The Lillehammer affair (Hebrew: פרשת לילהאמר, Parshat Lillehammer, Norwegian: Lillehammer-saken) was the killing by Mossad agents of Ahmed Bouchikhi, a Moroccan waiter and brother of the renowned musician Chico Bouchikhi, in Lillehammer, Norway, on 21 July 1973. The Israeli agents had mistaken their target for Ali Hassan Salameh, the chief of operations for Black September. Six of the Mossad team of fifteen were captured and convicted of complicity in the killing by the Norwegian justice system, in a major blow to the intelligence agency's reputation.
Undercover agents had been sent by Israel as part of Operation Wrath of God to assassinate Ali Hassan Salameh, the head of Force 17 and an operative of the Black September Organization, a Palestinian militant group that carried out the 1972 Munich Massacre. In the summer of 1973, Mossad received a tip that Ali Hassan Salameh, one of the Mossad's primary targets, was working as a waiter in Lillehammer. Author and former Mossad katsa (case officer) Victor Ostrovsky wrote that Salameh was instrumental in leading Mossad off course by feeding it false information about his whereabouts. A team of 15 Mossad agents was sent to Lillehammer to assassinate him, where they were joined by Mossad director general Zvi Zamir and operation commander Michael Harari. Lillehammer was a relatively small city, and the sudden arrival of more than a dozen strangers attracted attention from residents. The local police began to watch them.
A known Palestinian courier in Lillehammer was identified and followed by Mossad agents to a public swimming pool, where he was seen speaking with Bouchikhi, who had no connection to Palestinian armed groups and whose conversation with the courier was coincidental. Bouchikhi, who resembled Salameh, was found to match the photographs of Salameh. A female Mossad agent then jumped into the pool, and got close enough to Bouchikhi to hear him speaking French. The agents knew that Salameh was multilingual, and concluded that this had to be him. The Mossad team followed Bouchikhi to his home. His residence was placed under constant surveillance by Mossad agents sitting in hired cars.
On the evening of 21 July, a day after having misidentified Bouchikhi as Salameh, the Mossad agents carried out the assassination. Bouchikhi and his pregnant wife had gone to see a movie. After taking a bus back and getting off at a bus stop, they began slowly walking back home. As they were in sight of their home, a car with four Mossad agents pulled up beside them. While two stayed in the car to provide cover, the other two got out and shot Bouchikhi 13 times with a 22 caliber pistol, his wife witnessing the shooting. They then jumped back into the car, which immediately drove away at high speed. Local police were close by, but by the time police and rescue arrived, Bouchikhi was dead.
The killing shocked the residents of Lillehammer, where there had not been a murder for 36 years. The Israelis learned that they had killed the wrong man after the story was publicized the following day. Nine members of the hit team, including the two actual killers, escaped and were out of Norway the day following the assassination. Six other members of the team, four men and two women, were arrested before they could escape. Two agents were caught in a getaway car they were using again without having changed the license plates while trying to get to an airport the day after the assassination. Their interrogations led to the arrests of the remaining members of the cell. Incriminating documents and the keys to a network of safe houses were discovered.
While the defence counsel said their clients played only minor roles such as shadowing and passing on information, five of the six agents were found guilty on a variety of charges and convicted of complicity in the killing, receiving sentences ranging from one year to five and a half years but were released and returned to Israel in 1975. The Mossad later found Ali Hassan Salameh in Beirut and killed him on 22 January 1979, with a remote-controlled car bomb in an attack that also killed four of his bodyguards, four civilians and injured 18 others.
The revelations of the captured agents dealt a massive blow to the secret infrastructure of the Mossad in Europe. The captured agents were interrogated over the operation. One of them, Dan Arbel, became extremely nervous as soon as his cell door shut due to his extreme claustrophobia, and provided many details on the operation in exchange for being transferred to a larger cell with a small window. Authorities discovered a key on one of the suspects for a Mossad safe house in Paris. It was handed over to the French police, who raided the flat and discovered keys to other Mossad safe houses in the city, along with evidence that several of those involved in the Lillehammer operation had been involved in other assassinations as part of Operation Wrath of God. Information on Mossad safe houses, phone numbers, and agents gathered during the interrogation of the agents was rapidly shared with its European counterparts. As a result, Mossad agents who had been exposed had to be recalled, safe houses abandoned, phone numbers changed, and operational methods modified.
For the first time, clear evidence had been found of Israel's involvement in the string of assassinations of Palestinians that had taken place on European soil as part of Operation Wrath of God. Under intense international pressure, Golda Meir ordered the operation suspended. It was resumed under Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
Israel never officially took responsibility for the assassination. In January 1996, Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that Israel would never take responsibility for the killing but would consider compensation. The Israeli government appointed an attorney, Amnon Goldenberg, to negotiate a settlement with Bouchikhi's widow Torill and daughter Malika, who were represented by attorney Thor-Erik Johansen. That same month, an agreement was reached, and Israel paid compensation equal to US$283,000 split between Bouchiki's wife and daughter. A separate settlement of US$118,000 was paid to a son from a previous marriage. An Israeli statement was also issued which stopped short of an apology, but expressed "sorrow" over Bouchikhi's "unfortunate" death.
In 1990, Norway reopened the case, and in 1998 issued a global arrest warrant for the leader of the operation, Michael Harari, who had successfully escaped, but closed the case the following year after judging that it would be impossible to get a conviction. According to the September 2004 book release of Mange liv (English: Many lives) by the former lawyer Annæus Schjødt, who represented two of the agents in the case and later married one of them, Sylvia Rafael, one of the arrested agents, Dan Arbel, leaked information to the Norwegian government about the Israeli nuclear weapons program. However, the Norwegian government decided to remain silent about their findings. Information relating to Israel's development and possession of nuclear weapons was not made public until Mordechai Vanunu exposed the program in October 1986, some 13 years later.
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- on YouTube
- Further names of individuals involved in the affair
- Photo of Ahmed Bouchikhi .