It was not the usual, formal embassy party, but rather a friendly get-together among off-duty diplomats. As the senior envoy in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, Saudi Arabian Ambassador Abdullah al Malhouk had invited other mission heads to say farewell last Thursday to George Curtis Moore, 47, a popular U.S. Foreign Service officer and first-rate Arabist. After serving as the ranking U.S. diplomat in the Sudan for more than three years, Moore was being replaced by Ambassador Cleo A. Noel Jr., 54, and returning to Washington for reassignment. At around 7 p.m., after Moore had been presented with a silver tray and the guests were starting to leave, the cool Khartoum evening was suddenly shattered with terror.
A pair of Land Rovers screeched up to the front gate of the four-story embassy villa. One rammed a limousine waiting for Noel. Seven men leaped out firing automatic weapons at random. The departing diplomats scurried for cover. “Run, run, run for your life!” shouted the Dutch charge d'affaires. Some, including the Russian and British ambassadors, managed to escape. The French ambassador got away by scaling a seven-foot garden wall. The Papal Nuncio in Khartoum slipped out a side gate.
But Noel, a career officer in his first ambassadorial post, was nicked in the leg by a bullet and Belgian Chargé d'Affaires Guy Bid was hit in the foot. They, along with others, were forced back into the embassy. Once they got inside, the terrorists rounded up more diplomats, including the Hungarian and Yugoslav envoys who unsuccessfully tried to hide in the roof garden.
The invaders quickly identified themselves as members of Black September, the Palestinian guerrilla group that murdered eleven Israelis at the Munich Olympics last summer. Holding a sort of mock court in which the captives were judged according to their country's attitude toward the Palestinian cause, they singled out as hostages the two Americans, Noel and Moore (whom they bound and beat), Belgian Eid, Saudi Host Al Malhouk and Jordanian Chargé d'Affaires Adly al Nasser. The choices did not make complete sense. Though the U.S. and Jordan have strongly opposed the Palestinian guerrilla movement, Saudi Arabia has been ambivalent, giving financial support to both Jordan and the terrorists. As for Eid, it seemed he was mistaken by his captors for a Jew; in fact, his forebears were Egyptian. One diplomat unsuccessfully sought by the commandos was the West German ambassador, who missed the party at the last minute because of another engagement.
With the five hostages chosen, everyone else, including the Saudi ambassador's wife and children, was released. Each freed diplomat was given a mimeographed sheet of paper with a statement of apology to the Saudi government for using its embassy as the scene of the attack, and to Sudan for staging it on Unity Day, a national holiday celebrating the first anniversary of the end of Sudan's 17-year-long civil war.
Sudanese authorities reacted swiftly but cautiously. Police formed a cordon around the embassy but stayed two blocks back for fear of endangering the hostages' lives. President Jaafar Numeiry called his Cabinet into emergency session. Assured by the Cabinet that there would be no attempt to storm the embassy, the terrorists allowed a doctor inside to treat the wounds of Noel and Eid. Then came a long string of demands delivered by telephone.
The terrorists wanted nothing less than the release by the U.S. of Sirhan Sirhan, assassin of Robert Kennedy; the release by Jordan of “our leader,” Abu Daoud, and 16 “colleagues” who were arrested last month for plotting to overthrow King Hussein's regime; the release by West Germany of two criminals sympathetic to Black September; the release by Israel of all female Palestinian prisoners. If their demands were not met, the terrorists said, they would start executing the hostages one by one, “beginning with the American ambassador.”
Two deadlines—7 a.m. and 2 p.m. —passed without any of the nations agreeing to the demands, and without the terrorists making good their threats. Sudanese officials talked endlessly on the phone in the hope that the Black Septembrists would eventually back down. At one stage there was a report that Sudan had agreed to provide a plane to fly them and their hostages to the U.S. Nothing came of it. The unpredictable terrorists set another deadline of 8 p.m.
The third deadline passed in eerie silence broken only by the swirling of a sandstorm. Then the phone rang at the U.S. embassy. It was a call from Noel. “Is there any news from the governments involved?” he asked a surprised First Secretary M.A. Sanderson Jr. “They have been contacted,” Sanderson replied, adding: “Are we being overheard?” “Affirmative,” said Noel. “A high official is arriving from Washington and may be able to do something,” said Sanderson. “What time will he arrive?” asked Noel. “He is due in half an hour,” replied the First Secretary. “That will be too late,” said Noel, and the phone went dead.
Midnight Call. At 9:39 p.m., reported TIME'S Joseph Fitchett, who was on the scene, muffled bursts of automatic-weapons fire came from inside the embassy and echoed over the neighborhood. The sandstorm grew fiercer and dogs howled as garbage cans were blown along the streets. A police officer suggested that the terrorists had just been shooting at a light accidentally played on them. But at midnight, a Sudan official called the U.S. Embassy and confirmed the fears of Mrs. Noel and Mrs. Moore, who had been waiting out the horror together: both their husbands were dead. The Belgian hostage, Eid, was apparently shot at the same time, though he died later.
At week's end, amid worldwide revulsion over the cold-blooded murders, the fate of the other two hostages remained uncertain. Also inside the embassy was the Saudi ambassador's wife, who had insisted on rejoining her husband after their children were safe. The terrorists demanded safe air passage for themselves and their hostages to an unknown destination, but the Sudanese refused to provide a plane. They no longer seemed to be in a bargaining mood, and ordered the killers to surrender.
Ambassador Cleo A. Noel Jr. and George Curtis Moore – do you remember these names? You should. Ambassador Noel and Moore were among a group of men seized and held hostage by Yassir Arafat’s Black September terrorists during a reception at the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum. Their lives hung by a thread, a thread that Yassir Arafat ordered cut. His words ordering the execution of these top American officials and a Belgian diplomat were recorded by the Israelis who gave the tape to the State Department and President Nixon in March 1973. This was later confirmed by General Ariel Sharon.
Cleo A. Noel Jr. and George Curtis Moore were among a group of men seized by Black September terrorists during a reception held at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Khartoum [Sudan]. The terrorists demanded the release of Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian assassin of Robert Kennedy, as well as terrorists being held in Israeli and European prisons. President Nixon refused to negotiate. The tape was of conversations between Arafat in Beirut and his thugs in Khartoum. Execute the diplomats, ordered Arafat. The terrorists obeyed, machine gunning the unarmed, hapless Noel and Moore. They also killed a Belgium diplomat. The authenticity of the tape was verified in U.S. laboratories by both the State Department and the White House.
On March 2, 1973, around 8:00pm (local) –Abu-Iyad called Abu-Ghassan and gave him the Cold River [Nahr al-Bard] code: “Remember Nahr al-Bard. The people's blood in the Nahr al-Bard is screaming for revenge. These are our final orders. We and the world are watching you.” The execution took place on 9:06. (Reportedly, about half an hour later than planned because Abu-Tariq let the Americans write last letters and wills.) A few minutes later, when the international media still did not report the killing, Beirut wanted to make sure that the executions took place. Arafat himself did the talking to Abu-Ghassan. He asked him if he received the code word Nahr al-Bard and if he understood what it meant. Abu-Ghassan assured Arafat that he had understood everything and that his — Arafat's — orders had already been carried out fully.
Sarah Ann Moore died in March 2007 and was laid to rest with her hero in Arlington National Cemetery.
Section 5, Grave 135
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard