The 1985 Rome & Vienna Airport Attacks

Adam Fitzgerald
3 min readNov 15, 2019

December 27,1985…..The crisp morning air outside the airports of Vienna and Rome would have no effect on the cold blooded individuals who would make history. At 9:15am 4 Arab males approached the ticket counter of Israel’s El Al Airlines and Trans World Airlines at Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy. One man dipped into his coat pocket and took out a hand held grenade and launched it at a group of 5 people in a circle talking. As the grenade exploded it caused an ear piercing sound, which dazed many into a frozen stiff submission. Causing them to be unfortunate victims as the other Arab men followed suit and began opening fire and lobbying other grenades. Immediately panic and complete horror began to take charge of everyone. Many began running for exists, even running into bathrooms. The smoke from the rapid firing weapons and aftermaths of grenades hung in the air what seemed like hours.

At about the same time a group of unknown Arab men had entered the Schwechat Airport (Vienna International Airport) in Vienna, Austria. This time it was three men, rushing inside the airline they began firing immediately. Hand grenades were thrown into crowds of passengers queuing to check in for a flight to Tel Aviv, killing two people instantly. Austrian police however responded with a fierce volley of their own along with two EL AL security officers, in all approximately 200 rounds were exchanged,. The men escaped into an awaiting car just a mere 50 yards from the entry point of the airport. Meanwhile as security and police at the Trans World Airlines in Rome began repealing the attackers who caused much carnage, the morbid scenario would produce a final exchange of gun fire. One that would give victory to the police. 3 men, lay dead, one wounded….Mohammed Sharam. At the Trans World Airlines in Rome, the number of those who were killed, 16 with 99 wounded, including American diplomat Wes Wessels. At Schwechat Airport in Vienna, lay 3 dead, 39 wounded. In all 19 killed with 138 wounded by the violence.

Eyewitnesses described the unfolding horror before them as best they could:

‘’It was an inferno — they started throwing hand grenades and firing with submachines guns,’’ said one witness who was wounded in Rome, Dora Silvestri. ‘’We all threw ourselves to the ground. Blood spread over the floor. I fell on the body of a girl, and a grenade splinter hit me in the face.’’

Shari Ruoff, a student from New York City — “”There were people falling to the ground and others screaming. I felt a burning in my right leg and I collapsed to the floor.”

The carnage and violence were never before experienced in such widespread calamity. It was a new form of “terrorism” that would have lasting effects to the human community. At first Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) would be blamed. Arafat immediately denied the accusations and even suggested that whomever planned and carried out these attacks wanted to force Italy and Vienna to sever ties with the PLO’. It was later revealed by one organization why they executed this monstrous scenario. Sabri Khalil al-Banna, or better known as Abu Nidal….head of the Fatah: The Revolutionary Council which was the splinter group off the PLO took full responsibility.

Nidal claimed the attacks on the airports and the Israeli ticket counters specifically was in retaliation for Operation Wooden leg. An operation carried out by Israeli military forces on PLO headquarters in Tunisia just two months prior. Nidal would be the godfather of modern day terrorism. The most wanted man in the world at one point, and it would be he who would change the narrative of unconventional warfare.

The surviving guilty party of these attacks, Mahmoud Ibrahim Khaled, would receive 30 years by an Austrian court in 1988. He was later released in 2010 for good behavior. However the effects from this act of unconventional terrorism would have ever a reverberating effect in the airline industry for years and years to come.



Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.