For once, the news from Washington was joyous: a great city, our nation's capital, had hovered on the edge of a terrible bloody tragedy. Then it was spared.
No, it was more than joyous. This news was overwhelming, like a powerful Biblical parable, in which ancient fears are aroused - hatred and zealotry and vengeance - then peaceful hands intervene to prevent a holocaust.
People prayed in the streets of Washington early yesterday morning, which is rare enough. What is rarer still, Jews and Christians and Muslims could-all say the same prayer. Adonai, Allah, God. Thank God.
Consider the setting: scores of Jewish hostages huddled on the concrete top floor of their own B'nai B'rith buidling, remembering the savage past of anti-Semitism, many of them fearing that their black Hanafi Muslim captors would righteously follow through on their threats of a relisous-racial bloodbath.
Downstairs in the lobby of the eight-story building, Hanafi leader Hamaas Abdul Khaalis sat down to bargain over the fate of these Jews and other hostages. He was face to face with a Roman Catholic police chief named Cullinane and three representatives of Moslem nations - the ambassadors of Iran, Egypt and Pakistan.
The words of the Koran were read, a warning from the book of Alnisa:
"And who so disobeyed God and his apostle (Mohammed) and transgressed his limits, him shall God admit in hell hire, to abide, therein and for him shall be shameful torment."
The Iranian ambassador, Ardeshir Zahedi, directed Khaalis to another passage from the Koran, an explanation of the limits that must not be transgressed:
"Whoever denieth God and his angels and his books and his apostles and the last day of judgement hath indeed strayed off . . ."
The apostles are Mohammed and Moses and Jesus. God's books are the Koran and the Torab and the New Testament. The Islamic religion honors all as genuine expressions of God. To Khaalis, this passage pleaded: do not kill the good believers of Moses and Jesus.
Whatever also may be said about him, Khaalis is a serious believer. He listened and agreed. A few hours later, church bells pealed on 16th Street NW announcing good news: the ordeal is over.
"We find out," said Ambassador Zahedi of Khaalis, "that he is not the person which we have heard. He is very warm, rather human being. He is a very sensitve person. He has a great kind of love for the feeling toward the God Allah."
Dorothy Glaser of Silver Spring expressed the exultation of every freed hostage: "Now I feel like I have a new lease on life."
And did she pray? "Did we pray!" she replied.
The final 124 hostages - many other trapped people had trickled out of the three besieged buildings - are now home with their families. Four other people are still in hospitals recovering from wounds suffered. Wednesday when the Hanafis mounted their three-stage assault. One young man is dead, Maurice Williams, a radio reporter who was shot during the storming of the District Building.
Khaalis and his angry gunmen surrendered peacefully but some of them are now free again - for the moment. They face federal armed kidnaping charges.
Four were allowed pretrial release without bail. Khaalis own freedom was part of the terms of settlement that ended the three-way siege. It is understood that all the men will be under some sort of surveillance while they await trial.
Some citizens were grumbling about his yesterday and even law-enforcement officials debated the question among themselves.
"It's a small price for 124 lives," one top federal official said. Another however, insisted: "It makes a mockery of everything we've been doing in the last year to cut down crime. These are animals; you might have to make promises to save lives, but you sure as hell don't have to keep them once everybody's safe."
The prevailing theme, in any case, was gratitude - an expression of thanks that crossed the ancient barriers between the great religions. Jewish leaders thanked, in particular, the Moslem ambassadors and Dr. Mohammad Abdul Rauf, director of the Islamic Center, where the three envoys are all members of the board of governors.
"It is because of you we were releaded," one Jewish hostage told Rauf afterwards, when the hostages gathered to meet relatives at the Foundry Methodist Church. Jews told him they wished to visit him at the Islamic center, where he lives and was held captive.
"I hope they all do," he said gently, "all 118 of them and their families. Now we are one."
The American Jewish Congress praised the ambassadors of Egypt, Iran and Pakistan for their intercession and added: "We earnestly hope that this joining together in common compassion for life will become a paradigm for future relations between all people."
The moment when the hostages were, at last, released produced an emotional spectacular - from euphoria to shock to the confusions of fear and fatigue mixed together for so many hours. Some of the people were fine - until they got out.
