When the Mossad's Revenge for the Munich Olympics Went Tragically Wrong

'Wrath of God' was Golda Meir's rebuttal to the murder of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich the year before, but it went tragically wrong.

David Green
David B. Green
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A photo of Ahmed Bouchiki, who was mistaken for a Palestinian terrorist and killed by Israeli secret agents in Lillehammer in 1973.
A photo of Ahmed Bouchiki, who was mistaken for a Palestinian terrorist and killed by Israeli secret agents in Lillehammer in 1973. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
David Green
David B. Green

On July 21, 1973, Israeli secret agents shot dead a man they believed was a Palestinian terrorist in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer. They had misidentified their target, however, and the man they killed was not arch-criminal Ali Hassan Salameh, but rather a Moroccan-born waiter named Ahmed Bouchiki.

The shooting of Ahmed Bouchiki took place within the context of an ongoing Israeli campaign codenamed Operation Wrath of God, which Prime Minister Golda Meir had set in motion following the terror attack on the Israeli team at the Olympic Games in Munich the preceding summer.

That attack, carried out by the Black September organization, which was in turn associated with the Fatah Palestinian resistance organization headed by Yasser Arafat, had resulted in the murder of 11 Israeli athletes. In its wake, Israel resolved to track down and kill each of the people involved in the massacre.

Black ops vs the Red Prince

Intelligence pointed to Ali Hassan Salameh, nicknamed “the Red Prince,” as being the Black September operations chief and responsible for planning in Munich.

By the summer of 1973, Salameh had been tracked to Lillehammer, a resort town in central Norway. A team of some 15 Israelis assembled in the town, where they were joined by Mossad head Zvi Zamir and the supervisor of the operation, Mike Harari.

A UPI news report from 2005 refers to then-recently declassified British records claiming that members of the Israeli team in Lillehammer followed a man they had identified as a Palestinian courier to a public swimming pool, where he spoke with a man who matched their photos of Salameh.

In fact, the man the courier was speaking with was Ahmed Bouchiki, and he only resembled Salameh. His conversation with the Palestinian courier was apparently incidental.

With their presumed target now in their sights, the Israelis tracked Bouchiki until the following evening, when he and his wife, a Norwegian woman named Torill Larsen, alighted from a bus after seeing a movie together.

Bouchiki and Larsen began walking toward home when two assassins appeared and shot him, 13 times. Larsen, who was pregnant, was unharmed. By the time police and rescue squads arrived, Bouchiki was dead.

'Munich Massacre' drawing printed in the New York Times in 1972. American artist Mark Podwal created a work in memory of Israeli athletes taken hostage and later killed by Palestinian Black September Credit: Mark Podwal

It had been a quiet town

Bouchiki, it turned out, was Moroccan-born, and had lived in Norway for years. He already had another child there, from an earlier marriage.

A BBC radio story about the incident quoted neighbors at the time who couldn’t understand who could possibly have wanted to murder their quiet and good-natured neighbor. It was, a local journalist told the British reporter, the first murder in Lillehammer in 36 years.

Only the following day, when the news of Bouchiki’s killing became public, did the Israelis understand that they had killed the wrong man. By then, the actual assailants had already left Norway, along with another seven of their colleagues. But six of the Israelis, most of them holding foreign passports, were arrested.

One of those arrested, a Danish-born man, was said to have panicked during his interrogation and revealed to his Norwegian questioners all he knew about Mossad operations in Europe.

Five of those six went on trial early in 1974 and were convicted on a variety of charges, including aiding and abetting in the murder of Bouchiki. They received prison sentences ranging between 1 and 5.5 years, but within two years, all had been pardoned and were permitted to return to Israel. (One of them, the South African-born Sylvia Rafael, ended up marrying the Norwegian lawyer who had been hired to defend the team, Annaeus Schojdt.)

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the Mossad suspended Operation Grapes of Wrath, although later the campaign to liquidate the Munich attackers resumed, and continued until the last one was eliminated, in the early 1990s.

Israel has never acknowledged responsibility for the mistaken shooting of Bouchiki, but after a long legal campaign waged by his family, it did finally agree in 1996 to compensate them for his death. At the time, then-prime minister Shimon Peres told journalists that, “Israel will not take responsibility, because Israel is not a killing organization."

Ahmed Bouchiki’s younger brother Chico Bouchikhi (he spelled it differently) went on to become a founding member of the European singing group Gipsy Kings. He is a UNESCO envoy for peace, and has performed in Israel.



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