The world has been waiting for the summer 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. An event of this magnitude with global participation requires a massive amount of planning. We are confident that the authorities have done their best alongside the IOC officials. This year the games host 206 countries in 42 sporting disciplines at 37 venues. Security remains a key element for all participating teams, as the Australian teams have already pulled out of the Olympic Village citing security concerns. Each nation analyzes its threat levels on different points. Many are aware of the Munich Games in 1972, and it would be good for the organizers and tourists to learn from the serious security lapses that led to this tragic outcome in West Germany.
The Olympics of 1972 were of immense importance to Germany, whose government desired to showcase genuine hospitality to participating nations. It was a perfect platform for an international public relations exercise. Even then the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) had been fighting on various fronts. The head of the Israel delegation Shmuel Lalkin had arrived before to oversee matters and had raised concerns about the security, alarmed that there were no armed guards at the athlete’s accommodation villas. He was assured that security would be upgraded, a promise the Germans forgot.
It was later revealed that a German forensic psychologist Dr. George Sieber had given the German Security Committee 26 possible terror scenarios for them to be ready. He wisely foretold them in scenario 21 that the PLO would attack the Israel contingent and take hostages. Sadly his warnings were never regarded, as the Germans wanted a ‘carefree’ athlete’s zone. The Israel team was accommodated in a two storey villa near a two metre chain link fence that had a gate.
The leader of the eight man terrorist team was Luttif Afif. He was born to a Jewish mother and Arab father, and was an active member of the PLO force named Black September. Afif had displayed his prowess by being able to secure employment three weeks ahead at the Olympic Village, the first of many security blunders by the Germans. He was able to walk and calculate with precision the details required for his crime. He asked his squad to refer to him by the code name Issa. The terrorists dressed in sports attire and carried bags that concealed AKM rifles (modified variant of the AK47) pistols (Russian TT30) and grenades. They were spotted by Canadian and American athletes who thought they were sportsmen.
On the night of September 4, the weary Israel team had enjoyed their dinner and gone to sleep. The men were housed in three apartments. At around 4.30 am the Israeli wrestling referee Yousef Gulfreund heard the room door being open. He could faintly make out the form of a man with a gun. The bold 300 pound wrestler realized the impending danger, bolted to the entrance throwing his body on the door as bullets were fired. He screamed the first warning which gave his roommates time to break a window and run. Surprisingly Gulfreund was not injured but he was subdued. They asked him to lead the way to the other two apartments. Issa took 11 Israeli hostages but released the national teams of Hong Kong and Uruguay who were also housed nearby. The hostages were beaten and tied to three beds.
Early the next morning the other athletes went about the village unaware of the terrible events of the previous few hours. Issa was demanding the release of 234 Palestine prisoners including two of his own brothers. The Germans offered to pay him a large ransom for the hostages release, yet he declined. The German authorities faced a greater political challenge as the hostages were Jews. The entire world was watching.
Some speculate that Israel offered to send an elite commando team, which the Germans had refused. As the hours gave way the members of Black September demanded that the Germans prepare four helicopters for their escape along with a Boeing 727 for the safe transfer of the 234 Palestinian prisoners.
The Germans were unprepared to engage the terrorists. They put together a team of 38 Policemen to launch a counter assault, not having clear information about the condition of the hostages, of whom one had been shot dead. The Police wanted to come down the ventilation shaft, the code word being ‘Sunshine’ – at which they would open fire. German media made another blunder as they showed live footage of the Policemen approaching the villa that alerted the terrorist. It is an important lesson for media not to compromise details of ongoing rescue operations in today’s age of rapid access to web applications.
The Germans had another hastily drawn plan at the airport. They knew the terrorist had to walk 200 meters to reach the helicopters and wanted to shoot them. Issa outsmarted them again and demanded a bus to take the hostages to the choppers. German Police were in position at the airport. Five snipers were placed at the control tower. The Boeing 727 would have a team of 16 policemen dressed as cabin crew.
At the last crucial moment this segment of the operation was surprisingly cancelled. As the captors marched the hostages Issa was in open view. The first sniper shot and missed. Realizing they had been betrayed and ambushed the terrorists began to shoot the helpless Israelis. A grenade was thrown into one chopper where few athletes were already seated incinerating them. To add to the confusion a Police team rushing to the airport in an armored vehicle was delayed as the traffic had not been cleared, another serious lapse. By 1.30 am on September 6 the hostage drama ended. All hostages were dead. Five terrorists including Issa were shot and three taken captive.
The Germans were embarrassed and faced many accusations about their security readiness for the Olympics. It was revealed that an informant in Beruit had warned the foreign office in Bonn of an impending PLO attack at the Olympics weeks in advance. This single hostage incident led to the forming of GSG-9 an anti terrorist hostage rescue unit in Germany. In a strange twist a German Lufthansa airlines flight 615 was taken hostage by PLO operatives on October 29, 1972, demanding the release of the three surviving terrorists of Munich. They were released and fled to Libya. Subsequently the Mossad launched an intense manhunt for all the PLO members involved in orchestrating the Munich massacre, executing them at various locations.
Securing 37 venues is a formidable challenge. Brazil has been a nation afflicted with drug related and gang related crime, now made worse by terror threats. On July 21 the Police raided some homes and arrested 10 men with allegiance to ISIL who were reconnoitering for a series of deadly attacks. Even the Mayor of Rio admits to violent crime trends. Yet on the other hand the Pan-American Games were held here in 2007 without incident. The Federal Police of Brazil has worked hard to eradicate crime using modern technology. It is shocking to note that ISIS has called for members to target athletes from USA, UK, France and Israel subjecting them to ‘lone wolf’ styled encounters. They have warned that drones will be used to release poison gas. Drones will be used by many TV companies and it will be hard to monitor and ID each drone.
The IOC along with law enforcement has to deal with thousands of tourists with different accents and ethnic features, making it easy for subversives to mingle. Besides thousands of volunteers have registered to help at the Olympics and they must be subject t o intricate vetting. Brazil has deployed 21,000 soldiers with 28 helicopters to protect the city, airport and railway stations. Thousands of baggage will have to be checked. A staggering number of 47,000 policemen will form the largest security contingent for the Olympics. The world is anxiously waiting for an incident free Rio 2016.