Israel indicated today it will retaliate for the terrorist attacks on El Al passenger facilities at the Rome and Vienna airports Friday morning at a time and place and by means of its own choosing. The Cabinet heard a detailed report today on the attacks by young Palestinian gunmen which, at the latest count, took 18 lives and wounded over 110 persons. The dead included five Americans, at least one Israeli, and four of the seven killers. The death toll among the severely wounded is expected to rise.
Premier Shimon Peres read the Cabinet the message he received from President Reagan yesterday, calling the apparently coordinated and indiscriminate attacks, aimed against Israel in the two European capitals, “another example of the evil of terrorism that we must all work to eliminate.”
“Such acts must be condemned and the perpetrators brought to justice,” Reagan said in his message from his California ranch. He added, in what appeared to be a call for restraint, “We must not allow terrorists to deter us from pursuing our goal of a lasting peace.” The President may have been referring not only to the airport attacks but to the apparently worsening situation between Israel and Syria since the Syrians deployed SAM-2 surface-to-air missiles near the Lebanese border.
There was no general discussion of the airport attacks by the Cabinet today. A senior source at the Prime Minister’s Office said later that the government was still trying to determine the identity of the terrorist organization involved. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said today that maximum damage must be inflicted on the leaders of terrorist organizations and those who organize terrorist attacks.
ALL POSSIBLE MEANS TO FIGHT TERRORISTS
Addressing a United Jewish Appeal delegation in Jerusalem, Rabin said Israel would respond to terrorist attacks in the most efficient manner possible. He said the assaults on civilians at the Rome and Vienna airports should make clear to the world the kind of terror Israeli citizens face daily from Lebanon and in the occupied territories.
Rabin urged the United Nations Security Council to take effective steps against countries that support terrorists.
Peres said in an earlier statement that anyone who justifies terror must be made to understand that terror will also strike back at him. “The Israeli government will defend its citizens at home and throughout the world and will continue to use all the means possible to fight terrorists,” he said. He called on “the nations of the world to organize against all forms of terrorism.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Avi Pazner said in a prepared statement, “I think that Israel should remind those countries which harbor either offices of the Palestine Liberation Organization, or representatives of the PLO to expel them immediately because the PLO will always be a base and a center of terror against Israelis.”
In October, Israel Air Force jets bombed the PLO base near Tunis, allegedly in retaliation for the murders of three Israelis aboard a yacht in Larnaca, Cyprus, over Yom Kippur. Israel has taken a dim view of Jordan’s allowing elements of the PLO political branch to set up shop in Amman but there have been no overt threats to attack the PLO there.
Peres today praised the authorities in Rome and Vienna for their prompt reaction to the attacks. Four of the seven gunmen were killed, three in Rome and one in Vienna. Three were wounded and hospitalized, two in Vienna and one in Rome.
The attack at Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci Airport took place at about 9 a.m. Friday local time and the one at Schwechat Airport in Vienna about the same time. Apparently they were coordinated and organized by the same terrorist group. The dead in Rome included five Americans, among them an 11-year-old girl, Natasha Sofia Simpson, daughter of the Associated Press correspondent there. Also killed were three Greeks, an Italian, an Algerian and two Mexicans.
The Vienna dead were an Austrian and an Israeli, the latter identified as Elly Jana. Two other Israelis with the same family name were among the wounded.
Three of the four terrorists in Rome were killed by Italian police and reportedly, an El Al security man. The fourth Palestinian, reported in serious condition at Celio Military Hospital, was identified as Mohammed Saram, 19. He told police he was born in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in west Beirut, scene of the 1982 massacre of Palestinians by the Israel-supported Lebanese Christian Phalange militia.
CHILDREN WERE TERRORISTS’ TARGET
A note was found in Saram’s pocket indicating that the terrorists intended specifically to kill children. It said: “We are martyrs of Palestine. Our actions will continue and we will also hit your children.” He was dragged off by Rome police, in part to protect him from airport crowds who almost lynched him.
The assault in Rome, with automatic rifles and hand grenades, was aimed at the El Al waiting area. The wounded included six El Al employes and one passenger, identified as Abraham Pinhassi. One employe, Nir Cohen, was reported in serious condition. The others, reported improving, are Rami Nagar, manager of the check-in counter, Gideon Novak, Simon Cohen, Yatzhak Spishinski and Ricki Rosenzweig.
Pope John Paul II was one of the first to condemn the attack. A Vatican statement said the Pontiff “deeply deplores this act of bloodshed that offends the human and Christian conscience … and the barbaric use of violence.” Other statements of condemnation were issued by the Israel Embassy in Rome and the Union of Italian Jewish communities.
