ROME — Two terrorist teams firing assault rifles and throwing grenades struck minutes apart at the international airports in Rome and Vienna early Friday, leaving 17 dead, including an 11-year-old American girl and three other Americans. At least 116 people were wounded in the bloody attacks.
Officials and eyewitnesses said the attacks appeared aimed at facilities of El Al, the Israeli national airline. Meir Rosenne, Israel's ambassador to the United States, blamed the Palestine Liberation Organization for the slaughter. PLO officials in Vienna, Rome and at PLO headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, denied responsibility and condemned the attacks.
In Spain, a caller claiming to belong to the "Abu Nidal group," a breakaway faction of the PLO blamed for many earlier terrorist assaults in Europe, telephoned a radio station in Malaga, claiming responsibility for the attacks in the name of his group. There was no way to confirm the claim.
Abu Nidal has been described as a bitter opponent of PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who he is said to consider to be overly moderate in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Rome Airport Worst Hit
Worst hit was Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport, in the seaside Roman suburb of Fiumicino, where terrorists attacked passengers and passers-by at the check-in counters of El Al and the adjacent counters of TWA and Pan American.
Police said that four men walked in through the main doors of the check-in area at 9:10 a.m., local time, firing automatic weapons and hurling hand grenades indiscriminately.
"They were carrying out a massacre," said survivor Aniello Guarino of the terrorists.
Fourteen Killed in Rome
Fourteen people were killed in Rome, including three of the terrorists, who were fired on by airport and El Al security guards. About 70 people were wounded, according to initial police estimates.
One of the Rome terrorists was wounded and captured. Officials at first said that two terrorists were captured, but Interior Ministry spokesman Achille Togna said that a man initially thought to be a terrorist may have been an innocent bystander wounded in the attack.
At Vienna's Schwechat Airport, three gunmen rushed into the passenger area near the El Al counter at 9:15 a.m., local time, and began firing wildly, killing two people and wounding at least 47. Police pursued the terrorists as they fled in a stolen automobile, killing one and wounding and capturing the other two.
In Rome, grenade explosions felled some of the victims, while bullets ripped through the concourse, hitting people waiting to check in for El Al and TWA flights. Others were hit while at a nearby snack bar.
The four Americans killed in Rome were Natasha Simpson, 11, daughter of Victor Simpson, the Associated Press news editor in Rome; Frederick K. Gage, 29, of Madison, Wis., John Buonocore, 20, of Wilmington, Del.; and Don Maland, 30, New Port Richey, Fla.
Italian officials said Buonocore, a junior at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., had just completed a four-month program in classics and was flying home for his father's birthday.
Also killed was Gen. Donato Miranda, the military attache at the Mexican Embassy in Rome.
Simpson, 43, and his son, Michael, 9, were among the Americans injured in the Rome attack, according to a list compiled by Associated Press on the basis of reports from police, the Interior Ministry and Rome hospitals. The wounded list also included Geoff Key, 78, of California, with no hometown available, and Charles Shinn, 69, who was shot 15 times.
'A Shattering Noise'
Simpson, his children and his wife, Daniella, were at the airport en route to New York for a holiday. Daniella Simpson, 43, who works for Time magazine in Rome, was outside the terminal building walking their fox terrier when the terrorists struck.
"Suddenly, there was a shattering noise," she recalled, "as if something were collapsing. And then there were machine-gun bursts.
"I rushed into screams and cries, and saw my husband dripping blood from his hand and my son on the floor, injured. I lost my 11-year-old daughter."
In Vienna, airport police director Franz Kaefer described the terrorists as "particularly brutal."
"They even sprayed bullets into a hairdresser's shop nearby," he said,
Two passengers, a 50-year-old Viennese professor, Ekehard Karner, and an unidentified person died in the assault. Police said that the three attackers fled in a car they seized from an airport employee but headed the wrong way outside the airport.
Getaway Car Shot Up
Pursuing police shot up the getaway car so badly the terrorists had to abandon it in a village. The gunmen tried unsuccessfully to stop motorists to grab another getaway car, but police arrived and began firing at them.
One terrorist was killed and his two accomplices surrendered.
The attacks in both Rome and Vienna occurred in check-in zones that are generally open to members of the general public without their being subject to prior search upon entering.