Twin Attacks at the Airports of Vienna and Rome (Dec. 27, 1985)

On December 27, 1985 El-Al's security system was put to test, as two terrorist cells from Abu Nidal's Damascus-based organization simultaneously attacked crowds of El-Al passengers at the airports of Vienna and Rome.


The events in Rome

At 09:10 a.m. on Dec. 27, 1985 four terrorists attacked El-Al's ticket counters at Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome. The terrorists opened machine gun fire from three directions and threw hand grenades at El-Al passengers from the bar opposite the airline's counters. Approximately 60 people were in the area of the bar at the time. The counters opened half an hour before and were crowded with passengers. Dozens of passengers also filled the adjacent Trans World Airlines (TWA) counters, which handled two other flights.

 

13 people were killed in the attack, and 76 were injured. Three of the perpetrators were killed by Israeli security staff, who returned fire towards the sources of the shooting. One terrorist was captured wounded. The incident took place over 15-20 seconds overall.

 

 

 

The events in Vienna

On the same day, Dec. 27, 1985, El-Al's ticket counters at Vienna International Airport were also attacked by terrorists. Three passengers (two Austrians and one Israeli) were killed, and 44 were injured in this attack.

 

133 outbound passengers were registered to the El-Al flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv. At the time of the attack, 09:10 a.m., approximately 60 El-Al passengers were in the terminal. Three terrorists ascended a staircase, threw four or five hand grenades from above into the terminal, and then shot bursts of gunfire.

 

Two security guards closest to the staircase immediately returned fire towards the terrorists and prevented them from ascending any further. As the gunfight continued, the terrorists retreated, descended the staircase and exited the terminal, reaching the car park. One of the terrorists seized a Mercedes vehicle from its fleeing owner, collected the other two perpetrators and quickly drove off, seeking to leave the airport.

 

The Israeli security guards gave chase and asked Austrian policemen, who were sitting in several cars in the area, to drive after the terrorists' vehicle. The security guards shot at the terrorists, who returned fire and threw a hand grenade at the pursuers during the chase.

 

The terrorists missed the airport exit, reached a dead end and had to turn back. Being wounded, they lost control of the vehicle and stopped. The Austrian policemen with service dogs captured the terrorists. 19 shots were found to have hit the Mercedes. One terrorist was killed, and two were captured wounded. The incident, from its beginning until the end of the chase, took place over approximately 60 seconds.

 

 

 

Final remarks

The conclusions drawn from the events in Rome and Vienna led to the development of the security doctrine, which is meant to minimize and prevent attacks against travelers to Israel. Notably, the reaction of the Israeli security guards in both incidents was very quick, and in Vienna especially it contributed to swift handling of the event with a relatively low number of casualties.