The Black September Organization
(منظمة أيلول الأسود, munazzamat aylul al-aswad
) was a Palestinian
militant group, founded in 1970. The group's name was taken from the conflict known as Black September
, which began on 16 September 1970, when King Hussein
declared military rule in response to an attempt by the fedayeen
to seize his kingdom, resulting in the deaths or expulsion of thousands of Palestinians from Jordan. The BSO began as a small cell of Fatah
men determined to take revenge on King Hussein and the Jordanian army. Recruits from the PFLP
, and other groups also joined.
The BSO is notorious for the kidnap and murder of eleven Israeli athletes and officials, and the murder of a German police officer, during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.
Structure of the group
There is disagreement between historians, journalists and the primary sources regarding the nature of the BSO and the extent to which it was controlled by Fatah
, the PLO
faction controlled at the time by Yasser Arafat
In his book Stateless, Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad), Arafat's chief of security and a founding member of Fatah, wrote that: "Black September was not a terrorist organization, but was rather an auxiliary unit of the resistance movement, at a time when the latter was unable to fully realize its military and political potential. The members of the organization always denied any ties between their organization and Fatah or the PLO."
Abu Iyad's claim was contradicted by Mohammed Daoud Oudeh, also known as Abu Daoud, a BSO operative and former senior PLO member, who, according to a 1972 article in the Jordanian newspaper Al-Dustur, told Jordanian police: "There is no such organization as Black September. Fatah announces its own operations under this name so that Fatah will not appear as the direct executor of the operation." A March 1973 document released in 1981 by the U.S. State Department seemed to confirm that Fatah was Black September's parent organization.
According to American journalist John K. Cooley, the BSO represented a "total break with the old operational and organizational methods of the fedayeen. Its members operated in air-tight cells of four or more men and women. Each cell's members were kept purposly ignorant of other cells. Leadership was exercised from outside by intermediaries and 'cut-offs' [sic]", though there was no centralized leadership (Cooley 1973).
Cooley writes that many of the cells in Europe and around the world were made up of Palestinians and other Arabs who had lived in their countries of residence as students, teachers, businessmen, and diplomats for many years. Operating without a central leadership (see Leaderless resistance), it was a "true collegial direction" (ibid). The cell structure and the need-to-know operational philosophy protected the operatives by ensuring that the apprehension or surveillance of one cell would not affect the others. The structure offered plausible deniability to the Fatah leadership, which was careful to distance itself from Black September operations.
Fatah needed Black September, according to Benny Morris, professor of history at Ben-Gurion University. He writes that there was a "problem of internal PLO or Fatah cohesion, with extremists constantly demanding greater militancy. The moderates apparently acquiesced in the creation of Black September in order to survive" (Morris 2001, p. 379). As a result of pressure from militants, writes Morris, a Fatah congress in Damascus in August–September 1971 agreed to establish Black September. The new organization was based on Fatah's existing special intelligence and security apparatus, and on the PLO offices and representatives in various European capitals, and from very early on, there was cooperation between Black September and the PFLP (ibid.)
The PLO closed Black September down on September 1973, on the anniversary it was created by the "political calculation that no more good would come of terrorism abroad" according to Morris (ibid. p. 383). In 1974 Arafat ordered the PLO to withdraw from acts of violence outside Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
The group's most notorious operation was the killing of 11 Israeli
athletes, nine of whom were first taken hostage, and the killing of a German police officer, during the 1972 Summer Olympics
(See munich terrorist attack
for more details).
Operations Wrath of God, and Spring of Youth
Following the attack, the Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Golda Meir
, ordered Mossad
to hunt down those known to have been involved . What was then known as Operation Bayonet
was begun. By 1979, during what became known as Operation Wrath of God
, at least one Mossad unit had assassinated eight PLO members. Among them was the leading figure of Ali Hassan Salameh
, nicknamed the "Red Prince," the wealthy, flamboyant son of an upper-class family, and commander of Force 17
, Yasser Arafat
's personal security squad. Salameh was behind the 1972 hijacking of Sabena Flight 572
. He was killed by a car bomb in Beirut
on 22 January 1979. In Operation Spring of Youth
, in April 1973, Israeli commandos killed three senior members of Black September in Beirut
. In July 1973, in what became known as the Lillehammer affair
, six Israeli operatives were arrested for the murder of Ahmed Bouchiki
, an innocent Moroccan waiter who was mistaken for Ali Hassan Salameh.
Recent remarks by Abu Daoud, the alleged mastermind of the Munich kidnappings, deny that any of the Palestinians assassinated by Mossad had any relation to the Munich operation, this despite the fact that the list includes 2 of the 3 surviving members of the kidnap squad arrested at the airport.
Other actions attributed to Black September include:
- 28 November 1971: the assassination of Jordan's prime minister, Wasfi Tel, in retaliation for the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan in 1970-71;
- December 1971: attempted assassination of Zeid al Rifai, Jordan's ambassador to London and former chief of the Jordanian royal court;
- 6 February 1972: sabotage of a West German electrical installation and gas plants in Ravenstein and Ommen in the Netherlands and in Hamburg in West Germany;
- 8 May, 1972: hijacking of a Belgian aircraft, Sabena Flight 572, flying from Vienna to Lod.
- September and October 1972: dozens of letter bombs were sent from Amsterdam to Israeli diplomatic posts around the world, killing Israeli Agricultural Counselor Ami Shachori in Britain.
- 1 March 1973: attack on the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, killing Cleo Noel, United States Chief of Mission to Sudan, George Curtis Moore, the US Deputy Chief of Mission to Sudan, and Guy Eid, the Belgian chargé d'affaires to Sudan
- 5 August 1973: two Palestinian militants claiming affiliation with Black September open fire on a passenger lounge in an Athens airport, killing 5 and wounding 55. A Lufthansa Boeing 737 is hijacked in December to demand that the gunmen be freed from Greek custody.
19 September 1972 letter bomb attacks and assassination of Ami Shachori
Dr. Ami Shachori was the agricultural counselor in the Israeli Embassy to the United Kingdom in the London district of Kensington. At the age of 44 he was assassinated in a letter bomb attack on September 19, 1972, perpetrated by Black September.
Eight bombs were addressed to embassy staffers. Four were intercepted at a post office sorting room in Earls Court, but the other four letters made it to the embassy. Three of the letters were detected in the consulate post room but Ami Shachori opened his, believing it contained Dutch flower seeds he had ordered. The resulting blast tore a hole in the desk and fatally wounded Shachori in the stomach and chest.
In Shachori's memory an annual memorial lecture on agriculture in London was established.
- Cooley, J.K.: "Green March, Black September" : The Story of the Palestinian Arabs''. Frank Cass and Company Ltd., 1973, ISBN 0-7146-2987-1
- Bar Zohar, M., Haber E. The Quest for the Red Prince: Israel's Relentless Manhunt for One of the World's Deadliest and Most Wanted Arab Terrorists. The Lyons Press, 2002, ISBN 1-58574-739-4
- Morris, B.: Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books, 2001.
- Jonas, G. Vengeance. Bantam Books, 1985.
- Khalaf, S. (Abu Iyad) Stateless.
- Oudeh, M.D. (Abu Daoud) Memoirs of a Palestinian Terrorist.
- Reeve, Simon. One Day in September: the story of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, Faber & Faber, 2000, ISBN 1-55970-603-1.
- One day in September, Sony Pictures
- "Munich 1972: When the Terror Began", Time Magazine, August 25, 2002
- Dahlke, Matthias, Der Anschlag auf Olympia 72, Meidenbauer, 2006, ISBN 3899755839 (German).