As it began, so it ended for the more than 100 persons held captive inside the B'nai B'rith headquarters on Rhode Island Avenue.
"We had no idea," one captive said of the ordeal's end. "All of a sudden. One moment, one voice. Another moment, another voice."
Other hostages spoke of being frightened when District policemen armed with rifles appeared in the eighth floor conference room where the hostages were being kept on the concrete floor. Some thought the police were terrorists who has come as one put it, "to do it to us."
The end came shortly before 2 a.m. yesterday with no warning, no goodbyes from their captors, no final word from Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, the Hanafi Muslim leader who had sporadically lectured and harangued the group during the 39 hours they were held captive.
Throughout the long ordeal the captives had been alternately threatened and mollified, treated with an incongruous mix of cordial and hostile behavior. Hostages were warned at times that their heads would be cut off, and then asked if their bonds were too tight.
Some thought Khaalis's speeches and the antics of his henchmen bordered on burlesque. For others, the experience evoked memories of the holocaust - the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis in World War II.
Although many were doubtless terrified by the ordeal - some women and at least one man breaking under the strain - most of those who spoke to reporters were calm and reflective about it. A woman who could discuss the experience calmly, said that at one point, as she lay on the floor, "I looked at the faces of the men across from me and they were praying - if you know what praying looks like."
There were touches of irony throughout the long drama. Khaalis, who was abusive of Jews during the takeover, by chance chose as his center of operations the offices of the Anti-Defamation League, the wing of B'nai B'rith whose mission it is to combat anti-Semitism. The breakthrough in the deadlock came with the intercession of ambassadors from three Islamic nations - Iran, Pakistan and Egypt - the last an avowed enemy of the state of Israel.
The ordeal began around 11 a.m. Wednesday, as six armed men entered the lobby of the eight-story B'nai B'rith building, began pushing people around, hitting them and firing the weapons they carried.
The six Hanafi Muslims moved through the building capturing workers in their offices, forcing them to lie on the floor in the hallways, crowding them together like so much lumber carelessly stacked. And then the captives were herded to the top floor of the building where the hostages told their captors the largest room was.
In the process of gathering the employees and visitors at B'nai B'rith together, people were struck and stabbed, shots were fired.
Bernard Simon, B'nal B'rith press chief, saw Alton Kirkland, a construction worker, stabbed twice by one of the intruders soon after Simon was captured. According to Simon, Kirkland was sitting on the floor when a man with a knife screamed an obscenity at Kirkland and stabbed him in the back and side or chest.
Simon added that the other gunman berated the first one, saying, "If you do that again, "I'll kill you." Kirkland was later released by the gunmen.
One woman told of being in her seventh floor office and being told by another employe that people with guns were in the lobby. She looked out the window and saw police cars on the street and a policewoman directing traffic away from the building at 17th and Rhode Island. People at the Holiday Inn, just across Rhode Island, were peering out their windows at the B'nai B'rith building.
Then another employe came in and announced that the armed men were going from floor to floor. The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she and her co-workers locked the door. Within minutes someone was pounding on it, demanding that it be opened. When there was no response, three shots were fired through the door and it came open.
Throughout the building, similar scenes were being repeated. Sidney Closter confronted a gunman in the hallway on the fifth floor. "He told me to freeze," Closter said in an interview yesterday, "but I ducked behind a desk." The gunman fired. Closter moved behind some filing cabinets. The gunman fired again. Closter crawled eight or nine feet across open floor to an office. He said he heard another shot. He closed the door behind him, but a colleague, Albert Elkes, called to him, he said: "'It's no use, Sid. Come on out.'"
Closter was taken with the others to the eight-floor conference room where the hostages were to spend the next 38 uncomfortable hours, almost the first 24 without food or other comforts.
Sheet rock was taken from along the wall of the conference room, which was being remodeled, and placed along the windows looking out on Rhode Island Avenue. The hostages did the work under orders from their captors, who then told them to take paint and cover the top panes of glass. At that point, the gunmen could see out, but outsiders could catch only glimpses of what was going on inside.
Some 140 people were originally trapped in the building. Thirty-five of those escaped, were freed during a police sweep of the building, or were released because of illness. A total of 105 were released Friday morning.
Precisely in what order events occurred is not clear. At one point, the men and women were separated from each other, with the women placed along the windows near Rhode Island Avenue and the men nearer the interior wall. They were ordered to lie, stomachs down, on the cold, dirty concrete floor. The men had their hands tied behind their backs. On the second day their feet were tied as well.
