the armed terrorists and the Israeli Olympian hostages Credit: AP
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

A new international report, assembled from secret intelligence files and open sources, aims to prove that Libya financed and directed the 1972 Munich Olympics terror attack in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered.

The report was prepared by the Dutch law firm Knoops’ Advocaten on behalf of relatives of the Israeli victims, for a lawsuit demanding $165 million in reparations from Libyan finances that are currently frozen in German banks. This September marks the 50th anniversary of the massacre, and the families of the Israeli victims are threatening to boycott a commemoration event organized in Germany.

The report alleges that in August 1972, a month before the attack, Yasser Arafat and his deputy, Salah Khalaf (known as Abu Iyad), traveled to Tripoli, met with Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and asked him to finance the operation, which was then at the preparatory stage.

Quoting German intelligence files, the report states that Gadhafi – who had set up a special fund to finance Palestinian terror groups – gave them 1 million pounds sterling (the equivalent to $50 million today).

One of the terrorists which seized members of the Israeli Olympic Team at their quarters at the Munich Olympic Village.Credit: AP

The intelligence report supporting the lawsuit sheds new light on the connection between Gadhafi’s regime and one of the most infamous terror attacks of the 20th century.

The report notes that the Palestinian terrorists who carried out the attack were trained in Libya by Gadhafi’s intelligence service and army. The “mastermind” of the attack, Mohammad Daoud Oudeh (aka Abu Daoud), was interrogated by Jordanian intelligence years after the attack and said that some of the terrorists arrived in Bavaria from Tripoli.

It also quotes documents from the German domestic intelligence agency (BfV), which traced phone conversations from some of the terrorists’ hotel rooms in Munich to Libya. It also alleges that some of the terrorists used fake Libyan passports, and that weapons used in the massacre were smuggled into Germany via Libyan diplomats.

Another piece of evidence cited in the report is the testimony of Willi Pohl (aka Willi Voss), a neo-Nazi activist who supported the Palestine Liberation Organization. He was arrested by the West German security services after the massacre, but later managed to escape to Beirut.

He revealed in his interrogation that he had met with Abu Daoud and Libyan diplomats prior to the attack. During the meeting, he was asked to collect weapons for the PLO, which were stored in a Libyan cache in Spain, and agreed to do so. “The weapons, as well as those of the Olympic attack, came from there,” he confessed.

Salah Khalaf wrote in his memoir that he personally delivered the weapons to Munich after traveling to West Germany with another man and a woman. At Munich airport, they put their suitcases on luggage trolleys and headed toward customs. Four suitcases belonging to Khalaf, and the female companion were filled with weapons, while the luggage of the other man was clean.

Gadhafi at the height of his power, reviewing Libyan troops during a military parade Credit: AP

While Khalaf and the woman calmly walked ahead, the other man deliberately bumped his trolley into another passenger in order to cause a distraction. The customs officers stopped him, checked his suitcase, and found nothing suspicious. In the meantime, Khalaf and the woman were waved through.

Together with Abu Daoud, they stored the weapons in lockers at the Munich railroad station. A few days later, the terrorists collected the weapons, put them inside their bags and, posing as athletes, went into the Olympic Village. The guards were so unprofessional that they let them in without any questions.

The rest of the story, including Germany’s shameful failure to stop the attack or save the lives of the Israeli athletes, has been described in thousands of articles, books, and films over the years.

The German failure was followed by an extraordinary affair that led to the release of three Palestinian terrorists who survived the Munich attack. On October 29, 1972, less than two months after the attack, Lufthansa flight 615 en route from Beirut to Frankfurt was hijacked by terrorists, who demanded the release of their comrades arrested for their part in the massacre.

The German government hurried to release the three terrorists and paid the hijackers – members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – a $9 million ransom. The Munich murderers landed in Tripoli and were welcomed by Gadhafi as heroes.

