Arab terrorists who attacked passengers last week at the Vienna airport’s El Al airline counter intended to take Israeli hostages and hijack an El Al jetliner, a senior Austrian official said Monday.
Interior Minister Karl Blecha also said called it “very likely” that the terrorists belonged to a group headed by Abu Nidal, a Palestinian extremist who split with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat in the 1970s while accusing Arafat of being too moderate.
Plans for Other Assaults
In Rome, the sole gunman to survive the airport raid there told police that eight other guerrillas were planning assaults on airports in Paris and Madrid, police sources reported. It was not clear when the attacks were to have taken place.
Closely timed attacks were carried out Friday at El Al counters in the Rome and Vienna airports, leaving a total of 18 people dead, including five Americans, and more than 100 wounded. One of the three terrorists in the Vienna attack was killed in a shoot-out with police, and three of the four Rome terrorists were killed.
Both of the surviving Vienna terrorists have admitted separately that they belong to the Revolutionary Council of Fatah, one of the names by which Abu Nidal’s group is known, Blecha said.
He added that Abu Nidal has been responsible for previous terrorist attacks in Vienna, including the 1981 attack on a Vienna synagogue in which two people were killed and 20 injured, and the 1982 murder of Heinz Nittel, president of the Austrian-Israeli Friendship Society.
According to a statement by one of the Vienna terrorists, the three planned to cause confusion in the departure hall and take hostages among the passengers waiting to check in for the Israeli airline flight to Tel Aviv.
If Austrian authorities did not allow them to take off in the El Al plane, they planned to kill the hostages, Blecha said.
The terrorist who survived in Rome has told Italian police that he and his three comrades also planned to take hostages and commandeer a plane, Italian police sources said. According to the police, Mohammed Sarham said they would have forced the plane to Israel, possibly crashing it at Tel Aviv.
Blecha termed “most outrageous and scandalous” a Libyan government statement referring to the airport attackers as heroes.
He also gave fresh details of the Vienna terrorists’ movements before the attack. Both men said that they had been in Beirut and that they had flown from there to Athens, he said. Police found some Greek currency in the clothing of one of the men.
Flew From Athens
One of the terrorists said he had flown from Athens to Geneva and then traveled by train to Vienna, Blecha said. The other said he had flown to an unnamed German city and then on to Budapest, traveling from there by train to Vienna, Blecha said.
Police sources in Rome also expressed the belief that both airport assaults were planned in Beirut.
--In Tunisia, PLO leader Arafat condemned the Rome and Vienna attacks and accused unnamed Arab governments of being behind them.
In an interview with the Visnews television agency in Tunis on Sunday night, Arafat said the Arab governments were pushing Palestinians to mount extremist attacks. He did not name them, but the PLO representative in Bonn, Abdullah Franghi, said Libya’s praise of the airport assailants suggested that Moammar Kadafi’s regime was behind the attacks.
--In Israel, Prime Minister Shimon Peres labeled Libya the center of international terrorism and accused Italy and Austria of sheltering the terrorists responsible for the twin attacks. But he did not accuse the Kadafi regime of direct responsibility.
--Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi lashed out at Libya’s “bloody and fanatical face” and summoned Kadafi’s envoy to protest Libya’s praise for the attackers. But he also stopped short of directly accusing Kadafi of complicity.
--In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, community leaders and commentators reported that most Palestinian residents are condemning the airport raids and expressing concern that they damaged the Palestinian cause.