"I was calm for two days," said Mrs. Glaser, "then I was hysterical when they took us out."
Betty Neal was asleep. She is a secretary at B'nai B'rith who was recruited to serve Khaalis as telephone clerk when he learned she was not Jewish.
"I was surprised to know that they had surrendered," she said later. "I can't tell you how I felt when I realized there had been no bloodshed, or very little bloodshed, because he (Khaalis) has numerous times said that if the police fired even one shot, that he was going to kill ten of our people and throw their heads out of the windows and their torsos behind them."
One of the gunmen had taken her cigarette lighter, but promised to return it. When she awoke and saw the police coming in, she found the lighter tucked in her pocket.
"We were eating dinner, which had been sent in," said another hostage. "It was corned beef on white bread with mayonaise . . . There were guards, but then suddenly they just faded away. Then we were being told by somebody, 'Keep your head down, keep your head down. When we were told to look up, I saw the most beautiful sight - the Metropolitan Police s. They were ordinary people, men in drip dry shirts, women with rhinestone glasses, their kids wearing sweatshirts and some with yarmulkes.Their faces were drawn pale. The men were ushaven, the women rumpled. They were taken by buses to hospitals, then to the church for reunions with family.
Some cried. Some embraced. Some stood befuddled, hiding from the TV cameras. Some parents stood numbly by their children for support.
"I don't even want to talk about it," one man in his 50s said. "I just want to go home."
Words of their ordeal, their emotions, their physical condition spilled out gradually, often reluctantly.
The events of this bizarre week were retold by the hostages with more clarity, more vivid detail of what went on during those frightening hours. Their stories blend a strange combination of fear, brutality, camaradie and compassion.
Hostages at the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue NW new Rock Creek Park, which was seized with less brutality than the other two buildings, told of a wide-ranging theological argument between the three gunmen there and the center's director, Mohammad Abdul Rauf, assistant director Abdel Rahman Osman, and Rev. Robert Tesdell, a minister in the Disciples of Chirst.
Osman siad "I was very surprised because one (gunman) was my student - Rahim - who had come to my class two times. He used to come in a long gown and a cap.He was really nice. I was surprised. 'You are going to do this?' I said in astonishment. He said, 'Just relax.'"
Osman was captured as he completed his midday prayers Wednesday and ordered to hand over the keys to Rauf's office, which contained other hostages. He refused and was told he would be shot in three seconds. "Go ahead and shoot," he said.
Tesdell, a gray-haired, pleasant man of medium height, said the gunmen made it clear they wanted center director Rauf, and that his "head would be the first to roll" if the situation escalated because of the moves he had made to accommodate Black Muslims. Rauf and Osman argued, declaring the gunmen's action were not Islamic, and they misunderstand many basic Islamic concepts.
But after an initial period of tension, the mood inside the mosque improved. Hostages were split in two groups and tied, sitting in comfortable, cushioned chairs. Rauf was allowed to do his routine prayers, bowing head to floor, and ordered to make dozens of phone calls to Arab leaders and officials, including Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.
Hostages described the terrorists as loud, irrational and violently anti-Semetic as they herded the hostages into an unfinished, barnlike room with a concrete floor on the eight floor of the downtwon B'nair B'rith building.
But as hours passed, some found them "decent and personable" and began to identify with them. Billy Camp, one captive at B'nai B'rith said the gunmen were very attentive to cleanliness.
"They talked a lot about keeping the bathroom clean," Camp said, "and told the men to sit down while unrinating."
A gallows type humor and a sense of utter frustration developed among the captives. "We all became sheep," Mimi Feldman, a 60-year-old secretary said. "There were so many of us and onlyu six of them and yet we were completely in their power, we were helpless."
"People talk about Nazi Germany," she added. "They say, why didn't the jews fight back, why didn't they do something. If they'd been in there, they would understand."
Dr. Sidney Clearfield, assistant national director of youth organizations for B'nai B'rith, was one of many men pistol-whipped, punched or hit with rifle butts when the gunmen burst into the B'nair B'rith building on Rhode Island Avenue NW.
"They hit quite a few of us. Khaalis kept hitting me in the stomach with his fists because he said he didn't like the way I was looking at him," he recalled yesterday."We were herded together and piled up on the floor on top of each other, three deep. Then they took out the women."