Ilana Romano, left, and Ankie Spitzer in front of London's Olympic Stadium. 'Germany was hard with us, but easy with the terrorists'Credit: AP

In 2013, a German investigative television program, “Report München,” revealed that 11 days before the hijacking, the chief of the Munich police had written to the Bavarian interior minister, stating that measures had been taken in order to “accelerate the deportation” of the Munich attackers, rather than preparing for them to be put on trial.

Former Mossad head Zvi Zamir told me in 2005 that he supported the view that the hijacking was a charade coordinated with German involvement.

‘Cowardly and ridiculous’

Shortly after the Munich attack, as the coffins of the 11 murdered Israelis were being flown home, Germany sent $1 million to compensate the victims’ families. To avoid any hint of government culpability, the payment was made through the German Red Cross.

“We thought it was cowardly and ridiculous,” says Ankie Spitzer, whose husband Andre was among the victims.

West German police officers climb on the roof of the Munich Olympic village building.Credit: AP

Spitzer and Ilana Romano, whose husband Yossef was also murdered in the attack, are spearheading the legal battle on behalf of the bereaved families.

“We’re not in it for the money. We want justice and recognition,” Spitzer explained. “The German government lied to us, concealed documents and behaved cynically, refusing to take responsibility for its mistakes and negligence.”

After decades of legal and political battles, the German government agreed in 2004 to pay the families about $3.2 million in compensation. More than two-thirds of that money went to Israeli and German lawyers to cover their expenses.

That was not the end of the story, however. A few years ago, Spitzer and Romano learned that German banks were withholding $7 billion deposited there by Gadhafi and his regime. That money, frozen in 2011, remains in German hands, with Gadhafi long gone and his country torn apart by a civil war with no end in sight.

Spitzer and Romano approached the German government and asked it to release the money, paying each family $15 million. The Berlin authorities refused, arguing that the German banks act as trustees of the Libyan funds on behalf of the United Nations Sanctions Committee. “It’s not our money, we can’t touch it,” German officials told the families.

To their surprise, the families also discovered that the Israeli government was not interested in helping them either. The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, refused to intervene on their behalf, explaining that while he sympathized with their struggle, he had no authority regarding the UN Sanctions Committee.

Spitzer and Romano found a more sympathetic ear in Carry Knoops-Hamburger, a renowned Dutch lawyer who specializes in international law. She and her husband, Prof. Alexander Knoops, agreed to represent the families in return for a small, symbolic fee.

The lawyers recruited a team of German and U.S. researchers, and, together with Maltese lawyer Dr. Francesca Zarb, compiled the intelligence report on the Libyan connection.

“The decision to claim the Libyan money is based on precedent,” Knoops-Hamburger told Haaretz. In 2003, the Gadhafi regime paid $2.7 billion to the families of 259 passengers and crew, and to 11 families of Scottish citizens, who were killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that was the work of Libyan intelligence. And in 2004, Gadhafi compensated the families of two U.S. marines who were killed in an attack carried out by Libyan intelligence in Berlin.

“Germany was hard with us on the compensation,” Spitzer said, “but was relaxed about the ransom money it gave to the PFLP terrorists. We don’t accept their excuses. If the Libyan money is temporarily frozen, we demand that the German authorities compensate us, and then – when a permanent government is installed – they can deduct it from the frozen Libyan accounts.”

The German government, together with the provincial government of Bavaria and the Munich municipality, are currently spending millions of euros arranging international sports and cultural events to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary. Thousands of guests and dignitaries, led by the presidents of Germany and Israel, are set to attend the commemoration.

The families, however, are threatening to boycott the anniversary events if their financial demands are not met. “I’m 76 years old,” Spitzer said. “For us, this is the last chance to see justice being served.”

In a statement, the Germany Embassy in Tel Aviv said that “even 50 years after the terror attack during the Olympic Games, this despicable crime is engraved in our memory. Our hearts are with the victims and the families. The German government is actively coping with the subject. All legal procedures, including the compensation, were completed.”

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