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Planner of 1972 Munich Olympics attack dies

Mohammed Oudeh, the key planner of the 1972 Munich Olympics attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes, died Saturday morning in Damascus, his daughter said. He was 73.
Image: Mohammed Oudeh,
Mohammed Oudeh, the key planner of the assault on the 1972 Munich Olympics that left 11 Israeli athletes dead, is seen in this February 2006 photo.Bassem Tellawi / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Mohammed Oudeh, the key planner of the 1972 Munich Olympics attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes, died Saturday morning in Damascus, his daughter said. He was 73.

Oudeh died of kidney failure a day after he was rushed to Damascus' Andalus hospital after falling sick, Hana Oudeh told The Associated Press.

Mohammed Oudeh — also known under his guerrilla name Abu Daoud — did not participate in the Sept. 5, 1972 attack. Two Israeli athletes were killed in the assault, and nine others died in a botched rescue attempt by the German police. A German policeman and five Palestinian gunmen also were killed.

The Munich attack shocked the world as the most high-profile and brazen assault on a sports team, and later led to a wave of assassinations of top Palestinian officials.

Oudeh was a leader of "Black September," an offshoot of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah group that was established to avenge the 1970 expulsion of Palestinian guerrillas from Jordan.

In a 2006 interview with The AP, Oudeh said the Munich events were a turning point for Palestinians and rejected the term "terrorists" to describe Palestinian fighters.

"Before Munich, we were simply terrorists. After Munich, at least people started asking who are these terrorists? What do they want," he said. "Before Munich, nobody had the slightest idea about Palestine."

Oudeh said he had no qualms about the operation because he considered the Israeli athletes, as military reservists, legitimate targets. But he claimed the intent was not to kill the Israelis — rather, to use them as bargaining chips to free more than 200 Palestinians jailed in Israel.

Showing no remorse or regret, he recounted in the interview how leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization — angry that the Palestinians were denied an Olympic slot — dreamed up the attack while sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Rome.

He first acknowledged having a role in the Munich operation in a 1999 book, "Palestine: From Jerusalem to Munich," that caused an uproar when it came out.

Born in Jerusalem in 1937, Oudeh lived there until the 1967 Mideast war when Israel captured the eastern part of the city. He was displaced and moved to Jordan where he joined the PLO.

After the 1972 attack, Oudeh lived in eastern Europe and then in Lebanon until the Lebanon civil war broke out in 1975. He went back to Jordan, and from there to Ramallah in the West Bank in 1993, after the Palestinians' Oslo peace accords with Israel.

But when his book on Munich came out, he was banned from returning to Ramallah following a trip to Jordan, and finally settled in Syria — the only country that would take him.

Oudeh escaped narrowly in what he believed was an attack by Israel's Mossad spy agency in 1981. He was sitting in a hotel cafe in Warsaw, Poland, when a gunman shot him in his left wrist, chest, stomach and jaw.

"It was a Palestinian double agent, recruited by the Mossad. ... He was arrested 10 years later, put on trial (by the PLO) and executed," Oudeh said in the interview. His account could not be verified.

He remained militant to the last.

"Today, I cannot fight you anymore, but my grandson will and his grandsons, too," Oudeh said, addressing Israelis.

Later Saturday, Oudeh's coffin — draped in a Palestinian flag — was taken for prayers to the Al-Wasim Mosque in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk where prayers were held. After the prayers, some 500 people chanting "revolution until victory" marched as about a dozen of people carried the coffin toward Martyrs Cemetery where he will be buried.

The funeral was attended by Palestinian officials from different groups, including Fatah and Islamic Jihad.

Hana Odeh said her father was "a great loving and sincere man whose dream was to go back to Palestine."

He is survived by five daughters and a son.