Metropolitan police yesterday labeled as incorrect a statement in Thursday's Washington Post that surveillance of the Hanafi Center at 16th and Juniper Streets NW was conducted from the Tifereth Israel Congregation, across the street from the center. The Post apologizes for the error.
In a dramatic development following a day-long stalemate, Hanafi Muslim leaders and top local law enforcement officials gathered downtown last night for apparent face-to-face negotiations over the fate of the approximately 125 hostages held at three nearby locations.
Just after 8 p.m., two Metropolitan Police officials and U.S. Attorney Earl Silbert went to meet the Hanafi leaders in the ground floor of the B'nai B'rith headquarters building, seven floors below where about 105 of the hostages were still under the guns of Hanafi men.
Fifteen minutes earlier a police car went to the Hanafi headquarters house at 16th and Juniper Streets NW and picked up Abdul Aziz, the son-in-law of Hanafi leader Hamaas Khaalis, who led the takeover of the B'nai B'rith building near Scott Circle on Wednesday. While Khaalis has been issuing angry demands from there. Aziz has acted as a press spokesman for the Hanafis from the 16th Street house.
The Washington ambassadors from Egypt, Pakistan and Iran also were reported to be joining the other negotiators around a table set up in a ground-floor lobby of the B'nai B'rith building.
There was also a flurry of activity around the Gramercy Inn next door, which has served as a command post for B'nai B'rith and police officials during the long siege.
The action was the most dramatic and hopeful of a day in which the authorities had waited and negotiated by telephone which Khaalis, the leader of the 10 to 12 armed black men holding the helpless hostages at three locations in the heart of the city.
Food and supplies went in to the captors and captives at all three places - the B'nai B'rith national headquarters near Scott Circle, the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue near Rock Creek Park and the District Building. Four hostages also have come out since 9 p.m. Wednesday.
In the standard unfolding of hostage dramas, these would be regarded as mildly hopeful signs - the longer negotiations go on, the more hope rises for a peaceful compromise. But city officials privately worried that normal rules may not apply in this very abnormal situation.
Among other things, authorities were informed that an "exeuction room" was set up by the Hanafi gunmen at the B'nai B'rith building at 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW, where about 105 hostages were held captive on the eighth floor. No one knows whether this talk was simply more of the threatening rhetoric which has surrounded this event since it started Wednesday or whether something more ominous may be approaching.
At the District Building, one of the hostages, held in the D.C. City Council offices, Council aide Alan Grip nervously relayed by phone this warning from the two gunmen there:
"We are Hanafi Muslims to the death and, if the police have any ideas about storming this room, put all of our lives in immediate danger . . ."
At the Hanafi house on 16th Street, the daughter of the group's leader, Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, grimly told a reporter that, before launching the attack, her father bid a final goodbye to his family.
"All of us. Everyone. The whole family. We were all here," said Amina Khaalis. "There's nothing to hide."
Still, no deadlines have been set by the terrorists, no ultimatums which would force one side or the other to take action. So, in the meantime, District of Columbia officials are proceeding on a strategy intended to stabilize and ameliorate and, ideally, find some common ground with the gunmen's leader.
During the last 24 hours, police saw to it that food and medicine and other items, ranging from newspapers to birth-control pills, were delivered to the three hostage locations - without any threat of aggressive action.
Further, the city delivered to Khaalis, who was presiding inside the B'nai B'rith building, a symbolic refund of $750 - a matter of principle, he called it. The money represented a contempt-of-court fine levied when Khaalis disrupted the trial of one of the rival Black Muslims accused of murdering seven Hanafi members - the event that seems to be the source of the Hanafi actions of the past two days, a matter of protest and vengeance.
City officials did not respond to Khaalis' central demand, however. He wants them to deliver over to him and his followers the seven Black Muslims for their own personal application of vengeance.
"There is very little in the way of new developments we can report," a police spokesman said at nightfall Yesterday. "Police Chief Maurice Cullinane, working with the mayor and the diplomatic corps, is doing everything possible to ensure the safety of the hostages."
Mayor Walter Washington declared: "We've been working under a specific plan from the beginning. This involves not overreacting and our messages from some of the hostages indicate they too hope we will not overreact."
The imponderable in this situation, which sets it apart from other recent hostages cases, is the nature of the government's adversary. The Hanafis holding the prisoners are not bank robbers, fugitives from justice, or common hoodlums. They are, so far as is known, intelligent, hard-working middle-class men who had led upstanding if allenated lives.
Their motives, as far as they have been revealed and deduced, do not involve financial gain or notoriety. They are bent solely, they have said, on getting "justice" for the massacre of seven members of the Khaalis family in 1973.
As Khaalis' daughter told Washington Post reporter Joseph Whitaker yesterday:
"We went by the laws of the country. We participated in bringing the people to trial. We did not get justice because they (the Black Muslim defendants) were not given death. And by Muslim law, that's the punishment . . . We're not hiding anything. He's not robbing a bank. This is nothing to hide. This is our law.We do this openly."
In the initial assault on the three buildings Wednesday, Khaalis and his followers killed one man - Maurice, William, a 24-year-old reporter for WHUR - and wounded several others. It was a bloody and terrifying beginning to the drama now being played out.
The violence quickly ceased and for the past day and a half the deadly waiting game has gone on with no more casualties, and with some acts of kindness on both sides.
By early last night the situation had settled down to this:
The Hanafis held about 105 hostages at the B'nai B'rith building, nine hostages at the Islamic Center and seven at the District Building. Police had taken over all but the top two floors at the B'nai B'rith building and at least four floors at the District Building.
