We find him today, 13 months later as the arrow of time flies, in the same story — on the other end of the gun-barrel.
At around 4 o’clock this afternoon, a stunning attempt on the monarch took place as he flew back to Morocco from France. The king’s 727 was attacked by F-5 fighters of the Moroccan Air Force, surviving, it is said, when the quick-thinking king himself took the radio, pretended to be a flight engineer, and informed the attacking fighters that the pilots were dead and the king mortally wounded.
The ruse tricked the attacking pilots into allowing the crippled plane to make its landing in Rabat; they returned too late to strafe the airfield when they realized their mistake.
Oufkir was declared to have committed suicide late this night, or else in the small hours of August 17; this still-standing official explanation has always had its doubters, with more extravagant versions implicating the offended sovereign himself in dealing out the punishment. Probably not, but here’s foreign correspondent Stephen O. Douglas’s reconstruction in Morocco Under King Hassan:
[Interior Minister Mohamed] Benhima said that when Oufkir arrived at the Skhirat palace at 11 p.m. he was met in an anteroom by General Mawlay Hafid and Colonel Dlimi, and when he realised that the king knew he had masterminded the plot he pulled out a revolver saying, ‘I know what to expect.’ Benhima added, ‘The two witnesses tried to stop him. In the struggle he fired three shots, one wounding him in the chest, the second I don’t know where, but the third was the most fatal.’ He said this was ‘the truthful and authentic version’.
‘General Oufkir committed suicide. He was not killed. It has been asked if it was a suicide of loyalty or a suicide of treason. Well then, I am authorised to tell you, to certify that since 1 p.m. today, and considering the elements of inquiry we have in our possession, I can affirm that it was a suicide of treason and not a suicide of loyalty,’ Benhima said.
Later at the same news conference, Benhima indicated he was just as astonished as most of the journalists. He said he and Oufkir were ‘great friends. We appreciated each other very much and had confidence in each other. We had a common denominator: our loyalty, and I think we wore the same decoration, given to us on the same day for the same reasons. He was a great patriot, a great minister. As I just told one of your colleagues, I cannot figure how he could have done what he did. But he is one of the most attractive people I have known, and what I have said about him today is painful to me, but the truth had to be told.’
I learned later that during the fatal night a military ambulance took Oufkir’s blood-stained body back to his Souissi house where it was placed on the floor of a playroom. His wife Fatima was away on vacation on the Mediterranean coast and there were very few people in the house. They found Oufkir had four bullet wounds, three in the back and the fourth having gone through the nape of his neck and out through his left eye, shattering his glasses, the coup de grace. Suddenly someone decided it was a mistake to send the corpse back to his family and it was hastily retrieved the same night. Thus evidence that he may have been ‘suicided’ disappeared.
Hassan somehow escaped the day with his crown, but with two attempts to overthrow him over the previous 13 months and a need to purge the many unreliable Oufkir loyalists in the armed forces — well, as the London Times put it (Aug. 22, 1972), “short of his incredible good fortune there is little else that can be cited in real terms to guarantee the perpetuation of his rule.” You could have made good coin wagering informed observers of the time that Hassan would live and reign another 27 years and be internationally saluted at his peaceful death at age 70.