This Day In History: The Rome and Vienna Airport Attacks (1985)

The Rome and Vienna Airport Attacks (1985)

The Rome and Vienna airport attacks were two major terrorist attacks carried out on 27 December 1985. Seven Arab terrorists attacked two airports in Rome, Italy, and Vienna, Austria with assault rifles and hand grenades. Nineteen civilians were killed and over a hundred others were injured before four of the terrorists were killed by El Al Security personnel and local police, who captured the remaining three.

The attacks

At 08:15 GMT, four Arab gunmen walked to the shared ticket counter for Israel’s El Al Airlines and Trans World Airlines at Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport outside Rome, Italy, fired assault rifles and threw grenades.[1][2] They killed 16 and wounded 99, including American diplomat Wes Wessels, before three of the attackers were killed by El Al security, while the remaining one, Mohammed Sharam, was wounded and captured by the Italian police. The dead included General Donato Miranda Acosta, Mexican military attache, and his secretary, Genoveva Jaime Cisneros.

Minutes later, at Schwechat Airport (Vienna International Airport) in Vienna, Austria, three terrorists carried out a similar attack. Hand grenades were thrown into crowds of passengers queuing to check in for a flight to Tel Aviv, killing two people instantly and wounding 39 others. A third victim died on 22 January 1986, of hand grenade wounds sustained in the attack. First response came from several Austrian police officers, which opened fire on the terrorists. They were supported by two EL AL security guards who helped to repel the attackers. Over 200 bullets were fired during the fight. The terrorists fled by car, and Austrian police and El Al security guards gave chase. They killed one terrorist and captured the other two.[3]

In all, the two strikes killed 19, including a child, and wounded around 140. Some contemporary reports claimed the gunmen originally intended to hijack El Al jets at the airports and blow them up over Tel Aviv;[4] others concluded that the attack on waiting passengers was the original plan and that the Frankfurt airport was meant to be hit as well.[5]:244


The attacks were first blamed on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), but its leader, Yasser Arafat, denied the accusations and denounced the strikes. The PLO asserted that the attacks were intended to force Austria and Italy into severing ties with the Palestinians.[5]:246

Responsibility for the two attacks was later claimed by the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) in retaliation for Operation Wooden Leg, the Israeli bombing of PLO headquarters in Tunis on 1 October 1985.[6] Libya was accused, by the US, of funding the terrorists who carried out the attacks; although they denied the charges, they did praise the assaults.[1] According to published reports, sources close to Abu Nidal said Libyan intelligence supplied the weapons and the ANO’s head of the Intelligence Directorate’s Committee for Special Missions, Dr. Ghassan al-Ali, organized the attacks. Libya denied these charges as well, notwithstanding that it claimed they were “heroic operations carried out by the sons of the martyrs of Sabra and Shatila.”[5]:245 Italian secret services blamed Syria and Iran.[7]

The surviving terrorist in the Rome airport attack, Mahmoud Ibrahim Khaled (Khalid Ibrahim), was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in 1988. He was released early on good behavior in June 2010 and was living in Rome in 2011.[8] An Austrian court reportedly sentenced the two surviving terrorists in the Vienna airport attack to 25 years imprisonment.

See also


  1. Jump up to:a b Moore, James K. (May 1991). Walking the Line of Death: U.S.-Libyan Relations in the Reagan Decade, 1981-1989 (Master’s thesis). San Jose, CA: San Jose State University. pp. 62–73. Document No.1344297 – via ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  2. ^ Santifort, Charlinda; Sandler, Todd; Brandt, Patrick T (20 August 2012). “Terrorist Attack and Target Diversity”Journal of Peace Research50 (1): 75–90. doi:10.1177/0022343312445651.
  3. ^ “Twin Attacks at the Airports of Vienna and Rome (Dec. 27, 1985)”Israeli Security Agency.
  4. ^ “Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) attacked Airports & Airlines target (Dec. 27, 1985, Austria)”. Archived from the original on 25 March 2006. Retrieved 27 December 2005.
  5. Jump up to:a b c Seale, Patrick (1993). Abu Nidal: A Gun For Hire. Arrow. ISBN 0099225719.
  6. ^ Joyner, Nancy D. (1 December 1992). “Challenges to Security in Air Transportation”Criminal Law Forum3 (2): 333–335. doi:10.1007/BF01096207ISSN 1046-8374.
  7. ^ Suro, Roberto (6 February 1987). “Italians See Links to Syria in 1985 Airport Attack”The New York Times. NYTimes Co. Archived from the original on 13 November 2017.
  8. ^ Associated Press (22 February 2011). “Libyan-sponsored attacker now free in Rome”. San Diego Union-Tribune.

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