In the memory of many West Germans, the 45 days remain engraved as the greatest challenge ever mounted against their nation’s postwar democracy. But a decade after leftist gunmen kidnapped West German industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer—igniting a chain of events that included the hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner, the suicide of three leaders of the notorious Baader-Meinhof gang in a highsecurity prison and, finally, the murder of Schleyer—West Germany seems prepared to make peace with its urban guerrillas. The environmentalist opposition Green party has called for an early release of repentant terrorists in jail. And the West German security service has publicly hinted that it could reduce or dismiss charges against terrorists still at large if they surrender.
Terrorism in West Germany did not cease with the traumatic events of September and October, 1977. But with most of the major terrorists of the 1970s either dead or in prison, the active core of the Red Army Faction (RAF), successor to the Baader-Meinhof gang, has shrunk to about 20 members. They remain dangerous—but police and the public now generally perceive them as less of a threat than they were a decade ago. Meanwhile, some of the 50odd urban guerrillas sentenced to long jail terms in the 1970s have earned early release by publicly repenting for their misdeeds. And West German authorities, having failed to root out the RAF desperados still at large, have switched to friendly persuasion.
In an interview with the radical Frankfurt magazine Pflasterstrand, an unidentified senior counterintelligence officer said that there was “no insurmountable hurdle” standing in the way of terrorists who wanted to give up. “We are convinced that many who went underground later regretted their decision to do so,” he added. But no fugitives have come forward—and some policemen are clearly concerned that the new approach could lull West Germans into a false sense of security. Said Heinrich Boge, head of the German federal police: “We must remain on our guard. The risk is still too great.” Indeed, during a Nov. 2 demonstration by 200 environmental activists in Frankfurt, masked gunmen suddenly opened fire on security forces, killing two and wounding nine others. It was the first-ever death of policemen in a West German demonstration. But the authorities were quick to absolve leftist terrorists, instead blaming the incident on militant anarchists. Still, many analysts say that there is a clear connection between that incident and the urban guerrillas who held Germany to ransom a decade ago. Declared one terrorism expert: “The Frankfurt clash has brought a new quality of violence to West Germany, but it was the Baader-Meinhof and the Red Army Faction that created the climate for it to happen. Their legacy will continue to plague Germany long after the last RAF man gives up the fight.”
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