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On This Date in Sports September 5, 1972: The Munich Massacre

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The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, were rocked when Palestinian terrorists invaded the Olympic village and took the 11 members of the Israeli delegation hostage. Two members of the Israeli contingent were killed in the early moments of the attack, which began just before dawn. The terrorist group, calling themselves Black September, were supporters of the PLO in the ongoing conflict with the Israeli government. The games were suspended as officials tried to rescue the hostages. After 23 hours, a rescue attempt failed as hostages were killed along with five of the terrorists. The games would continue the following day amid harsh criticism aimed at the International Olympic Committee for its lack of sensitivity. 

The 1972 Summer Olympics began in Munich on August 26th. Munich was chosen as the host of the games as West Germany hoped to show an openness to the world compared to the Soviet Control of East Germany. In 1936, Berlin hosted what would become known as the Hitler games, as the dictator made his presence felt throughout the games. That stain was harmful to the Olympic movement and the German officials, who hoped to improve their image with the 1972 games. 

The first week of the games went as planned, but conditions in the Olympic village were less than ideal, as security was lax. The terrorist took advantage of the lack of security and took over the building that housed the small contingent of athletes, coaches, and officials representing Israel. The terrorist killed one German security guard and two Israeli officials upon entering the complex at 4:30 am. The eight Black September terrorists, wearing ski masks, had duffle bags loaded with handguns, grenades, and AK-47s. 

All Olympic events were canceled as the nine surviving members of the Israeli Olympic contingent were held hostage. Officials tried to negotiate for the release of the Israeli athletes. The hostage-takers demanded the release of 234 Palestinians jailed in Israel, along with two West German insurgents held by the West German penitentiary system, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. They were founders of the West German Red Army Faction. The standoff in the Olympic village lasted 18 hours until the hostages were taken by helicopter to board a plane that would take them to Cairo. 

At the airport, German officials attempted to rescue the hostages, but the rescue attempt failed, as all nine hostages were killed, four were shot, and five were killed when a grenade was tossed onto the plane that had boarded moments earlier. Five of the hostage takers were killed, while three were arrested. Less than two months after the Munich Massacre, the terrorists were freed in exchange for the return of a hijacked passenger jet. Israeli intelligence officials with hunt down and killed two of the released terrorists. 

IOC President Avery Brundage paid little respect or regard to the Israelis that were killed, as he ordered the Olympics to resume the following day, with little done to memorialize the victims. Initial plans to lower flags to half staff were rejected when Arab nations stated they would be offended. During an Olympic soccer match involving host West Germany, fans unveiled a banner that said, "17 dead, already forgotten?" In subsequent years, it would be determined that there were early warnings of an attack that were ignored by the IOC and the Munich police.