At the Islamic Center, where three Hanafi gunmen were in complete control of the premises policemen lounged outside in the sunshine in full view of the Hanafis and, on request, delivered food packages to the front door.
There was no gunfire at any of the locations, and from all reports, the hostages were well and being treated "kindly." Male hostages were tied, but not all women hostages were.
Before dawn Thursday, three hostages had been released by the Hanafis, and a fourth was released early yesterday afternoon. But that was the only give in the situation.
Elsewhere in the nation's capital, life went on. The fact that three huge areas of the city - three major arteries and blocks of buildings - were immobilized and empty did not alter the other normalities of a beautiful spring day. Modest crowds gathered at the police cordons to gawk and gossip, but for the most part the life of the city was remarkably unaltered.
Some things were not normal. At the White House, British Prime Minister James Callaghan came to call on President Carter and - at the request of police - he was not given the traditional 19 gun salute for a foreign head of state. The volleys might have unsettled some of the gunmen a few block away.
At the District Building, Ben Gilbert, a top aide to the mayor, sneaked into his fourth floor office, a flight down from the hostage scene, in order to get some papers he was working on. "The planning process must go on," Gilbert said.
On Capitol Hill, at least a dozen members of Congress asked for police protection, given the alarming developments. Most of them were either black or Jewish, officials said, and were concerned about the racial and religious overtones to the events downtown.
At two downtown churches, small crowds of relatives of the hostages gathered. Their identities are not being disclosed by police or other authorities because Khaalis said he does not want their names released.
The commuter snarl was worse than usual at rush hours - with police blocking the main routes of 14th Street NW, 16th Street NW and Massachusettes Avenue.
Despite the absence of further violence, there was a sense of pessimism among some officials at the local command center at police headquarters.
They were hamstrung by the Hanafi demand that seven Black Muslims accused of the murders in 1973 be delivered to Khaalis and his comrades inside the B'nai B'rith building. It was a demand they said they could not meet.
They were fearful, too, that Khaalis might conclude that he and his associates had "painted themselves in a corner" by the events of Wednesday afternoon.
There was further concern that Khaalis, despite cat naps, was becoming exhausted from lack of sleep and might act in an "irrational" manner. They were also informed the Khaalis was furious that Black Muslim leader Wallace Muhammad had come to Washington and had not been delivered into his hands.
"I'm not tired," Khaalis told a Channel 5 interviewer yesterday," That deceptive. It's my voice. I've been talking incessantly to people calling up because someone has to tell America what's happening."
As for Wallace Muhammad, the spiritual leader of the nation's Black Muslims, arrived in Washington yesterday afternoon from Chicago, according to Khalil Abdel Alim, leader of a local Nation of Islam mosque.
Alim said Muhammad called the mayor's office, the chief of police's office and the White House offering assistance but received no response or any request to take part in any aspect of the situation, according to Alim.
William Jepsen, speaking for the Metropolitan Police Department last night, summed it up this way:
"Negotiations have been a delicate item . . . It's virtually in status quo. We are not at liberty to discuss the precise nature of the discussions. We have preclous little to go on one way or the other."
The White House, which is playing an uncertain role in the Hanafi affair, had little to say, either.
Presidential Press Secretary Jody Powell said "the White House and the President have been kept informed of developments. The federal involvement is being co-ordinated by the Department of Justice with the direct supervision of Attorney General (Griffin) Bell."
The federal intent, Powell said, "is to supplement the efforts of the Washington police, who are doing an excellent job dealing with the situation."
The FBI's staff of psychologists delivered an analysis of the situation for the D.C. police. They put the Hanafis in the category of "militant fanatics" who are considered the most dangerous and difficult adversaries to deal with.
The number of Hanafis involved in the building seizures has been a matter for speculation since Wednesday. The present reckoming is 12 - seven at B'nai B'rith, three at the Islamic Center, and two at the District Building.
They have a supply of weapons and ammunition. But, again, officials are uncertain of what the arsenal contains.
Khaalis and his six associates at B'nai B'rith are thought to have automatic or semi-automatic rifles as well as machetes or swords.
The two Hanafis at the District Building are thought to have at elast one shotgun, one .22 caliber rifle and two pistols. The three gunmen at the Islamic Center have long guns, but whether they are rifles or shothguns is unknown.
A neighbor of the Hanafi home on upper 16th Street predicted that Khaalis and his men will be in top physical condition to endure a lengthy siege because he has often seem them working out at the park at 16th and Kennedy Streets.
"They've been in training for a long time," the neighbor said, "and they will show a phenomenal amount of physical stamina that will surprise people."
Three foreign ambassadors - Ardeshir Zahedi of Iran, Sahalzada Yaqub-Khan of Pakistan and Ashraf A. Ghorbal of Egypt were involved in several conversations with Khaalis "trying to persuade him to be compassionate, according to a diplomatic source.
The diplomats spent all of Wednesday night at the police command center and returned yesterday. The contact was initiated by the gunmen, it was said. The hostages include several foreign nationals, among them Dr. Mohammad Abdul Rauf, director of the Islamic Center, his wife and two sons, and two assistants, Abdel Rohman Osman and Fat-hi Madi.
A California congressman, Republican Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Los Angeles, volunteered to exchange himself for hostages at the District building. Police responded that the idea would be helpful only if he could find other surrogates to replace the hostages at the other two locations.