In The Last Tango in Munich, we saw the results of the bombing of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 30 years ago on February 21, 1981. Below we wlll look at months of preparations leading up to the bombing.
A top-secret summary report on October 3, 1980 by Department III/II-8 of the Hungarian Interior Ministry, based on monitored telephone calls between the terrorist "Carlos the Jackal" in Budapest and his Romanian intelligence service contact Sergiu Nica in Bucharest, identified RFE/RL Romanian Service employee Emil Georgescu, Romanian King-in-Exile Michael, Paul Goma, and other émigrés as targets for Carlos. The attack on Emil Georgescu was supposed to be accomplished by an attack on the Romanian Section of Radio Free Europe and then, possibly, the terrorists would take “secret” documents from the building.
In addition, Carlos received the assignment of bombing RFE/RL in Munich and break in or destroy the monitoring station outside Munich in Schleissheim and obtain “secret” documents that were stored there. In return, the Romanians gave Carlos thirty-four Italian, German, French, and Austrian passports, plus Romanian diplomatic passports for Carlos, Johannes Weinrich ("Steve"), and Magdalena Kopp.
There was another planning session in Budapest, apparently on October 14, 1980, when the terrorists discussed existing surveillance reports that detailed how the RFE/RL building appeared Saturday night. Someone, obvious from the discussion, had already observed the RFE/RL headquarters building at 9 PM and 1 AM. The surveillance report showed that about forty percent of the rooms had lights on, and the observer estimated that twenty percent of the employees worked at 9 PM. When the bomb exploded Saturday night at 9:50 PM, only forty employees were in the building, out of a staff of almost one thousand. Their surveillance report, obviously, was wrong in the estimated numbers of employees.
Carlos decided that his team would go to Munich in November and wait for the explosives, weapons and other logistics necessary to carry out the attack. Further surveillance also would be required.
On December 19, 1980 in Budapest, Hungary, Carlos and German terrorist Johannes Weinrich had a heated discussion about the bombing of RFE/R--their conversation was covertly monitored and recorded by the Hungarian Intelligence Service. Carlos said he wanted to do it Christmas Eve or on Christmas day as no one would expect a bomb attack on those days. Weinrich agreed in principle, but said that they were not ready, as they did not have the cars they required, and Carlos suggested New Year’s Eve.
Weinrich then told Carlos that, when he and the Swiss terrorist Bruno Breguet ("Luca") were doing surveillance of RFE/RL earlier that month, he stopped to urinate against one of the trees on the RFE/RL grounds. Two guards were walking in his direction and saw him, but they did not say anything and kept going. He noticed that one had a bunch of keys in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Because he had been seen, Weinrich told Carlos he needed a new coat or the same guard might recognize him when they returned to bomb the building. Weinrich added that he preferred not to shoot the guard first. Carlos asked: “Why not?” Weinrich answered that this would draw unnecessary attention to them, and that the Christmas tree in front of the building blocked the guard’s view. Carlos told Weinrich that even if the bomb were discovered before it exploded, if anyone then tried to move it, it would explode, and the “CIA would see just how professional their work was.”
The original time for the bombing was scheduled to be 22:15. Weinrich told Carlos that he had plotted out that he and Bruno Breguet would need 12 minutes to get to the train station and head off from Munich in different directions. If they were discovered on the train, they would have alibis. Breguet would take the train to Nuremberg, where he would change to a train that would arrive from Switzerland on the way to Berlin. He would exchange tickets with a helper who was on that train, and Breguet would than continue to Berlin as if he had been on that train the whole time. Carlos told him that this was a great idea.
Carlos went to Bucharest on January 30, 1981 and remained there until February 3, 1981. Taking advantage of the terrorists’ absence, Hungarian counterintelligence officers entered Carlos’s apartment on January 31, 1981 and discovered newly brought documentation about the bomb preparation. Included in the documentation that had been brought to Budapest by the ETA terrorist Luc Edgar Groven (“Eric”), the documents included exact sketches of RFE/RL’s headquarters and other locations in Germany. Although it was not clear from this documentation, when the bombing would take place.
Carlos set February 14, 1981, Valentine’s Day, as the date for the bombing. However, ETA could not provide the necessary vehicles for the February 14th bombing, and the attack was postponed for one week. Carlos called “Andrei” in Bucharest on February 13, 1980,and in guarded terms told him that there was a delay in “Steve’s” activities: “Steve cannot travel to Bucharest this weekend but will travel a few days later”.
On February 19, 1981, Weinrich telephoned Carlos and told him in surreptitious terms that the bombing would now take place before Sunday—he was having bank transfer problems but that should be resolved by Sunday morning- The next morning Carlos called Nica and said, “Steve will come to Bucharest Sunday morning. He will telephone at 10 AM with the exact time”.
Two members of the Basque terrorist group ETA Politico-militar drove two vehicles from Marseille, France, to Munich, for use in the bombing. One of the them was a white 1968 Ford, with a license plate stolen in Strasbourg, France on February 20, 1981.
· Johannes Weinrich
· Bruno Breguet
· Jose Maria Larretxea (Larrechia-Goni in Spanish) (“Chepe”) from the Basque terrorist group ETA PM
· A yet unidentified woman (“Secretary”) from ETA PM
Just above the area where the terrorists placed the bomb, three employees of RFE’s Czech Language Service were busily preparing a news program scheduled for 10PM that was never aired. At 9:50 PM, one employee picked up the ringing telephone and said. “Hello.” No one answered. The employee tried again, “Hello.” The room suddenly exploded into rubble. The time was later confirmed by a German agency used to monitor earthquakes; the bombing was so powerful it registered on the equipment.
The two Basque terrorists stopped about 300 yards from the damaged building and changed cars. They left behind the 1968 white Ford.
Breguet made his way to Berlin via a train from Munich through Nuremberg, where he switched trains and was given a ticket purchased in Switzerland to give him an alibi at the time of the bombing. The German terrorist Johannes Weinrich took a train to Switzerland, and the two ETA members also left Germany in one of the stolen cars. Months of careful preparation in Budapest, Hungary, had paid off.
Jose Maria Larretxea died in Cuba on February 29, 1996.
Photographs of "Steve," "Luca" and "Chepe," with notations, are taken from a copy of Johannes Weinrich's notebook filed with the German prosecutor.