The Minister and the Terrorist

Courtesy Reuters


Shortly before noon on December 21, 1975, six people entered the headquarters of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on Vienna's Ringstrasse. Confirming that an OPEC summit was still in progress, they walked up the stairs to the first floor, took out automatic weapons, and advanced toward the room where the meeting was being held. When a pair of Austrian guards tried to stop them, the terrorists shot one, sending his body down to the lobby in an elevator, and locked the other in an empty office. After killing two bystanders who tried to intervene, they entered the conference room and took several dozen people hostage. A special police squad rushing to the scene was met with shots in the first-floor reception area and returned the fire. Soon one of the terrorists, bleeding from the stomach, tossed a grenade that exploded between the two sides and sent everyone diving for cover. The police retreated downstairs and a standoff began.

The terrorist leader, a Venezuelan who was born Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez but went by the nom de guerre "Carlos," stacked explosives near the hostages and announced that he was the head of a Palestinian commando unit targeting the conservative oil-rich states of Iran and Saudi Arabia. He dictated a communique in French promoting the Palestinian cause and Arab unification, along with a short message in English threatening to kill the hostages unless the Austrian authorities broadcasted the communique every two hours and provided a bus to the Vienna airport, a getaway plane, and a flight crew. He sent out to the police first the notes and later the terrorist who had been wounded during the firefight and needed immediate medical attention. By evening the Austrian government decided to broadcast the communique as directed, and during the night it acceded to the other demands as well, so long as the captive Austrians were released before the plane left.

The next morning a bus pulled up in front of the building

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