VIENNA — Police are "searching feverishly" for a fourth man who is believed to be the mastermind of last week's terrorist attack at Vienna airport, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Blecha said Thursday.
Two travelers were killed and more than 40 people wounded in the grenade and submachine-gun assault on passengers waiting at El Al Airlines' departure counter. One terrorist was killed in a shoot-out with police and the other two were wounded and captured and are under treatment at a prison hospital.
In Rome, the death toll from last week's almost-simultaneous terrorist attack there rose to 16 when a Greek woman died of her injuries.
Suspect 'the Instructor'
Blecha said in an interview on state-run television that the suspects in Austrian custody recently told interrogators they had a fourth accomplice and he "was obviously the instructor."
He refused to go into details, but said, "Police are searching feverishly" for the man.
The lone terrorist survivor of the Rome attack has told investigators that there were two teams of four men each in action at the two airports, with two other men held in reserve. The terrorist teams have been tied to a radical Palestinian faction that broke with the Palestine Liberation Organization more than a decade ago.
Austrian Interior Ministry officials said witnesses reported seeing the three airport attackers meet a fourth man at a Vienna hotel, just hours before the attack.
The Austria Press Agency quoted unidentified ministry officials as saying the three gunmen had met their "instructor" for breakfast at the hotel.
Robert Danzinger, director of Austria's public security, told reporters that the two arrested suspects said the fourth man did not accompany them to the airport but gave them "final instructions."
The fourth man reportedly ordered the three to take hostages in the airport departure lounge and then hijack an El Al jetliner and fly it to Tel Aviv where it was to crash-land, the press agency said.
Danzinger confirmed an earlier police report quoting the two surviving terrorists as saying they had received the weapons from the third attacker, who was killed by pursuing policemen on a nearby road.
But Danzinger said the surviving terrorists "may be lying to us."
Both said they traveled from Beirut to Athens around Dec. 20, but they have made conflicting statements about their itinerary after that. One of them said he flew to Geneva and reached Vienna by train. The other claimed he came to Vienna via West Germany and Budapest, Hungary.
In Rome, doctors at San Camillo hospital said Efrosini Mediani, 56, died of respiratory paralysis that caused a heart stoppage.
Mediani and the three other Greek citizens killed in the attack were among a party checking in for a TWA flight to Athens when the gunmen attacked. Mediani's death brought the fatality toll in Rome to 16, including three of the terrorists.
Italian Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini renewed his criticism of Prime Minister Bettino Craxi's government for its policy toward the PLO, saying that a decade of "appeasement" has not spared Italy from political violence.
"It is now clear that 10 years of appeasement with the PLO--I mean the movement in its entirety, both friends and foes of (Yasser) Arafat--have not spared Italy in the least," Spadolini told the weekly L'Europeo.
In the wake of the airport attacks, security services across Western Europe have stepped up their anti-terrorist efforts and have reported some successes.
Earlier this week French counterintelligence officials said they had foiled a plot to bomb a Paris synagogue, and Belgian police announced the arrests of two Arabs suspected of planning an attack on Brussels airport.
The arrests in Belgium were made after the two Arabs arrived at Brussels airport on a flight from Athens last Saturday. They were placed under surveillance after the name of one of them showed up in a police computer as having undergone terrorist training in Lebanon.
Police tailed the two men, together with a Belgian acquaintance who greeted them at the airport, to the village of Hasselt, about 60 miles from Brussels. There the officers raided a video shop owned by the Belgian, where they discovered a large cache of arms and 42 pounds of explosives.
The Paris arrests of two Portuguese citizens and an Egyptian were made by the domestic counterintelligence agency after the three men arrived from Madrid with false Spanish passports. French officials later said that bomb-making equipment had been discovered in their hotel room.