Attack on the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum
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|Attack on the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum|
One of the Black September militants on the balcony of the Saudi embassy during the hostage-taking of diplomatic officials in Khartoum, Sudan
|Date||March 1, 1973|
2 US diplomats
|Perpetrators||Eight Palestinian militants. Black September claimed responsibility.|
Carried out by the Black September Organization in 1973, the attack on the Saudi embassy in Khartoum was a terrorist attack which took ten diplomats hostage. After President Richard Nixon stated that he refused to negotiate with terrorists, and insisted that "no concessions" would be made, the three Western hostages were killed.
Details of the attack
On March 1, 1973, the Saudi embassy in Khartoum was giving a formal reception, and George Curtis Moore, chargé d'affaires at the American embassy, was the guest of honor as he was due to be re-assigned from his post. Palestinian gunmen burst into the embassy, and took Curtis hostage, as well as fellow American Cleo Allen Noel, a Belgian diplomat and two others.
Eight masked men from Black September entered the building and fired shots in the air, detaining ten hostages:
- Cleo A. Noel, Jr., US Ambassador to Sudan
- Sheikh Abdullah al Malhouk, Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Sudan
- Wife of Sheikh Abdullah al Malhouk
- Malhouk's four children
- George Curtis Moore, US Deputy Chief of Mission to Sudan
- Guy Eid, Belgian Chargé d'affaires to Sudan
- Adli al Nasser, Jordanian Chargé d'affaires to Sudan
The morning after the hostages had been taken, the gunmen demanded the release of numerous Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, as well as the release of members of the Baader-Meinhof Group, and the release of Sirhan Sirhan. However, they revised their demands and insisted that ninety Arab militants being held by the Jordanian government must be freed within 24 hours or the hostages would be killed.
In a news conference on March 2nd, President Richard Nixon stated that the United States would "not pay blackmail". American negotiators seemed confused as to how to best respond to the hostage-takers' demands, and Nixon seemed to believe that the gunmen would give themselves up in exchange for safe passage as others had done when storming the Israeli embassy in Bangkok a year earlier.
After twelve hours, the gunmen stated that they had killed Noel, Moore and Eid, the three Western diplomats in their custody. They demanded a plane to take them and their hostages to the United States, which was rejected by both the Sudanese and American governments.
The Sudanese government continued to negotiate with the militants, and after three days the gunmen released the remaining hostages and surrendered to Sudanese authorities. In the aftermath it was found that the diplomats had been taken to the basement and killed. 
In October 1973, charges against two of the militants were dropped for insufficient evidence. A court of inquiry commenced to try the remaining six in June 1974. The court sentenced the six to life imprisonment before their sentences were reduced to seven years. The US government unsuccessfully lobbied the Sudanese government to put them to death.
Sudanese President Gaafar Nimeiry was on an official trip abroad during the incident and condemned it in the strongest terms on his return, stating that the perpetrators rewarded Sudan, which had provided peaceful sanctuary to Palestinian refugees, with the disturbance of Sudan's internal peace. He decided to delegate the punishment of the perpetrators to their compatriots and handed the six to the custody of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The next day, the PLO sent the six to Egypt, where they were to serve their sentences. In protest of Sudan's handling of this situation, the United States withdrew its ambassador to Sudan and froze economic assistance to Sudan in June. A new US ambassador returned to Sudan in November that year, and aid resumed in 1976.
Three of the Black September militants disappeared from Egyptian custody and were never recaptured. The remaining three served out their sentences.
The United States also tried to prosecute Yasser Arafat in the United States for his role in event. However, John R. Bolton, then Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice, in 1986 concluded that they lacked the legal jurisdiction for trying Arafat, as the appropriate statutory laws were not yet in force in 1973.
- Smith, G. Davidson. "Combating Terrorism", 1990. pp. 57
- Jureidini, Paul A. Middle East Quarterly, Review of Assassination in Khartoum, June 1994
- Dershowitz. A. 2002. Why Terrorism Works: understanding the threat, responding to the challenge. R.R. Donnelly & Sons Co, Inc. U.S.
- "Prosecution Of Arafat Rejected". Washington Post. 1986-04-22.
- American Ambassador Captured By Guerrillas - published on the Herald-Journal on March 2, 1973
- Us Envoys Seized Terrorists Want Sirhan Set Free - published on the Montreal Gazette on March 2, 1973
- Palestinian Guerrillas Murder Three, Hold Two - published on the Evening Independent on March 3, 1973
- Terrorists In Khartoum Surrender, Free Hostages - published on the Herald-Journal on March 5, 1973
- Sudan Killings: The Last 25 Minutes - published on the New Straits Times on March 6, 1973
- BBC this day in history - 1 March 1973