Luttif Afif (1937? – 6 September 1972), alias Issa (Jesus in Arabic), was the commander of the group of Palestinian fedayeen who invaded the Munich Olympic Village on 5 September 1972 and took as hostage nine members of Israel's Olympic team after killing two who resisted. He was the chief negotiator for the Palestinians, who were members of the Black September offshoot of Yassir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. The various pictures of Afif, wearing a white beach hat and a linen safari suit and his face covered with charcoal or shoe polish, are some of the iconic images of the 1972 Munich Olympics.
According to several sources, including Serge Groussard and Simon Reeve, Afif claimed that his own personal reason for taking the Israelis hostage was to get two of his brothers out of Israeli prisons (another brother was said to be in Black September). Afif told the German negotiators that he had been born in Nazareth, to a wealthy Christian Arab businessman father and a Jewish mother. Issa was described by Manfred Schreiber, chief of the Munich police and one of the German negotiators, as "very cool and determined, clearly fanatical in his convictions".
For Walther Tröger, then-Mayor of the Olympic Village, he gave the impression of being an "intelligent and reasonable man", unlike his comrades, who in the eyes of the Olympic official were "gallow birds" (German: Galgenvögel). He said that of course he didn't like Issa because of what he was doing, but he could've liked him if he had met him elsewhere.
Afif spent most of his time in Connollystraße 31 chatting with either the German delegation or the young policewoman Anneliese Graes. She described him as "always polite and correct", when he was asked not to wave his hand grenade in front of her he simply laughed: "you have nothing to fear from me" was his reply.
After tense negotiations, the hostage crisis ended after 21 hours with a bungled ambush on the hostage takers at Fürstenfeldbruck airbase outside of Munich. Afif and four of his compatriots were killed by German snipers, but not before machine-gunning all nine remaining hostages and blowing up a helicopter containing four of them. Afif is reported in most accounts of the event (and depicted in the films Munich and 21 Hours at Munich) as the guerrilla that threw a hand grenade into the eastern helicopter. Autopsy reports show that the hostages in this helicopter were shot as well; it stands to reason that Afif performed both actions. It has been speculated that one of the other fedayeen, Adnan Al-Gashey, machine-gunned the remaining hostages in the western helicopter seconds after.
The bodies of Afif and his four compatriots were turned over to Libya, where they received a hero's funeral and were buried with full military honors.
In Serge Groussard's The Blood of Israel, Issa was misidentified as Mohammed Safady, one of the Munich gunmen who actually survived the Fürstenfeldbruck gunfight. Another identity was suggested for Issa in Aaron Klein's Striking Back; he identifies the terrorist leader as Mohammed Massalha, who turned out to be his own father.
Sources and further reading
- Groussard, S. (New York, 1975), The Blood of Israel: the massacre of the Israeli athletes, the Olympics, 1972 ISBN 0-688-02910-8
- Klein, A. J. (New York, 2005), Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response, Random House ISBN 1-920769-80-3
- Mury, Gilbert. (Wiesbaden, 2002), Schwarzer September: Analysen, Aktionen und Dokumente, Harrassowitz, ISBN 3-8031-1048-3
- Reeve, Simon. (New York, 2001), One Day in September: the full story of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre and Israeli revenge operation "Wrath of God" ISBN 1-55970-547-7