Women were apparently treated better than men at all three locations. The captors told some women wearing dresses and shirts to cover their legs with newspapaers because, "it wasn't ladylike." They made a fetish out of not sexually abusing women. "We have very beautiful women of our own," one hostage quoted a terrorist as saying. "We have many wives and they are very good. We don't need your women."
At regular intervals, however, the Hanafis brandished their weapons, boasting how good they were with the machete and how they could cut off a person's head without him feeling it. They told the hostages that if police did not remove their snipers on the roofs to nearby buildings, they would hang the hostages, men and women, by their feet.
Alan Grip, a press aide to City Council chairman Sterling Tucker, said he found a transformation come over him during his 38 hours in captivity in the District Building.
"I changed emotionally," he said in a WTOP television interview. "I was first of all frightened.I didn't know that Maurice Williams had been killed and I didn't know that Maion Barry had been wounded. I didn't know what those shots were. When I found out about that, I was not only frightened to death, but I was angry. By the time he (the captor) gave himself up to night I was feeling sorry for him. I wished him good luck. I thanked him for being so considerate, for treating us so well. And I'm now confused and ambivalent, because they've done a terrible thing."
Khaalis, meanwhile, was taken under heavy guard to a predawn hearing in D.C. Superior Court, and released on his own bond. A muscular looking man of 5 feet 8, he wore a blue windbreaker, light-colored trousers, brown shoes, and a blue turtle-neck sweater.
The woodpaneled, courtroom No. 7 with under extraordinary heavy guard - the tightest security since their trials of the Hanafi killers three years ago, officials said. At least 21 U.S. marshalls were counted in the room.
The proceeding were shot, and without incident. U.S. Attorney Earl J. Silbert said he wanted to file a criminal complaint charging Khaalis with armed kidnaping, adding the charge grew out of "a takeover by the defendant of three buildings."
Four restrictions were placed on Khaalis's release: he is not to travel outside the District, he must give up his passport by March 14, he cannot possess any firearms and must not talk to newsmen. His bond will be revoked if he is arearrested.
Khaalis sat quietly during the entire proceedings, his head bowed. He spoke only once, and then barely loud enough to be heard, when he said he agreed to condistions of the bond.
The day's final drama, an anticlimatical one, came 13 hours later in a another courtroom when 11 other terrorists - all apparently members of the Hanafis - were brought into a similar courtroom.
Three were released without money bond; six were held under $50,000 bonds, and two were held under $75,000 bonds.
Washington is still wondering what sort of man Khaalis is - this former jazz drummer and religious leader whose anger grabbed the world's attention. It knows his primary motivation for seizing the buildings and the hostages was to seek revenge for the killing of seven of his children and flollowers four years ago - vengence against the Black Muslims who did the killing.
But the portrait is still confused. On one hand, he was brutal, fanatic, both frightening and menacing to his prisoners. But in the final hours of the three day drama, he showed another face - that of a sensible man, willing to abandon his hopeless protest rather than needlessly shed additional blood.
Betty Neal, who served as his secretary in the B'nai B'rith building, observed him closre than anyone throughout the ordeal. He baffled her as much as anyone. At one point, she said, when she told him of a man with a heart condition, he told her, "He's going to die anyway, I might as well chop his head off."
Yet, a few moments later, Khaalis was arranging with police to have the man removed safely.
Khaalis promised that "heads would rool" but, once he had spent a full day and night with his prisoners, no one was harmed further. He did not get much of what he was after, yet he surrendered in an orderly fashion.
The demand that the black Muslims responsible for the Hanafi killings be delivered to him for personal justice was impossible from the start. Police told him so and he accepted that out-come, despite his threatening rhetoric.
Khaalis and his followers did win one point - the sudden cancellation of a new movie calle "Mohammad, Messenger of God," which he protested was an insult to his religion. Movie houses quickly withdrew the film Wednesday afternoon at the request of D.C. police.
Today at three New York theaters, bouyed by a fortune in free publicity "Mohammad, Messenger of God" will resume its premiere performances.
Contributing to this story were Washington Post staff writers E. J. Bachinski, Felicity Barringer, Elizabeth Becker, Alice Bonner, Martha M. Hamilton Maggie Locke, Martin Weil and Eric Wentworth.