The Life of a Diplomat: Assassination in Khartoum

On March 1, 1973, a terrorist attack led by the Black September Organization took place at the Saudi Arabian embassy based in Khartoum, Sudan. Five diplomats were taken hostage, of which only two survived. Jan-Willem Bertens, who was not only a diplomat in Uruguay, Costa Rica and Sudan, but also the party leader of D-66 in the European Parliament, and whose stories Checks&Balances has already published in the two previous segments, happened to be a  witness of the assassination.

“On the day  the new ambassador of the US  commenced his post in Sudan, a farewell party took place in  Saudi Arabian embassy for one of my best friend, also a diplomat, because his assignment in Sudan had ended and he was sent elsewhere,- remembers Bertens. ‘Among the guests of honor was George Curtis Moore, who at that time was the chargé d’affaires at the American embassy. Bertens then stops for a brief moment to show us a photo of him attending the Saudi Arabian embassy’s formal reception. His voice then rises due to the excitement, as if he would re-live the moment right before our eyes.”

“For some reason, I was one of the last to leave the party. Even though a sudden dust storm blew in our faces as we went out, I noticed them immediately. I counted them: eight. All dressed  in black and with masked faces. In a split second, shots were fired and I started running fast straight at them. The only thing I knew was that I should not turn my back to their guns. I reached  the closed gates, but due to adrenaline somehow I managed to climb over them. Then – silence. Yellow mist around me and panic, which was slowly starting to kick in. Despite that, I was curious. I had no idea what had happened”,- explains Bertens.

In a split second, shots were fired and I started running.

“There was a little garden around the embassy and I went through it to see if my colleagues were still alive. Moor, as well as fellow American Cleo Allen Noel, a Belgian diplomat, and several others were taken hostage. Suddenly, I noticed the two headlights of a black car driving towards me. How glad was I when I realized that it was my driver! I told him everything and we ended up at the conclusion that the gunmen were Palestinian representatives of Black September, since I remembered seeing their mark – a red half-moon”.

In fact, just a few hours after  the attack these masked men  demanded the release of numerous Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, and when President Richard Nixon refused to negotiate Noel, Moore and the Belgium diplomat were killed. Only three days after the Sudanese government managed to persuade the gunmen to release the remaining hostages and they surrendered to their authorities.

This was the last part of Checks&Balances interview with Jan-Willem Bertens, former diplomat and party leader of D66. After being stationed in Sudan, Bertens went to Cuba as the Embassy Secretary, he then was a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later ambassador for Central America to Costa Rica. According to Bertens, his approach to live is quite simple: “Do not think to long about making important choices.”

Picture: Jan-Willem Bertens


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