Black September Organization

views updated


A Palestinian terrorist splinter group, the Black September Organization was formed with the more or less tacit cooperation of the leadership of al-Fatah, after the expulsion of the Palestinian resistance fighters from Jordan in July 1971. This expulsion followed their defeat in the virtual civil war that started in "Black September" 1970. The group's purpose was to avenge the fidaʾiyyun killed during the fighting and to convince Palestinians that a serious fight could be made against their enemies, including Arab governments. The founders of this group, members of al-Fatah, were Muhammad al-Najjar (Abu Yussef), Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad), Ali Hasan Salameh (Abu Hasan), and Mohammed Daud Odeh (Abu Daud).

On 28 November 1971 a commando of the Black September assassinated the Jordanian prime minister, Wasfi al-Tall, on a visit to Cairo. This was the group's first operation. The following 15 December, it mounted an attack on the Jordanian ambassador to Great Britain, who was seriously wounded. On 5 September 1972, Black September executed a dramatic operation at the Olympic Games in Munich, taking Israeli athletes hostage and demanding the release of 236 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. After Israeli authorities refused to yield to the blackmail, the German police intervened to try to free the hostages. In the course of the assault, five terrorists and eleven Israeli athletes were killed. A few days later, the Israeli prime minister ordered Mossad to eliminate all the Palestinians who, directly or indirectly, participated in the operation.

On 25 January 1973, in Madrid, a commando of Black September assassinated Baruch Cohen, a member of Israeli special services. The following March, eight members of Black September occupied the embassy of Saudi Arabia, in Khartoum, taking five diplomats hostage, including two Americans and one Belgian. The terrorists demanded the liberation of some fifteen Palestinians imprisoned in Jordan, among whom was Mohammed Daud Odeh, arrested a few days earlier while preparing an attack against King Hussein of Jordan. They also demanded the liberation of Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert Kennedy. Two days later, having killed the ambassador of the United States, Cleo Noel, the Belgian chargé d'affaires, Guy Eid, and the head of the section of U.S. interests in Sudan, George Curtis Moore, the eight hostage takers surrendered to the Sudanese police. This operation led to a chill in the relations of certain Arab countries with the Palestinian movement and also blocked the attempts Yasir Arafat was making to approach the Americans and the Europeans.

Concurrently, between November 1972 and June 1973, in reprisal for the Munich bloodbath, seven Palestinian leaders believed by the Israelis to be part of Black September were assassinated by the Israeli Mossad. During July 1973, the Mossad team that was assigned this mission killed a Moroccan waiter in Norway, having confused him with Ali Hasan Salameh. At the year's end, after Arafat decided to dissolve Black September, Salah Khalaf took it over, for the purpose of moving its members into the various security services under his charge. In the spring of 1974 a new unit, Force 17, was formed, to assure the personal security of Arafat and to carry out certain missions. It was placed under the command of Ali Hasan Salameh, who appealed to former members of Black September to help organize Force 17. During the following month of October, although the group had been theoretically dissolved, a Black September commando was arrested by the Moroccan police, suspected of preparing an attack on King Hussein of Jordan at the Arab summit that was to be held in Rabat. This arrest led to tension in the relations between the king of Morocco and Arafat.

After the effective dissolution of Black September, some members of the group joined al-Fatah security services, directed by Salah Khalaf, and others joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–Special Operations (PFLP–SO) of Wadiʾ Haddad. Between 1975 and 1978, Ali Hasan al-Salama, nicknamed the "Red Prince," served as liaison to the CIA agent in Beirut, Robert Ames. Thereby the Palestinian organization was able to transmit information to the U.S. intelligence services, in the interests of the security of U.S. citizens in Lebanon. On 22 January, al-Salama was killed in Beirut, in a car bombing carried out by Mossad, with the complicity of Sylvia Raphael, who was supposed to have lured the Red Prince into the trap. Six years later, she was assassinated by a Force 17 commando.

SEE ALSO Black September 1970;Fatah, al-;Mossad.