TERRORISM: Murder on the Milk Train

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Early last Tuesday morning, six men carrying machine guns, a pistol and a hunting rifle boarded a four-car electric "milk train" at the Dutch town of Assen. Shortly after it left Beilen, ten miles away, the terrorists stopped the train and seized the passengers as hostages. As police and Dutch soldiers ringed the captive train, another group of terrorists struck in Amsterdam, forcing their way into the Indonesian consulate and taking 41 more hostages, including 16 children. By week's end the terrorists had murdered three people aboard the train, and four more had been wounded in the raid on the consulate.

Europe by now has become accustomed to random acts of violence by terrorists, ranging from Basque extremists to Irish Republican Army gunmen to Palestinian guerrillas. But the perpetrators of last week's outrage—as well as their cause—were little known outside The Netherlands. The terrorists were Indonesians from the South Molucca islands in the Pacific Ocean, and they were demanding that the Dutch help them gain independence from the Jakarta regime.

The kidnapings, and the subsequent cold-blooded murders, virtually paralyzed The Netherlands. While the Cabinet met in emergency sessions, television and radio stations suspended normal programming in favor of solemn music and news bulletins.

Third Day. The Moluccans aboard the captured train warned Dutch authorities that they would kill their passenger-hostages unless a plane was provided to take them to an undisclosed destination. To prove that they meant what they said, the terrorists first threw the body of the locomotive's engineer, who apparently had been killed when the train was seized, onto the tracks. Later, the body of a passenger was tossed out. After nightfall, 14 of the 50-odd hostages managed to run to safety from the rear of the train. The kidnapers stood firm. On the third day of the siege, after a fruitless round of negotiations, another passenger, wearing a yellow shirt and a red tie, was brought to a door of the train. He was shot fatally in the neck and flung onto the railroad bed. Soldiers standing a few hundred yards away openly wept at the cruel sight.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, four people were injured—one of them by terrorist gunfire—when they escaped from a third-floor window at the Indonesian consulate. With police sharpshooters ringing the building, mediators negotiated the release of twelve children, but Dutch authorities refused to discuss the Moluccans' demands until all the children were freed. Justice Minister Andreas van Agt also declared that none of the terrorists would be given safe passage out of the country. At week's end it was clear that the Dutch were determined to play a waiting game with both groups of terrorists, in the hope of wearing down their resistance.

The twin acts of violence were not the first signs of South Moluccan anger. Just before a 1970 visit to The Netherlands by Indonesia's President Suharto, they attacked the Indonesian embassy in The Hague, killing a Dutch policeman. Last week's kidnapings came two days before the Dutch Appeals Court was to rule on prison sentences handed 16 South Moluccans who were implicated in a plot last April to kidnap Queen Juliana and other members of the Royal Family. They planned to storm the palace at Soestdijk after ramming the gates with an armored car.

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