Archive for September 27th, 2008

1976: Three terrorists in Syria

2 comments September 27th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1976, three Abu Nidal terrorists were hanged before the Hotel Semiramis in Damascus, barely 24 hours after they had entered it and taken 90 hostages in a bid to win release of Palestinian prisoners.

Palestinians Muhammad al-Barqawi and Mouatassem Jayyoushi and Iraqi Jabbar Darwish suffered Syria’s first public execution since an accused Israeli spy more than a decade before — and as the late Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad had pledged, justice was swift and ruthless.

The security of the citizen is sacred. We shall not be soft in this matter. We shall hit back very hard and we denounce this criminal action committed by the gang, which acted as if it was in Israel.

They were the surviving 75% of a quartet of gunmen who early the previous morning had seized the hotel, barricaded themselves on the fifth floor, and attempted to make their trade. Plainly, it didn’t quite work out; the attempt precipitated a battle with Syrian troops which saw the fourth terrorist killed, along with four of the hostages. The Supreme State Security Court condemned the captured men to death overnight; the sentence was carried out between 6:00 and 6:30 the next morning.

New York Times coverage of the raid and the execution is unfortunately behind the paper’s paid-login firewall, but a photo of the execution shows onlookers ringing a single wooden frame for what must have been a short-drop hanging. An unused fourth noose, possibly symbolically present for the killed fourth terrorist (or possibly not; there’s no explicit comment on it), hangs beside the dead men.

So why the grievance? That June — “Black June,” to the Palestinians — Syria had bailed on hard-line Palestinians and entered the Lebanese Civil War on the side of Phalangist Christians,* just as they were on the verge of being overrun. It was the second time in six years that a neighboring Arab power had turned its guns on Palestinians. (In 1970, Jordan had expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization in “Black September.” Lots of black in the Palestinian annals.)

And why the Iraqi, among the hanged?

Palestinian terrormeister Abu Nidal had hung out his shingle in Iraq, then under the control of a rising young dictator destined for the gallows himself, but who grasped the opportunist potential of backing the Palestinian cause while states like Jordan and Syria visibly sold it out. Television crews had a few words in edgewise with the doomed men the evening before their hanging, and they claimed to have trained for their abortive mission in Iraq.

* This put Damascus on the same side as Israel.

Part of the Themed Set: Semiramis.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Palestine,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Syria,Terrorists

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Themed Set: Semiramis

2 comments September 27th, 2008 Headsman

As a gauzy figure of Orientalist fantasy, the half-legendary (at least) Bronze Age queen Semiramis is hard to top.

Supposedly a Babylonian ruler, the exploits of Semiramis — erotic, politic, possibly magic — have been worthy of otherly projection from Dante on down.

Herodotus (to whom she was already archaic) has her a pan-Asian ruler; the guy whose proclivities gave us the term “masochism” wrote a novel about her (but good luck finding it in English). Of course, Queen S. was divinely descended and radiantly beautiful; in the general legend, she becomes queen when her husband King Ninus is killed (or in some versions, when she kills him), rules competently (or aggressively, or simply lustfully), then maybe gets killed by her son. This bare scaffolding will enact many a play. And the costumes!

Thanks, Rossini.

Check out some versions of her myth here, here and the hostile Armenian version here. Rumor has it her tomb is quite the find, too.

In Boccaccio’s Famous Women, she’s a girl who knows how to have a good time, but invents the chastity belt to keep her female courtiers in line, or possibly to reduce competition. (More about this volume here (pdf), though this review doesn’t have a lot to say about our heroine.)

In the dour outlook of a particular brand of fundamentalist Protestant, Semiramis can also be a sort of proto-pagan, a former harlot (natch) who invented goddess-worship. (A seminal text in this theory is this 19th century pamphlet by Rev. Alexander Hislop.)

Does it say anywhere that she built Babylon? Eh. It does now!

Semiramis Building Babylon, by Edgar Degas (1861)

So what does Semiramis have to do with the ultimate sanction? Not much … but thanks for reading.

She breaks the monotony a little bit — and what do you know? She makes two blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameos for totally unrelated (to each other or, really, to Semiramis) executions this weekend.

Update: And the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are sometimes attributed to her as the Hanging Gardens of Semiramis. So what if that’s almost certainly wrong … doesn’t the name just take you right there?

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Themed Sets

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