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Munich remembered: 1972 attack led to increased security

scene from Munich

July 27, 1996
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EDT

From Sr. Washington Correspondent Charles Bierbauer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saturday's bombing at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta was not the first time an Olympic Games has been disrupted by an act of terrorism.

In 1972, a Palestinian group known as Black September seized Israeli athletes inside the Olympic village in Munich, leading to the death of 11 Israelis and some of the terrorists.

The lasting image of those Olympic Games is that of a terrorist in a ski mask, and not an athlete in triumph.

In contrast to the Atlanta blast -- a bomb placed in an unsecured public area -- the Munich attack penetrated security and was aimed at the athletes themselves and the nation they represented.

terrorist from 1972 incident

A bright September day turned bleak when the Palestinian group demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel in return for the hostages they held in Munich's Olympic Village.

The Israelis said no deal. The Germans talked the terrorists out of the Olympic Village, but disaster followed in a shoot- out at a small airport. In addition to the 11 Israelis, one German policeman and five of eight terrorists died.

Germany's hopes for peaceful games, devoid of politics, died too. But the Olympic spirit was too strong to snuff out.

The games must go on, said then-Olympic President Avery Brundage. And they did.

And now, that determination not to yield to terrorism has been echoed in Atlanta, where International Olympic Committee director general Francois Carrard pledged that the Centennial Olympic Games "will go on."

But there will be a lasting effect. Munich was a watershed. In great measure, it has been since 1972 that the general public has submitted to security searches in airports, arenas and other public events -- and learned to live with the threat of terrorism.

When the ancient Greeks held their Olympiads, they put aside their weapons and political differences, at least for the duration of the games, and competed on even terms.

When terror takes a hand, it doesn't work that way.

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