When Muslim terrorists stormed the B’nai B’rith International headquarters on March 9, 1977, the notion of a terror attack on U.S. soil was a still unfamiliar concept. As we look back on that time, it’s enlightening to note that Iran helped end this volatile hostage situation involving Jews.
On that day 30 years ago, hiding behind rifles and machetes, a dozen Hanafi Muslim terrorists held hostage more than 139 people at the then-B’nai B’rith International headquarters on Rhode Island Avenue, the District Building and the Islamic Center. The group said it was avenging the murders of seven members of a Hanafi leader’s family four years earlier at the hands of a rival Muslim group.
Ambassadors from Iran, Egypt and Pakistan read to the gunman passages from the Koran that they said demonstrated Islam’s compassion and mercy. They urged the gunmen to surrender. These ambassadors relied on their religious faith for compassion and tolerance. This secular, pre-revolutionary Iran was a friend to the United States and, to a lesser extent, Israel.
The terrorists surrendered 39 hours after they began their attack. One person was killed, two others were shot, dozens were injured and all were terrorized.
Fast forwarding 30 years, what a different landscape we have today with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who issues repeated threats to Jewish people around the world. Ahmadinejad and his fanatical cohorts rely on religion to justify intolerance and hate.
Ahmadinejad fills the airwaves with his statements about wiping Israel off the map, his sponsorship of a global contest of cartoons that mock Jews and the Holocaust, and his recent Holocaust denial conference in Tehran. All are frightening enough.
But when combined with Iran’s rush to develop nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community, there exists concrete evidence as to the magnitude of the threat posed by Iran’s leader and his regime.
Ahmadinejad’s commitment to continuing a nuclear enrichment program demands that the world take notice. A new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency has found Iran in violation of a resolution meant to curb its nuclear powers. The world, through the United Nations, must use this report to broaden sanctions against Iran.
The thought of Ahmadinejad leading a nuclear Iran is chilling. Today’s Iranian government uses the Koran to spread hate, posing a universal threat to peace. A nuclear Iran jeopardizes the fate of Israel, the entire Middle East and the world.
To see the evolution of the Iranian threat, we need only look to Argentina. An Argentine court recently found Iran responsible for the attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994. A new report confirms what has long been suspected: Iran was behind the bombing in the heart of the largest Jewish community in Latin America that killed 85 and wounded hundreds.
Those held hostage in three locations in Washington 30 years ago had nothing to do with the demands of the Hanafi Muslims. The victims of the AMIA bombings also were innocent bystanders, as are the victims of Islamic extremism today. These events, and so many more, have as their genesis blind hatred and ignorance.
Increasingly, extreme tactics provide a platform to spread the terrorists’ message to the masses. Iran is sending a message now. As a past target of terrorism, B’nai B’rith International is in a unique position to implore the world to listen.
(Daniel S. Mariaschin is president of B’nai B’rith International.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.