The Black September Organization was a Palestinian terrorist group that perpetrated the raid on the Israeli quarters in the athlete's village at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Its leader was Ali Hassan Salameh. Black September joined support from the terrorist organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The Black September Organization committed several terrorist attacks on politicians and civilians:
- 1971: Assassination of Jordan’s Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tel
- 1972: Acts of sabotage in Netherlands and West Germany;
- Hijacking of a Belgian airplane flying to Israel;
- Sending of letter bombs to Israeli embassies
- Munich massacre.
- Alberto M. Fernandez, When Palestinian Terror Struck Khartoum, MEMRI, March 1, 2023.
March 1, 2023, is the 50th anniversary of a Palestinian terrorist attack in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. One could say that it was actually a Palestinian terrorist attack on Saudi soil since the target was the Saudi Embassy in the Sudanese capital.
The group was Black September, by this time notorious for the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Earlier still, in November 1971, Black September had assassinated the Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi Al-Tal in the lobby of the Cairo Sheraton. One of the Palestinian hitmen had notoriously bent down and licked the blood on the marble floor after that shooting.
The March 1, 1973 attack in Sudan targeted a reception held by the Saudi ambassador in honor of a departing American diplomatic colleague, George Curtis Moore, who was the American Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM). Ten hostages were taken by the gunmen, six of them were Saudis: the ambassador, his wife, and four children. The other four were two Americans, newly arrived Ambassador Cleo A. Noel, Jr. and Moore, Belgian Charge d'Affaires Guy Eid, and the Jordanian Charge d'Affaires Adli Al-Nasser.
As some may remember, after making grandiose hostage demands (including calling for the release of members of the German Baader-Meinhof gang, Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan, plus many Palestinian detainees in Israel and Jordan), the eight gunmen surrendered to Sudanese authorities days later. Before surrendering they had killed the Belgian and the two American diplomats. Before their murder, they were allowed to write farewell messages (written on Saudi Embassy stationary) to their families. Moore wrote: "Cleo and I will die bravely and without tears as men should."
We now know, of course, that Black September was a subsidiary of Yassir Arafat's Fateh organization. The attack was carried out with the full approval and knowledge of Arafat from his headquarters in Beirut. Both the killings and the hit team's surrender were coordinated with Arafat. The Sudanese government of Jaafar Al-Nimeiry, initially furious about the attack, handed the gunmen over to the PLO for punishment (so it handed them over to the organization that had carried out the attack). Sudan was reportedly pressured towards leniency by Qaddafi's Libya, a great patron of the Palestinians at the time and a major influence on Sudan (in 1976, Qaddafi bankrolled a land invasion by Sudanese rebels that almost overthrew Al-Nimeiry). Some of the Palestinian gunmen served prison time in Sadat's Egypt, three of them escaped from Egyptian custody. In response to the Sudanese actions, the U.S. suspended economic aid to Sudan for three years.
The immediate aftermath of this terror attack is kind of a snapshot, a scene caught in amber of the region half a century ago. You have Black September, forged in the wake of the PLO's failure to overthrow the Hashemites in Jordan. You have Arafat sending the team out from his safe haven in Beirut, capital of a Lebanon the PLO would help destabilize and destroy. You have the enabling of Palestinian terror by Qaddafi and Sadat, both of whom would come to a bad end. Finally, you have a Sudan at the mercy of others, fearing Qaddafi and punished by the Americans.
Fifty years later much has changed in the region. The greatest patron of Palestinian terror is no Arab state, but Iran (both Erdoğan's Turkey and Qatar playing supporting roles as well). The violence is less in foreign countries and diplomatic missions and closer to home. Last year was the bloodiest year on the West Bank since the second Palestinian Intifada and 2023 does not look much better. Thirty Israelis and 167 Palestinians were killed in 2022 with anger running high on both sides.
There is both the very real homegrown tension, violence, and struggle of the longstanding Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and simultaneously, the orchestrated machinations of outside parties wanting to set the region on fire. There is an "asymmetric shadow war" between Iran and Israel and the Palestinian Territories are one of several battlefields. The ruling Palestinian authority, essentially the heir of Arafat's Fateh, is corrupt and incompetent, hard-pressed to compete with its Iranian-backed Palestinian rivals. And the question is whether the competition is to stop those rivals or to emulate them. Arab states, Jordan and Egypt especially, but also the Gulf states, are still invested in the Palestinian file although nothing like they were 50 years before. An urgent meeting held in Aqaba on February 26 with Israeli and Palestinian security officials sought to de-escalate the tension ahead of the typically volatile month of Ramadan in late March.The Black September attack in Sudan was, in retrospect, one of the last "successful" operations carried out by the group (1972 was the most incident-filled and intensive year of Black September's existence). An organization founded to rekindle Palestinian "revolutionary violence" and to carry out dirty work for Fateh while it pretended to have nothing to do with it had served its purpose. That the deaths of these three Western diplomats advanced the Palestinian cause in any way seems extremely doubtful. But a few years later in Lebanon, the CIA would forge a close relationship with Black September's Ali Hassan Salameh supposedly in order to protect American diplomats in Lebanon.