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TERRORISTS: Kidnaping in Vienna, Murder in Athens

6 minute read

An epidemic of political violence and murder shattered the peace of a week in which millions of people throughout the world honored the birth of Christ. The most dramatic incident was the kidnaping of eleven oil ministers in Vienna. Then, in Athens, the chief of the CIA office in Greece was slain by three gunmen as he returned home from a Christmas party. In Lebanon, an estimated 250 people were killed and another 400 kidnaped in that country’s civil war. In Argentina, more than 85 leftists died in clashes with the army as President Isabel Peron struggled to maintain power (see story page 47). In Ethiopia, another U.S. civilian was kidnaped by Eritrean rebels, bringing to five the number of Americans held by the Eritreans. “We have been saying it for years,” observed one intelligence official in Israel, the primary target of Arab terrorist attacks. “The world is facing a new wave of organized terror. But who has paid attention?”

Absurd Charge. Now everyone is, including some Arab and Palestinian leaders who had previously supported terrorism. Suddenly they found the terror pointed in their direction. Breaking into a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), six people, five men and a woman, held captive more than 60 people, including eleven oil ministers. After all-night negotiations with the Austrian government, the terrorists secured an Austrian Airlines DC-9 and took the ministers and some 30 other members of their delegations to Algiers, Tripoli, and back to Algiers again before releasing them. No one aboard the plane was hurt, but three were killed and eight others wounded in the initial assault in Vienna. Salah Khalaf, the No. 2 man of Fatah, the largest Palestinian commando group, denounced the attack on OPEC’S headquarters as a “criminal act” designed to “undermine the nature of the Palestinian struggle at a time when it is producing major victories on the international level.”

Farouk Kaddoumi, head of the political department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, charged that the aim of the terrorists was to split OPEC and deprive the Third World of its most effective weapon against the West. It was so counterproductive to Palestinian goals, he added darkly, that it must have been engineered by American imperialists and Zionists—a patently absurd charge.

Who, in fact, were the six members of the so-called Arm of the Arab Revolution that assaulted OPEC headquarters? Their leader was probably a flamboyantly notorious Latin American terrorist who goes by the name of “Carlos” (see box). Two others, according to Algerian authorities, were Palestinians, and one was Lebanese. Two were European, one an unidentified woman in her early 20s, possibly Irish or English, and the other Hans-Joachim Klein, 28, who worked in a lawyer’s office in Frankfurt and associated with radicals.

OPEC’s Money. The Vienna terrorists appeared to be linked with George Habash’s fanatical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which neither confirmed nor denied that it had had a part in the operation. In any event, the terrorists’ gesture seemed to be aimed beyond the Palestinian cause to the creation of radical regimes throughout the Arab world. The delegates of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two major conservative states in the Middle East, were told by the kidnapers that they would be the first executed. OPEC officials from countries belonging to the anti-Israel “rejection front”—Algeria, Iraq and Libya—were, on the other hand, treated in a comradely manner.

The goals of the Arm of the Arab Revolution—despite its title—seemed to be much more than the creation of an independent Palestine. Egyptian Author Mohamed Said Ahmed noted that the kidnapers’ manifesto, which they forced the Austrian radio to broadcast before they flew with their captives from Vienna, called for, among other things, the use of OPEC’s oil money to finance wars of liberation everywhere, not just in the Middle East.

The Austrian government’s abrupt capitulation to the terrorists, almost immediately agreeing to their demands for a getaway plane, can only encourage further violence. About the only praise for Chancellor Bruno Kreisky’s speedy action came from Iran and Saudi Arabia, which had feared for the lives of their delegates. Others noted that both Britain and The Netherlands had only last month forced terrorists to surrender simply by waiting them out. Even many Austrians were disturbed by the action of Interior Minister Otto Rösch, who carried Viennese courtesy to such indiscreet lengths that he shook hands with Carlos at Schwechat Airport before he flew off with his planeload of hostages. “He stretched out his hand and I took it,” explained Rösch lamely.

Hit List. Hours after the OPEC ministers had been released, another terrorist act took place in Athens. Returning home to his villa in suburban Psychico with his wife, Richard Welch, 46, the CIA’S station chief in Greece, was surrounded by three men as he got out of his car. One of them fired three shots at Welch from close range. He died immediately. The three then sped off, without harming Welch’s wife or his Greek driver.

U.S. officials angrily blamed an English-language paper in Greece, the Athens News, for identifying Welch and eight other embassy employees as CIA operatives in an anti-CIA article published November 25. The article included even home addresses and telephone numbers. Welch, it said, “lives at No. 5 Queen Frederica in Psychico. The reader can telephone him for his comments on these accusations at 671-2055.” The Athens News, an anti-American journal, may have indirectly got its lead about Welch from Counterspy, the quarterly newsletter of a Washington-based outfit called the Fifth Estate, whose purpose is to expose covert American intelligence activities. Among the leading members of this organization is former CIA Agent Philip Agee, author of Inside the Company: CIA Diary. Writing in Counterspy, Agee said that “the most effective and important systematic efforts to combat the CIA that can be undertaken right now are, I think, the identification, exposure and neutralization of its people working abroad.” One intelligence official, however, bitterly labeled Counterspy’s roster of CIA agents as nothing more or less than “a hit list.”

At week’s end Greek police had no clues as to the identity of the gunmen. But the identity of terrorists, wherever they operate or whatever they do, was perhaps less important than the response of governments to terrorism itself. So long as some governments give in—or, worse still, as in Algeria’s case, offer asylum to murderers—terrorism will continue. “Who gives a damn for Carlos—or for all the Carloses?” asked a frustrated Israeli official. “The real question is: What are we, the civilized countries, doing to stop him or them?” That is still a question without an answer.

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