JOHANNESBURG (Apr. 28)
Six heavily armed terrorists who seized the Israeli Consulate General here earlier today continued late this evening to hold nine hostages including women and children, reportedly wired with hand grenades, in the sixth floor Consular offices. South African police and combat troops surrounded the building.
The terrorists, tentatively identified as three Lebanese and three Japanese, opened fire with automatic weapons from the Consular windows at 1:14 p.m. local time killing two people and wounding at least 32 others as panic-stricken lunch time crowds scattered for cover. At least one of the hostages was reportedly injured.
The terrorists demands were not immediately known although they apparently involved the presence of Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Yitzhak Unna. South African Prime Minister John Vorster declared in a nationwide broadcast tonight that he would not negotiate with the terrorists under any circumstances.
Unna, who was in Cape Town this morning, flew to Johannesburg–a two-hour flight–on instructions from Jerusalem and was reportedly on the scene this evening. The terrorists reportedly threatened to blow up the building unless they were allowed to talk with the Israeli Ambassador.
HOSTAGES TENTATIVELY IDENTIFIED
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned from reliable sources that the hostages probably include Consul Shlomo Hover and his 14-year-old son; Vice-Consul Shemir Zur and his wife; a Mrs. Y. Chelouche and possibly her son; Gad Dror of El. A1; Giora Raviv, a security officer; David Potter, who was reportedly wounded; and an African messenger identified as Edward. The Israeli Consul General, Arieh Bustan, was not in the building when his offices were seized. Earlier reports identified the hostages only as four white women, three white men and two Black men.
According to a late report, three local Japanese were escorted through the police cordon to serve as interpreters for the terrorists. But, according to an earlier report, the gunmen made their demands in Hebrew which were relayed to police through a window by two men, apparently hostages, who wore skull caps. The use of Hebrew was an indication that the terrorists may be Palestinians although they could also be Hebrew-speaking Lebanese.
A police source said it was not certain whether they were foreigners or members of Johannesburg’s fairly large Lebanese community. The JTA learned that about two months ago terrorists carrying Lebanese passports managed to infiltrate the country but their trail was “lost” by security authorities.
Israel’s Military Attache in Pretoria flew to Johannesburg today and he and Unna reportedly were in constant contact with Jerusalem where Premier Yitzhak Rabin summoned an emergency meeting of his Cabinet and later spent the day conferring with Defense Minister Shimon Peres
TERRORISTS’ ENTRY A MYSTERY
The raid on the Consulate was the first of its kind in South Africa’s history. It remained a mystery tonight how the gunmen got into the building a modest grey-brown six-story structure housing offices, a furniture store and a travel agency, and how they managed to enter the strongly guarded Consular premises.
Armed guards are stationed on the floor outside the offices and others are in the passage. All visitors must pass across an electronic eye device that scans them for metal. Would-be visitors must pass through three bullet-proof security chambers before they can enter the office area.
According to an unconfirmed report, the terrorists entered the building over the weekend while it was closed and began to seize hostages this morning as employes reported for work. If that was the case, however, there was no explanation why they began shooting from the windows at midday.
One unconfirmed report said the terrorists threatened to shoot the hostages at 15-minute intervals unless their demands were met but the nature of the demands were not immediately known . At one point, a woman in a brown shirt, speaking Hebrew, relayed demands from a window for medical supplies, food and water to be sent up by a rope.
A call was also made for a doctor, An army doctor who approached the building was ordered strip to his underclothes to ensure that he was not carrying any weapons. The doctor was not admitted to the building. Meanwhile, police cleared 30,000 persons from the Rand Show, an annual commercial and trade fair in Johannesburg where, according to an unconfirmed report, the terrorists had planted explosives.
Almost nine hours after their attack began, the terrorists demanded a helicopter capable of carrying 20 persons, according to police sources here. They were told that a helicopter of that size was not available, the sources said.
PREPARATION FOR ASSAULT MOUNTED
Meanwhile, steel-helmeted troop reinforcements were rushed to the area and an emergency hospital was set up in Carlton Center near the Consulate building in apparent preparation for an assault late tonight. Crowds thronged the area despite broadcasts urging them to stay away. A difficulty in mounting an assault to free the hostages was that the electronically controlled doors at the Consulate had jammed during the day. South African papers, reporting the day’s drama, carried the biggest headlines since World War II events. The population solidly support Vorster’s adamant stand of not negotiating with the terrorists.
Following the terrorist attack on the Consulate. Jewish and Israeli institutions in Johannesburg and other South African cities were given special protection. The E1 A1 offices near the Consulate building were placed under heavy guard, Local Jews kept watch over synagogues and Hebrew schools. Jewish community leaders gathered in the offices of the Zionist Federation and then went as near to the besieged Consulate as police would permit to find out what was happening. But police gave out no information or details.