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The Black September Organization (BSO) was a Palestinian terrorist group most active in the early 1970s. The BSO named itself after the particularly bloody month in 1970 when King Hussein of Jordan declared military rule, expelling and killing thousands of Palestinian fedayeen (self-sacrificers). These fedayeen threatened to undermine Hussein’s power in working with a “state within a state,” the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), established to mobilize the Palestinian population against Israel. Black September most likely began as the Revenging Palestinians, a group dedicated to avenging the death of Abu Ali Iyad, the last charismatic leader of the fedayeen, whose torture and murder was intended as a symbol of defeat for the Palestinian guerrillas. After regrouping in Lebanon, where they were given control of fifteen refugee camps by the government, the Revolutionary Council of al-Fatah (the PLO’s military force) met in Damascus, Syria, and debated whether it should continue using the tactics of Iyad’s followers. The council, it is suspected, agreed to remain affiliated with the group, which later renamed itself Black September, and agreed to operate as a clandestine arm of al-Fatah.
Black September carried out its first act of violence on November 28, 1971, with the assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Wasif al-Tali. Al-Tali, believed to have personally killed Abu Ali Iyad, was attending the Arab League summit in Cairo, Egypt, when four gunmen shot him outside the Sheraton Hotel. The BSO also attempted to assassinate King Hussein and Zaid al-Rifai, Jordan’s ambassador to London and former chief of the Jordanian royal court, in December 1971. These acts of revenge foreshadowed several bold attempts that the BSO would make to alter the political landscape of the Middle East and advance the cause of the Palestinian people.
The BSO is probably best known for taking members of the Israeli team as hostages on September 5 of the 1972 Munich Olympics. In return for the hostages, the BSO demanded the release of roughly 220 prisoners (mostly Palestinian) from West German and Israeli jails. After attempts to negotiate failed, the BSO members demanded to be transported by helicopters, with the Israelis in tow, to the nearby military base of Furstenfeldbruck, where they hoped to board a jetliner that would allow them to escape to an Arab country. Shooting broke out between German officials and the BSO at Furstenfeldbruck as West Germany made its last attempt to prevent the hostages from being taken out of the country. By the end of the bloody ordeal early September 6, all eleven Israeli hostages were dead (two at the Olympic village, the other nine at Furstenfeldbruck). Also killed were five members of the BSO and one German police officer, shot at the airbase.
In response to the massacre at Munich, Israel declared war on terrorist activity and targeted Black September and al-Fatah equally. Some of Israel’s immediate retaliatory acts included killing hundreds of people, most of whom are believed to have been unaffiliated with the terrorist group, during raids of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. These attacks added to already existing tensions between Israel and its neighboring Arab nations, and they would ultimately lead to further military conflict. In the fall of 1973 the PLO dissolved Black September. A year later Yassir Arafat, the PLO’s leader, ordered his followers to withdraw from acts of violence outside Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
- Dobson, Christopher. 1974. Black September: Its Short, Violent History. New York: Macmillan Publishing.
- Morris, Benny. 2001. Righteous Victims: A History of the ZionistArab Conflict, 1881–2001. New York: Vintage Books.
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