Marshall Center counterterrorism students delve into ‘Munich Massacre’ lessons learned

Marshall Center counterterrorism students delve into ‘Munich Massacre’ lessons learned

Marshall Center counterterrorism students delve into ‘Munich Massacre’ lessons learned

By Christine June
Public Affairs Office
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

MUNICH (March 10, 2016) – The lasting memory of the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich is not of athletes in triumph, but of terrorists in ski masks, blood, terror and death.

Close to the end of the Munich Olympic Games, a group of eight members of the Black September Palestinian terrorist organization broke into the Olympic Village and took 11 Israeli Olympic team members hostage and eventually killed, along with a German police officer. The subsequent standoff in the Olympic Village lasted for almost 18 hours.

 “The Summer Olympics in Munich were largely overshadowed by what has come to be known as the ‘Munich Massacre,’ and it’s a defining moment in the study of terrorism,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. James Howcroft, course director of the Program on Terrorism Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.

That’s why there is a Munich Field Study Trip as part of the PTSS curriculum to study what went wrong and why, and most importantly, how could the tragic outcome been prevented, explained Dr. Sebastian von Münchow, Marshall Center professor, who organizes this trip for each PTSS course.

The current PTSS participants went on the Munich field trip March 9, visiting the German Federal Police at the Munich Airport, 1972 Olympic village site and Munich SWAT team.

While traveling to Munich, the participants watched One Day in September, the 2002 documentary that pieces together the timeline of events to show how and why the tragic outcome was not averted.

This was the first time that the PTSS course visited the German Federal Police at the Munich Airport, said von Münchow. The other course participants visited the Bayerisches Landeskriminalamt (Bavarian state police) headquarters in Munich.

German Polizeioberkommissar (police upper commissioner equivalent to a U.S. Army captain) Albert Poerschke, who handles public affairs for the German Federal Police at the Munich Airport, started his briefing to the participants by mentioning how the terrorist incident at the 1972 Olympics changed the German police force.

“We were a ‘civilian’ police force then, trying to put the memories of our past (WWII and the 1936 Berlin Olympics) behind us,” he explained. “We are now a trained and specialized police force.

“We are able to handle whatever comes our way,” said Poerschke, who then discussed Germany’s police organization to include the central office, police academy, and riot unit coordinating and regional offices.

Poerschke also discussed specifics on the strength and organization of the German Federal Police at the Munich Airport, which is the second largest in Germany and the seventh largest in Europe. He said that the airport police force has 1,220 staff members – 913 control and patrol officers, 134 senior operational officers, 28 management teams of inspectors, 70 crime investigators, and 75 management and administration staff.

After Poerschke’s briefing, the participants were able to hear from two members of the airport’s bomb squad, who talked about their mission, protective gear and equipment. A highlight of this was a robot that can be equipped with a water hammer that can shoot water at 2,000 PSI to cut off the wiring to explosive devises hidden in luggage. The participants were able to try on the protective gear, which weighs about 88 pounds.

“The robot was very interesting for me,” said Ghana armed forces Lt. Col. Bawah Zibrim Ayorrogo, military police commanding officer. “We do not have this type of resource. We search for explosives using police dogs, but this is something to consider for the future.”

Next at the 1972 Olympic village, von Münchow talked about the events before and during the 18-hour stalemate, right below the apartment balcony where the iconic photo of the attack was taken.

Last stop on the trip was the visit to the Munich SWAT headquarters where German Police 1st Lt. Thomas Günter talked about the application process and training before a dog-handling demonstration. Participants were able to see and touch equipment such as rifles, pistols and vehicles to include trucks, vans, cars and motorcycles.

Started in 2004, PTSS is offered twice a year and brings together military and civilian counterterrorism practitioners from around the world to share their experiences and best practices to help countries develop a practical and obtainable strategy to deal with terrorism in their countries.

The four-week course curriculum also consists of lectures, seminars and case studies. It is designed to highlight four objectives: Understand the Threat; Build Capacity; Build Network; and, Enable Transnational Cooperation.