Tuesday, 12 December 2017

LN: Czechoslovak Communists helped 1973 Palestinian attack

ČTK |
2 October 2017

Prague, Sept 30 (CTK) - The Czechoslovak Communist StB secret service gave a go-ahead to the Palestinians who took hostage a train with Jews emigrating from the Soviet Union on the border with Austria in September 1973, the daily Lidove noviny (LN) wrote on Saturday.

The attack occurred on September 28, 1973 at around 11 p.m. at the Austrian border crossing Marchegg.

Two armed Palestinian gunmen hidden among passengers took several Jewish hostages in a train driving to Austria and they then drove them to the Schwechat airport. They threatened to kill the four hostages and detonate the aircraft stationed there if Austria does not pledge to end its support to Jewish migration to Israel.

The Austrian government eventually bowed to the demands. It closed the transit camp in Schonau for Jewish emigres from the Soviet Union and allowed the hijackers a safe departure, LN writes.

The StB knew about the movement of Palestinian terrorists in Czechoslovakia and it is likely to have known their plans, too, Slovak historian Daniela Richterova, working at the British University of Warwick, wrote in her article for the paper.

The Communist authorities did not take any steps against the hijacking because there was an unofficial pact between Palestinian militants and Czechoslovak security forces, she added.

"There was the agreement that they cannot make any attack on our territory," LN quotes one former StB officer as saying.

"We were never worried about the rest. We basically agreed that if the attack does not take place here, they can carry it out anywhere else," he added.

Czechoslovak authorities demonstrably knew that Mustaf Akil Soueidan and Cheikh Khaldi, the Palestinians involved in the terrorist attack, flew to Czechoslovakia "for tourism" roughly one month before the attack, LN writes.

At their arrival in Prague they produced false Lebanese passports and then they moved to Bratislava, near the Austrian border, it adds.

There is the question of whether Czechoslovak authorities were interested in such an attack, LN writes.

Moscow and its satellites were strongly opposed to the emigration of tens of thousands of Jews from the Eastern Block.

In the summer 1973, the Czechoslovak Communist paper Rude pravo called the Schonau mansion "one of the centres of Israeli secret police from which people are transported to Israel, if necessary also by force," LN writes.

Moreover, the Eastern Bloc established contacts with various groups forming the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) since the late 1960s.

Prague supported Palestinian national aspirations not only diplomatically, but it also provided fellowships to Palestinian students, sending humanitarian aid to the Middle East, LN writes.

There was a hidden support, too. Financial help to the PLO and some of its factions, security and intelligence training and arms deliveries, it adds.

Czechoslovakia also had tactical reasons for which to "give a go-ahead" to the action of the Palestinian commando.

A former StB officer who was in charge of Arab affairs before the 1989 fall of the Communist regime, said in the 1970s and the 1980s Czechoslovakia concluded a sort of non-aggression pact with Palestinian groups.

"Yes, we knew about the attack six months before," he said.

"If we uncovered or prevented it, it could be controversial vis-a-vis Czechoslovakia," the agent said.

"Moreover, it would have angered them [the Palestinians]," he added.

In other words, Prague pretended that it did not know anything about the prepared attack in order to save its face, LN writes.

Czechoslovakia never planned to frustrate the operation. It was its main objective to keep "balanced relationships" with the Palestinian groups which had its cells in Czechoslovakia, it adds.

There is still the mystery of how the attackers smuggled their weapons across one of the most guarded borders of the world, LN writes.

The weapons were most probably carried to the train by another member of the cell who had the diplomatic passport of one of the Arab countries, LN writes.

At the time, Palestinian groups commonly used the passports. Customs officers could not open the baggage covered by diplomatic immunity, it adds, also suggesting other theories such as the one that the weapons could have been hidden in the train itself beforehand.

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