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16 Die in Terrorist Attacks at Rome, Vienna Airports : 117 Hurt in Raid Aimed at Israelis

December 27, 1985|From Times Wire Services

Terrorists hurling hand grenades and firing Soviet-made assault rifles turned Christmas-decorated airports in Vienna and Rome into scenes of carnage today, leaving 16 people dead and 117 wounded.

Travelers lining up at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport to check in for El Al flights and at nearby TWA and Pan American counters hit the floor when four or five terrorists rushed in at 9:10 a.m. and set off hand grenades. The terrorists then unleashed a barrage of submachine-gun fire.

Thirteen people were killed and at least 70 wounded in the Rome attack, which lasted two to three minutes. Three of the dead were terrorists who were slain in a gun battle with security officers. Three people died in the Vienna attack, which started five minutes after the terrorists stormed the Rome airport. Among the dead in Vienna was one terrorist. At least 47 people were wounded.

In all, seven or eight terrorists were believed to be involved--four or five at Rome and three at Vienna's Schwechat Airport.

The two terrorists wounded in Rome had to be protected by police from some survivors who wanted to lynch them, authorities said. Two of the Vienna terrorists were caught after a car chase and a running gun battle with police that ended six miles from the airport.

'Israel Will Do Its Duty'

Israeli officials vowed reprisals for the attacks and said the Palestine Liberation Organization may be responsible, although PLO spokesmen in Rome and Tunisia denied any involvement.

"Israel will do its duty," said Deputy Prime Minister David Levy. "This organization will not get away without punishment."

Rome witnesses said the terrorists had masks partially covering their faces and were dressed in blue jeans.

Anna Lisa del Grand, a 22-year-old Italian, told the Associated Press that she was checking in on a TWA flight to New York when the terrorists ran into the Rome airport.

"They were jumping up and down and they were shooting in sort of a semicircle," she said. She fell to the ground and saw a wounded terrorist flashing a victory signal with his fingers as he died, she said.

3 Grenades Exploded

Airport police said the gunmen, who ranged in age from 20 to 25, exploded three hand grenades in the attack. Police recovered four Soviet-made Kalashnikov submachine guns and 11 fragmentation-type hand grenades.

The dead in Rome included two women and an infant who died shortly after reaching San Agostino Hospital at Ostia, near the airport, police said.

In Vienna, the terrorists rushed into the departure lounge beside El Al and began firing wildly. An El Al flight was scheduled to take off about 90 minutes later.

"The terrorists were particularly brutal," airport police director Franz Kaefer said. "They even sprayed bullets into a hairdresser's shop nearby."

Two passengers, a 50-year-old Viennese man and an unidentified person, died in the assault. Police said the three attackers fled in a car they commandeered from an airport employee but headed the wrong way outside the airport.

Getaway Car Abandoned

Pursuing police shot up the getaway car so badly that the terrorists had to abandon it six miles later in a village. The gunmen tried unsuccessfully to stop motorists to commandeer another getaway car until police arrived and began firing at them.

One terrorist was killed before his two accomplices surrendered. One of the suspects was clutching a hand grenade when police collared them, authorities said. The grenade was immediately defused.

Among civilians killed at Leonardo da Vinci was an American girl, Natasha Simpson, the 11-year-old daughter of Victor Simpson, the Associated Press news editor in Rome. The second dead American, according to the Interior Ministry, was identified as John Buonocore, 20, of the U.S. military, no hometown available. Another of the victims was found next to a suitcase which held a U.S. passport in the name of Gage Madison.

Also killed were Gen. Donato Miranda, the Mexican military attache in Rome, and his secretary, Genoveva Jaime.

Interior Ministry spokesman Achille Togna said a man at first identified as a fifth terrorist may have been an innocent bystander wounded in the attack. He said police were investigating.

Abu Nidal Claim

In Spain, a man who said he belonged to the renegade Palestinian group headed by Abu Nidal claimed responsibility for the attacks in a telephone call to the Malaga radio station SER, a station spokesman said. There was no way to verify the claim.

Abu Nidal broke away from Yasser Arafat's Fatah group in 1974 and has been accused of hijackings and assassinations.

In Rome, Togna, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said that the terrorists appeared to be of North African origin but that their nationalities were undetermined.

The Italian news agency ANSA said one of the surviving terrorists told police: "I am a Palestinian fighter."

Israel, expressing outrage over the twin attacks, vowed to hit back at what it called the "beasts" who carried out the operations at Rome and Vienna airports.

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