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Twin attacks on the check in of ELAL in Rome and Vienna 1985

Tomer Israeli - Head of school

Our story here finds Israel in the midst of terror attacks conducted by extreme muslim fanatics that have decided to fight Israeli state targets outside of Israel.

These terror attacks are considered terror and not freedom fighting, since they are targeting civilians and not armed capable forces. 

This cat and mouse situation, we experienced since the early 70's when the initial stages of the conflict can trace back to even the 50's of the 20th century.


In this specific story, we introduce you to the Ahmad Jibril terror organization at times fighting Israel from the north border in Lebanon. At this event the operation of the organization decided to attack a simultaneous attack in two major airports in Rome and Vienna in-order to amplify the event on the news as much as possible.


It’s well known that a terror attack is just a physical attack incident not different then any other attack. In-order to make a physical attack a terror attack you need to have the public opinion aware of it. One way to create awareness is by attacking soft targets like unarmed aircraft passengers and if you do it simultaneously in two locations and at the same time so the impact is optimized.


One of the problems of the Jibril plan was that the security forces of the Israeli Secret Service (Shin Bet) were practicing to prevent or intercept exactly these types of attacks conducted in a highly condensed environment full of passengers.  


The challenge of shooting only the bad guys under pressure in this type of environment is the Shin Bet bread and butter most basic skill set and on this very day in 1985 the Terror organizations learned the lesson the hard way.


To this article I’m also a link to the official website of the Israeli Secret Service Shin Bet so you can see the short version of this story.

Shin bet - Israeli secret service webpage

​​On December 27, 1985 El-Al's security was put to test, as two terrorist cells from Abu Nidal's Damascus-based organization simultaneously attacked crowds of El-Al’s check-in passengers at the airports of Vienna and Rome.


The events in Rome

At 09:10 a.m. four terrorists attacked El-Al's ticket counters (check-in) at Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome. The terrorists opened machine gun fire AK47 from three directions and threw hand grenades at El-Al passengers from the bar opposite the airline's counters. 

Approximately 60 people were in the area of the bar at the time. The counters opened half an hour before and were crowded with passengers. Many passengers also filled the adjacent Trans World Airlines (TWA) counters, which handled two other flights.

13 people were killed in the attack, and 76 were injured. Three of the perpetrators were killed by Israeli security staff, who returned fire towards the sources of the shooting. One terrorist was captured and wounded. The incident took place over 15-20 seconds overall.


The events in Vienna

On the same day, El-Al's ticket counters (check in) at Vienna International Airport were also attacked by terrorists.

Three passengers (two Austrians and one Israeli) were killed, and 44 were injured in this attack.


133 outbound passengers were registered to the El-Al flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv. At the time of the attack, 09:10 a.m., approximately 60 El-Al passengers were in the terminal. Three terrorists ascended a staircase, threw four or five hand grenades from above into the terminal, and then shot bursts of gunfire.


Two security guards closest to the staircase immediately returned fire towards the terrorists and prevented them from ascending any further. As the gunfight continued, the terrorists retreated, descended the staircase and exited the terminal, reaching the car park. One of the terrorists seized a Mercedes vehicle from its fleeing owner, collected the other two perpetrators and quickly drove off, seeking to leave the airport.


The Israeli security guards gave chase and asked Austrian policemen, who were sitting in several cars in the area, to drive after the terrorists' vehicle. The security guards shot at the terrorists, who returned fire and threw a hand grenade at the pursuers during the chase.


The terrorists missed the airport exit, reached a dead end and had to turn back. Being wounded, they lost control of the vehicle and stopped. The Austrian policemen with service dogs captured the terrorists. 19 shots were found to have hit the Mercedes. One terrorist was killed, and two were captured and wounded. The incident, from its beginning until the end of the chase, took place over approximately 60 seconds.


Final remarks

The conclusions drawn from the events in Rome and Vienna led to the development of the security doctrine, which is meant to minimize and prevent attacks against travelers to Israel. Notably, the reaction of the Israeli security guards in both incidents was very quick, and in Vienna especially it contributed to swift handling of the event with a relatively low number of casualties.

In Israeli Tactical School we are teaching a similar doctrine that used and still used by the Shin Bet to fight terrorism - This program TAC 1,2&4 contains the knowledge needed to conduct an effective fight against active shooter for more details contact our representative.

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