Munich Mastermind Assassinated
Yasser Arafat and Salameh’s eldest son at Salameh’s funeral in Beirut. Photo: Keshet Publishing Company

January 22, 1979

Ali Hassan Salameh, the mastermind behind the Palestinian terrorist attack on the Israeli team at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, dies at a hospital about 30 minutes after a Mossad car bomb is detonated as he drives by on his way to a birthday party at his mother’s apartment in Beirut. The explosion also kills four of Salameh’s bodyguards and four innocent civilians. Salameh’s funeral two days later in Beirut is attended by tens of thousands of Palestinians, including Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Known as Abu Hassan in his role as the chief of operations for Black September, the terrorist organization that killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics, Salameh also was known as the Red Prince for flaunting his wealth with a lifestyle that included expensive cars and lots of women. In addition to his leadership role with Black September, he was the security chief for Fatah, Arafat’s faction in the PLO. Salameh was born in Palestine in 1940, and his father was a military leader who was killed fighting Israeli independence in 1948.

After the Munich massacre, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir authorized Operation Wrath of God to eliminate the terrorist network behind the slaughter. Wrath of God swiftly killed many of the key members of the Palestinian terror network operating in Europe, including a daring raid targeting three high-ranking Palestinians in their homes in Beirut. But an operation in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1973 mistakenly killed a Moroccan waiter instead of Salameh, embarrassing Israel and bringing a temporary halt to Wrath of God.

Salameh knew he was a target, but he also was heavily guarded and believed he had American protection because he served as a secret contact between the United States and the PLO and ensured the safety of U.S. citizens in Beirut. He married a former Miss Universe, Georgina Rizk, in 1978 and took a honeymoon to Hawaii and visited Disneyland. But the Mossad placed a deep-cover agent in Beirut to track Salameh, who unknowingly befriended the Israeli at a health club. That spy, Agent D, learned Salameh’s routine and provided the intelligence that enabled the Mossad to place the car bomb on his driving path.