In Israel, Deputy Premier and Housing Minister David Levy, a leading figure in Likud, said Friday that Israel would strike back at the terrorists “wherever they may be.” These “beasts know no borders and we will hit them too,” he said.
Rabin observed Friday, after news of the attacks reached Israel, that it was ironic that the terrorists struck in two countries whose leader or former leader, Premier Bettino Craxi of Italy and ex-Chancellor Bruno Kreisky of Austria, had publicly supported the Palestinian cause and urged that the Palestine Liberation Organization be included in the Middle East peace process.
They naively believed that the PLO could be partners in the peace process, Rabin told a meeting in Tel Aviv of the Industrial and Commercial Club. He said he was convinced the Rome and Vienna attacks were launched “in the context of efforts made by all the PLO terrorist organizations to carry out increased terrorist attacks against targets in Israel and Israeli targets abroad.”
He noted that the latest attacks coincided with the 21st anniversary of the first PLO El Fatah attack on Israel. “We are fully aware and prepared against any future attacks that might be increased in the coming weeks,” he said.
Transport Minister Haim Corfu of Likud accused the Italian government of having acted in the past “with great forgiveness” toward terrorists. His reference obviously was to Italy allowing Abu Abbas, alleged mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking in October, to leave Italy for Yugoslavia after he was captured and placed in the hands of Italian authorities.
ITALY DENIES ANY LAXITY
The Italian Foreign Ministry released a statement to the media that was seen as an indirect reply to the allegations by Israeli officials that Italy was lax in allowing terrorists to escape.
The statement denied any laxity and added that while Italy has “always firmly condemned all terrorism” and the latest acts “make the solution of the Palestinian problem still more difficult, it is the firm conviction of the Italian government that these terrorist acts must not impede the search for a just peace in the Middle East.”
Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini said in an interview published in Rome yesterday that “these acts are aimed at hitting the heart of countries in favor of peace talks in the Middle East.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir sent a cable to Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti expressing “great appreciation for the prompt and courageous intervention of the Italian security forces on the spot, which certainly forestalled an even greater tragedy.” He said that Italy can “be assured of our full commitment to combatting terrorism wherever it originates and strikes.” The U.S. Ambassador to Italy, Maxwell Rabb, also complimented the Italian police for their speedy and courageous response. The gun battle with the terrorists was over in three minutes. Minister of Internal Affairs Luigi Scalfaro announced yesterday that the number of plainclothes police would be increased at the airports and random spot checks will be made of all persons entering the terminals.
In Vienna, Vice Chancellor Norbert Steger said security measures at the airport were not deficient. They have been tightened several times in recent months. The attack there was on the El Al ticket counter and, according to Steger, the terrorists were not able to get close to it because of the heavy security.
EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNTS IN VIENNA
In Vienna, the El Al check-in counter and the adjacent counters of other airlines were crowded with passengers waiting to board morning flights. According to eye-witnesses, three “oriental-looking” men rushed toward the El Al counter shooting wildly with automatic weapons and throwing grenades. Austrian police swiftly returned the fire. The attackers fled from the terminal and, after trying unsuccessfully to grab hostages, they stole a Mercedes belonging to an airport catering company.
They left the airport area at high speed, followed by police vehicles. The terrorists shot at and threw grenades at the pursuing police cars. After a chase of several kilometers, the fleeing car was disabled by police gun fire. Inside was one dead terrorist. The two others tried to hijack an approaching car but were swiftly seized by police. Both were seriously wounded.
Austrian police said none of the gunmen carried passports. It was reported later that the terrorists in Rome used forged Moroccan passports.
DEMAND ILLEGAL ALIENS BE OUSTED
The outrage in Rome has led to demands to oust the tens of thousands of illegal aliens in Italy, many of them Palestinians. An unknown number of the latter are suspected of being terrorists. It was learned over the weekend that the Palestinians who attacked the Rome airport had been in the city for some time.
They were traced to the Pensione Ferraro where they lived from December 6-15, and to the Pensione Cheries where they stayed from the 16th to the 27th. Both are obscure, cheap lodging houses on the Via Cavour.
The terrorists left the second pensione apparently unarmed. Italian authorities believe they picked up their arms at a central hideout somewhere in Rome or its environs. Police are now searching for the terrorist arsenal. It is believed to furnish terrorists with money and forged identification papers as well as weapons. The authorities have noted similarities between Friday’s airport attack and two recent Palestinian terrorist attacks on the Via Veneto, Rome’s most fashionable street.