The room was large, empty and at night quite cold. Men and women, forced to lie on the concrete floor, pressed against one another to stay warm. Piles of wallboard, tools and paint were scattered on the floor.
Some of the wallboard was thrown down the stairs by the gunmen to blockade stirwells, other sheets were thrown down the elevator shaft. Despite that, the elevators were used to ferry food and injured hostages.
Not long after they were arranged on the floor, according to Closter, the group was ordered to count off consecutively. The count established that something in the neighborhood of 100 persons were being held hostage.
Then, Closter said, Khaalis made his first appearance, wearing a dark turban. He berated the group in a manner he was to repeat, Closter said. He spoke for about 10 minutes, his voice ranging from soft to strident, his tone from pontifical to vengeful.
Khaalis was rambling and sometimes incoherent, according to Closter. Another hostage said that Khaalis "strutted and swaggered and bombasted."
He talked of the 1973 murder of his wife and our children, a theme to which he returned repeatedly. He made references to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic tract, and said that the Koran teaches that "Jews are destined to be wanderers" and that the press, the mdeia, the judiciary and the banks are under Jewish control, according to Closter.
The subject of beheading came up, an eventuality made all the more real by the machetes and swords brandished by the gunmen. Khaalis, according to a number of hostages, said that he would not shrink from beheading some men and even women.
Whenever a man was untied to go to the bathroom, one hostage said, a gun was pointed to his head.
Police said later when they inspected the eighth floor that the scene there was "incredible" and the arsenal of weapons assembled "formidable."
One law enforcement official said the amount of ammunition was "more than is probably carried by most sporting goods stores in town." Police seriously speculated that because of the quantity, the Muslims may have entered the building previously and planted ammunition there.
Khaalis had asked for someone to assist him with phone calls and Betty J. Neal, secretary to B'nal B'rith's personnel director, volunteered Khaalis asked her name and she answered, "Betty Neal." He reportedly said, "You're not a Jew3/8" and she said she was not. Khaalis eplied, she said, "OK I don't want any of those Jew bastards taking my calls."
Accompanying Khaalis to the ADL office, she began making his calls to the Islamic Center, the District Building and to the Hanafi Muslim house on 16th and Juniper Streets.
Time passed. Taking care of the body's needs was a major ritual, discussed at length by Khaalis and his men with the group. Khaalis, according to two different hostages, discoursed at some length about urine, making the men sit down on the toilet to relieve themselves. The subject was discussed repeatedly by the gunmen with the hostages.
Treatment of the hostages alternated between verbal abuse of the men and solicitude for the hostages well-being - one gunman reportedly showing men whose bonds were too tight how to keep their circulation going and how to avoid stiffness by exercising their shoulder muscles.
Sometime toward late afternoon on Thursday sandwiches and soft drinks were sent up for the hostages. As they were about to be passed out, one hostage said one of the gunmen changed his mind, stopped the process and said, instead, that it was necessary to make other preparations.
There was the sound of breaking glass. Closter was upset when the gunmen started throwing sections of a dismantled glass and marble wall, erected in 1963 to commemorate B'nai B'rith's 20th anniversary, down the stairwell to block the entrance.
The hostages did not know, and were not told, that downstairs preparations were being made for the discussions that were ultimately to lead to their liberation.
The period from 6 p.m. until midnight Thursday, according to one hostage, was the tensest of all. Some persons slept.
Khaalis, according to Closter suggested that the hostages pray to God. "I began to ponder on the Jews in the Holocaust period," Closter said. "That obessed my thinking. Is it possible to revolt against insuperable odds? Why are Jews always called upon to demonstrate something so unusual in terms of human behavior?"
Around midnight, the tension seemed to ease. The sandwiches were passed out. The bonds on the men's hands were retied so that their hands were in front rather than behind them, making it easier for them to eat.
People dozed. Betty Neal fell asleep, waking to find herself alone. The cigarette lighter that one of the gunmen had taken from her had been placed back inside her pocket.
In the conference room, one hostage who had been dozing slowly became aware that the guards had slowly drifted off, as though they had evaporated.
David Leshanick, another captive, said the hostages did not cheer when the police arrived. "When I first saw the police," he said, "I thought these guys were going to do it to us." The police told the hostages to stay down while they checked to make sure there were no booby traps or gunmen hidden.
Within moments, the police had secured the eighth floor and there was jibilation, hugs, kisses and cheers among the hostages and then finally a prayer.
It is a relatively short, traditional Jewish prayer of thanksgiving, known in Hebrtw as the Shehecheyanu. It simply offers thanks to God, "who has kept us in life, sustained us and brought us to this moment."