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A Black September terrorist looks from the balcony of an apartment where Israeli Olympic team members are held hostage, Munich, September 1972.
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A Black September terrorist looks from the balcony of an apartment where Israeli Olympic team members are held hostage, Munich, September 1972.Co Rentmeester—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
A Black September terrorist looks from the balcony of an apartment where Israeli Olympic team members are held hostage, Munich, September 1972.
An Arabic-speaking German policewoman talks to a terrorist, Munich 1972.
An Arabic-speaking German policewoman relays information to authorities by walkie-talkie after speaking with a Black September terrorist, Munich, September 1972.
A Black September terrorist talks with German officials, Munich, September 1972.
An Olympic Committee negotiator knocks for admittance to Israeli quarters, accompanied by a Black September terrorist, Munich, September 1972.
Munich Massacre 1972
With terrorists holed up in the Israeli athletes' quarters, swarms of German policemen, in uniform and plain clothes, move in and seal off the area, Munich, September 1972.
A German policeman, dressed as an athlete, is lowered over the edge of the roof of the building where Israeli hostages are held, Munich, September 1972.
Perched on a terrace directly above the Israeli quarters, a German policeman checks his submachine gun before advancing further, Munich, September 1972.
A German policeman leans against a wall outside an apartment where Israeli hostages are held, Munich, September 1972.
A German policeman outside an apartment where Israeli hostages are held, Munich, September 1972.
A Black September terrorist looks from the balcony of an apartment where Israeli Olympic team members are held hostage,
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Co Rentmeester—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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Terror at the Olympics: Munich, 1972

"They're all gone."

For millions of people who recall the slaughter unleashed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, those words are indelible. They were spoken by ABC's Jim Mckay—the man behind the famous "thrill of victory, agony of defeat" introduction to the network's long-running show, Wide World of Sports—when he learned that Israeli athletes and coaches taken hostage by terrorists from the group Black September had been murdered.

McKay, a sportscaster who assumed the duties of a news anchor as one of the most shocking events of the 1970s unfolded on live TV, acquitted himself with unforgettable grace and intelligence as the story grew more abominable with each passing hour.

In fact, the simple, unadorned way that McKay reported the news that the Israeli hostages had, in fact, been killed still resonates today, four decades after the event:

"When I was a kid," McKay began, in a strangely, comfortingly conversational tone, when he got word of what had happened, "my father used to say, 'Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.' Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone."

[See footage of McKay's announcement]

There were hundreds of journalists from all over the world covering the 1972 Olympics, so the Black September assault and the murder of the Israeli athletes was, in fact, the very first time that a terror attack was reported and broadcast, in real time, across the globe. Among those journalists was LIFE magazine's Co Rentmeester, a 36-year-old Dutch-born photographer who had distinguished himself (and been wounded by a sniper) while covering the war in Vietnam, and whose photography at the '72 Olympics resulted not only in the chilling images presented in this gallery, but also in some of the most memorable sports pictures made at those Games.

Here, five decades after the murders, LIFE.com presents Rentmeester photos that ran in LIFE—including one image (the first in this gallery) that for countless people became the photograph from the Munich Massacre: a portrait of, in the magazine's phrase, "a masked figure of doom."

In the end, 17 people died during the Black September attack: six Israeli coaches, five Israeli athletes, five of the eight terrorists and one West German policeman. Three terrorists were captured, but were later released by the West Germans. According to multiple reports (long denied by Israel) Israeli security agents later tracked down and killed many of those believed to be responsible for the Munich attack.

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