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The Mastermind

Thirty years after he helped plan the terror strike, Abu Daoud remains in hiding -- and unrepentant

By Alexander Wolff

Sports Illustrated
Main story
  • When the Terror Began
  • Sidebars
  • The American
  • The Mastermind
  • Striking Back
  • A Painful Visit
  • Flashbacks
  • A Sanctuary Violated
  • Shootings in the Night
  • After the Nightmare
  • Munich's Message
  • Following the Oslo Accords of 1993, the mastermind of Black September's Munich attack enjoyed a certain respectability. Mohammed Daoud Oudeh, a.k.a. Abu Daoud, sat on the Palestinian National Council, where in 1996 he joined a majority in voting to revoke the clause in the PLO charter calling for Israel's destruction. Though Israel had long known of his role at Munich -- Mossad was believed to have been involved in a 1981 assassination attempt in which he was shot six times -- he even carried an Israeli-issued VIP pass that allowed him to shuttle between his home in Amman, Jordan, and the occupied territories.

    All that changed in 1999 after Abu Daoud openly acknowledged his role in the Olympic attack, both in his memoir, Palestine: From Jerusalem to Munich, published in Paris, and in an interview with the Arab TV network al-Jazeera. Germany issued an international arrest warrant on Abu Daoud, and Israel canceled his travel credentials, barring him from the Palestinian lands he had spent his adult life trying to liberate. In the U.S., former senator Howard Metzenbaum (D., Ohio) -- who had watched the Munich crisis unfold on TV with his neighbors in suburban Cleveland, the parents of Israeli-American victim David Berger -- led a campaign to keep U.S. bookstores from stocking Abu Daoud's memoir. (Arcade, which owns the U.S. rights, still hasn't set a publication date for an English-language version of the book.)

      "At the time, it was the correct thing to do for our cause," Abu Daoud told SI. AP
    In late July, SI's Don Yaeger went to the Middle East to find the 72-year-old Abu Daoud. After five days in Syria, where he met with leaders of several Palestinian groups, including the Palestinian Authority, PA president Yasir Arafat's Fatah faction and the militant Hamas, Yaeger received a call from Abu Daoud, who said he was in Cyprus. Abu Daoud, who would not reveal where he resides -- saying only that he lives with his wife on a pension provided by the PA -- agreed to answer written questions. Among his claims, in his memoir and to SI, are these:

  • Though he wasn't involved in conceiving or implementing it, "the [Munich] operation had the endorsement of Arafat." Arafat is not known to have responded to the allegations in Abu Daoud's book. In May 1972 four Black Septembrists hijacked a Sabena flight from Brussels to Tel Aviv, hoping to free comrades from Israeli jails. But Israeli special forces stormed the plane, killing or capturing all the terrorists and freeing every passenger, leaving Arafat, by Abu Daoud's account, desperate to boost morale in the refugee camps by showing that Israel was vulnerable.

  • Though he didn't know what the money was being spent for, longtime Fatah official Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen, was responsible for the financing of the Munich attack. Abu Mazen could not be reached for comment regarding Abu Daoud's allegation. After Oslo in 1993, Abu Mazen went to the White House Rose Garden for a photo op with Arafat, President Bill Clinton and Israel's Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. "Do you think that ... would have been possible if the Israelis had known that Abu Mazen was the financier of our operation?" Abu Daoud writes. "I doubt it." Today the Bush Administration seeks a Palestinian negotiating partner "uncompromised by terror," yet last year Abu Mazen met in Washington with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

  • The German assertion that the team's two senior commandos had infiltrated the Olympic Village in the weeks before the attack isn't true. Abu Daoud speculates that the Germans found this story useful, to make the attack seem like an inside job and divert attention from their poor security measures.

  • While he doesn't regret his role in the operation, Abu Daoud told SI, "I would be against any operation like Munich ever again. At the time, it was the correct thing to do for our cause. ... The operation brought the Palestinian issue into the homes of 500 million people who never previously cared about Palestinian victims at the hands of the Israelis." Today, he says, an attack on an event like the Olympics would only damage the Palestinians' image.

    Issue date: August 26, 2002