While the world was still preoccupied with the fate of former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro, a prisoner of Red Brigade terrorists, Western security heads were spending the early days of May anxiously trying to come to grips with the threat of a new wave of international terrorism.
Among the strands in a complicated weave: reports that Palestinian extremists
were redeploying in the Middle East for further attacks on Israel; that international terrorist chief Carlos had suddenly left his Mediterranean villa in Libya and had been seen, complete with bodyguards, travelling in disguise on a Libyan passport in several European countries; that Red Brigade terrorists were about to extend their activities from Italy to Greece; and that members of the West German Red Army Faction, having dispersed to avoid the security dragnet after the murder of indus-
trialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer,were preparing a new campaign. There are about 500 names on their death list.
The concern in counter-terrorist circles was understandable. For as security experts deliberated, a series of events threw into sharp relief the scale and character of the international threat. The ominous common denominator: the involvement of one or other of the self-styled “Red” terrorist groups (see box) who this year com-
plete a decade of violence that matches the IRA or Palestinians in sensationalism if not quite in body count.
Born out of the New Left campus movements of the late 1960s, their members vary from the sons and daughters of the privileged (Red Army Faction) through the working class, radical chic, unemployed graduate mix of the Red Brigades to the student fanatics of the Japanese Red Army. The composite picture shows a bored, frustrated, youthful figure, with all
the free-floating .extremism of the young, who has opted out of the system and is single-mindedly going about smashing it into little pieces.
As the local plight of Moro touched an emotional chord throughout the world, these were the events that showed how far afield the New Left terrorists now cast their net:
• The arrest, in Egypt in late April, of 24 people said by Prosecutor-General Ibrahim Kalyoubi to have plotted a campaign of sabotage and assassination, including the murder of Jordanian premier Mudar Badran, a prominent go-between in the Middle East peace talks. The group was said to consist of Palestinians, Swiss, West Germans and Jordanians and to have had links with Italy’s Red Brigades.
• Reports, in Italy and the United States, that the Red Brigades are receiving money, arms and training support from Czechoslovakia. These were all the more believable because, since the Second World War, the Czechs have provided sanctuary (and work at Radio Prague) for Italians exiled for involvement with Soviet espionage and the hard-line views on revolutionary violence.
• The scheduled appearance, in a Dutch court on May 8, of two Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof) terrorists Gert Schneider and Christoph Wackernagel, whom the West German authorities want extradited. The two men are thought to have been planning to avenge the deaths in jail last year of Andreas Baader and other members of the Red Army Faction by blowing up a West German airliner.
• The predawn arrest in Belfast, late last month, of 15 members of the IRA’S political wing, Sinn Fein. Security authorities said the arrests followed the seizure of documents indicating links with the Red Army Faction, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and terrorist organizations in the Netherlands and the Far East.
Since 1968, when the Red Army Faction tried to burn down a Frankfurt department store, they have seldom been out of the headlines, particularly as their 10th anniversary neared. In the past year or so the Red Army Faction has murdered, spectacularly, three prominent West German citizens—federal public prosecutor Siegfried Buback, banker Jurgen Ponto and Schleyer—while in Italy the Red Brigades have run up a basketball score of kidnappings and brutal public shootings.
Retribution, however, has been neither sure nor swift. Despite the numbers employed—50,000 police hunted Moro’s kidnappers—and recent additions to powers of arrest, interrogation and detention which have sent shivers down the spines of civil libertarians in West Germany and Italy, comparatively few arrests have been made. Worse, police still cannot fit names to descriptions and faces to names often enough to be sure for whom, or for how many people, they are looking. The terrorists also have a marked advantage in the
unevenness of the pursuit, from country to country.
In France, after Schleyer’s body turned up in the trunk of a car at Mulhouse, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST) merely told a motley collection of 1,200 known foreign activitists—sympathizers of the Red Army Faction, Palestinians, Israelis and South Americans—to leave the country. Only those who refused to do so were arrested—after a decent interval of two weeks or more.
So when life gets too “hot” in one coun-
try, terrorists have only to melt away down the grapevine to safe havens in Spain (a current favorite), or Switzerland, or such traditional sanctuaries as Algeria, Libya, Iraq and South America. In February, 12 members of the Red Army Faction were reported in Colombia, where the climate of lawlessness (drug
smuggling is the country’s biggest revenue earner, and there are more kidnappings than in Italy) is particularly inviting.
Only occasionally are such fugitives caught—one instance was the arrest in Switzerland—after a gun battle—of a West German couple, Gabriele KroecherTiedemann and Christian Moeller, who had crossed the French border illegally on a mountain side road. But this was a rare success for the Swiss whose situation at the terrorists’ European “crossroads” has not so far been matched by tight security precautions. The federal Parliament at its recent session approved the creation of a federal security force, but a challenge from coalition of left and liberal groups means that the measure will now have to be voted on in a referendum.
This ambivalence was pointed up early in April when it was leaked in Bonn, the West German capital, that Interior Minister Werner Mainhofer had reproached his Swiss counterpart, Kurt Furgler, for failing to take energetic action against the terrorist threat. The criticism was offered at a secret “exchange of views” at Zurich at which ministers from Italy and Austria were also present. At the same time Bonn correspondents quoted the German police as describing the Swiss-German border as a “sieve” through which arms and extremists were passing without detection.
The rudiments of a common anti-terrorist strategy are emerging—senior anti-terrorist specialists from Italy, Switzerland.
France, West Germany and Austria (another terrorist crossroads) now meet weekly. But this was only a modest gain as security chiefs tried to predict the probable character and direction of the next terrorist “hit” wave.
For at the back of their minds was the fear that has haunted Western governments for some time now: that terrorists may at some stage resort to nuclear blackmail. If this possibility is pooh-poohed by some experts, it certainly is being taken seriously in the United States where, as a direct result of the recent increase in terrorist activities in Europe, counter-measures ranging from the conventional to pure science-fiction are being taken.
All U.S. uranium supplies and treatment plants have gone under redoubled guard. Warnings have been flashed worldwide from Washington on the need to take increased precautions whenever uranium is transported between treatment areas and storage depots. The specially created terrorist control office at the state department is also worried that scientists with special nuclear knowledge may be high on the terrorists’ kidnap lists.
One Washington proposal for the end of the decade involves tagging all uranium with a signalling device that would be impossible to separate from the load. This device would be electronically tied in to a satellite which, in turn, would keep a pinpoint check of its whereabouts at all times. Thus, even if the material was hijacked security forces would instantly know where it was.
Another important U.S. contribution to curbing international terrorism will likely come toward the end of this year. It is then that a bill, nearly sure to be passed, will go before the Senate to impose total sanctions against any nation that harbors terrorists. This would include a break of all airline and travel facilities and a ban on any aid or trade.
But in the United States, as in Europe, the problem is to persuade the public that the threat is real. Even some army groups who might be called on to deal with a terrorist incident apparently are not immune from disbelief.
Not long ago a U.S. midwestern university professor asked one army unit to enact a terrorist-hostage incident with him. The professor and mock hostages were put into an unused airfield control tower. Then the soldiers attacked, storming fn through air vents. They grabbed the chief “terrorist” and, while the professor nearly fainted in horror, put a gun to his head and fired off a blank cartridge. “That’ll teach them to fool with us,” roared the officer in charge.
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