In the early morning of September 5, 1972, eight Arab commandos
broke into the Olympic compound in Munich, West Germany. They shot and killed two Israelis
outright, one a wrestling coach, the other a weight-lifting coach. The commandos then took
nine others of the eighteen-member Israeli Olympic team hostage and settled into the
compound for a siege.
Throughout the day, West German officials negotiated with the Arab commandos over their demands. These demands included the release of two hundred Arab guerrillas being held in Israel and safe passage out of West Germany for themselves and their hostages. The Tunisian Ambassador and the representative of the Arab League from Bonn tried to help the West Germans negotiate with the commandos, but to no effect. The Israeli side also did not budge from its position; Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir repeatedly refused to release any guerrillas being held in Israel. At one point, two West German ministers of the interior even offered themselves as replacement hostages for the Israelis. The Arabs refused.
Convinced that negotiation over the release of hostages would not work, West German officials focused on trying to get the Arabs and their hostages out of the Olympic village where West German sharpshooters could "control" the commandos. The West Germans did not intend, however, to be embarrassed for both letting the Arab commandos onto their soil and then letting them leave scot free, and they had already rejected the idea of storming the compound as potentially dangerous to the Israeli hostages and other athletes.
The West Germans negotiated until shortly after 9:00 p.m., at which point the Arab commandos agreed to leave the compound with their hostages for the Furstenfeldbruck military airport, some fifteen miles away from Munich. The Arab commandos were well-trained and knew how to control their hostages; they split the hostages into two groups and tied and blindfolded them. They also knew how to avoid two potential traps the West Germans set for them.
The West Germans then set up their sharpshooters along the path the Arab commandos had to walk their hostages from two helicopters that had flown them from Munich to a waiting jet. It was the only opportunity left them to prevent the Arabs from leaving the country. As the first group of Arabs and hostages walked to the jet, shots rang out. It is unclear whether West German sharpshooters or Arab commandos opened fire first. Whichever side opened fire first, when West German sharpshooters fired or fired back, the first group of commandos began shooting their hostages. The second commando group had barely left their helicopter. One commando fired into the helicopter, another threw a grenade into it, killing the second group of hostages.
When the shooting was over, all nine Israeli hostages had been killed, five Arab commandos had been killed, and three had been wounded.
The world was shocked by what had happened. Many nations denounced the terrorists' actions. Many individuals were also offended that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had permitted the games to continue during the first hours of the hostage negotiations. The IOC did not called a halt to the games until late in the afternoon. The games resumed the next day after a memorial service for the murdered Israeli athletes, but for many people, the Olympics were tainted beyond recovery.