But today the Munich attack is irrelevant in a sense, for terrorists are unlikely to try to duplicate it. In the cat-and-mouse world of terrorism and counterterrorism, the bad guys strive for audacity, as only the unthinkable will both confound security planners and achieve what terrorists truly hope for, which is to galvanize the attention of the world. So organizers think and think, to close that window of vulnerability. For the most recent Summer Games, in Sydney, they tabletopped 800 scenarios, even as they girded for that unthinkable 801st. "You can't prepare for everything," says Alex Gilady, an Israeli member of the International Olympic Committee. "In Atlanta one of the scenarios was that a bomb would go off in Centennial Park. When you're at the barn, you don't believe the horse will run away until it runs away."
Late on the morning of Sept. 5,1972, several hours after the horse had left the barn, the director of security for the Games, Munich police chief Manfred Schreiber, told Georg Sieber that his help was no longer needed. "[Israeli prime minister] Golda Meir is involved," he said. "This is no longer a psychological matter, but a political one."
At this, Sieber resigned from the department. He returned to his home in Nymphenburg, flicked on the TV and poured a cup of coffee.
"Consider yourself dead"
Details about the massacre in Munich have dribbled out since 1972, slowly at first, and then, over the past decade, in a rush. First came interviews during the 1970s with the surviving terrorists in France's Jeune Afrique and Germany's Stern. Then came the 1978 memoir of late Black September leader Abu Iyad, in which he explained how he handpicked the two commandos who led the attack within the Village: Issa, who served as lead negotiator and became known to millions of TV viewers as "the man in the white hat"; and Tony, a short but fiery fedayee, or "fighter for the faith," who was in charge of operations. Excerpts from a long-suppressed Bavarian State Prosecutor's Office report on the debacle surfaced in 1992, after an anonymous whistle-blower leaked documents to the families of the Israeli victims when he learned how his government had for 15 years stonewalled their efforts to learn the truth about what happened that night. In 1999 the lone terrorist to have survived Israel's furious revenge operation (page 66), Jamal Al-Gashey, spoke to the producers of One Day in September, the Academy Award-winning documentary about the attack. And another Black Septembrist, Abu Daoud (page 65), perhaps gulled by the false peace of the 1993 Oslo Accords, published a memoir in which he described how he and Abu Iyad masterminded the operation. In late July, Abu Daoud also answered SI's questions about the attack. These accounts, most self-serving and some maddeningly incomplete and contradictory, nonetheless reveal how a kind of perfect storm gathered over the Munich Olympics, a confluence of determination and naivet�.
It turns out that Georg Sieber envisioned the events of Sept. 5 even before Black September had planned them. The plot wasn't hatched until July 15, when Abu Daoud and Abu Iyad joined another Black September leader, Abu Mohammed, at a caf� in Rome's Piazza della Rotonda. Leafing through an Arabic newspaper, they spotted a report that the IOC had failed even to respond to two requests from the Palestinian Youth Federation that Palestine be permitted to take to Munich an Olympic team of its own. "If they refuse to let us participate, why shouldn't we penetrate the Games in our own way?" Abu Mohammed asked. They conceived their plan, giving it the code name Biraam and Ikrit, after two Palestinian villages from which Zionists had evicted Arab residents in 1948.
Two days later Abu Daoud was in Munich to reconnoiter the Olympic Village, then still under construction. On Aug. 7 he returned, this time with Tony. Together they determined that the commandos could hurdle the fence now ringing the Village by jumping off one another's backs. "Each of you will boost the other," Abu Daoud said, likening the maneuver to what tumblers do when they dismount from human pyramids.
"But then one of us will be left behind," Tony replied.
"I'll be there to help the last man over," Abu Daoud told him.
On Aug. 24, two days before the opening ceremonies, Abu Iyad flew from Algiers to Frankfurt via Paris with a male and a female associate and five identical Samsonite suitcases as checked luggage. As Abu Daoud watched through plate glass outside the baggage claim, customs officials picked out one of the five bags and popped it open. They saw nothing but lingerie. The female associate looked on indignantly, which may explain why the other four bags went uninspected. Taking a separate taxi, Abu Daoud met Abu Iyad and his colleagues at a hotel in downtown Frankfurt, where they consolidated the contents of the five suitcases—six Kalashnikovs and two submachine guns, plus rounds of ammunition—into two bags. Later that day Abu Daoud transported the weaponry by train to Munich, where he stored it in lockers at the railway station.