Return of the Red Army Faction

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West Germany's leftist urban guerrillas ambush a U.S. general

As the commander of the 200,000-strong U.S. Army forces in Europe, General Frederick J. Kroesen, 58, knew he had become a prime target in the anti-American campaign waged by West German terrorists. Barely a month ago, the mild-mannered general finally heeded pleas by West German police to exchange his American limousine for an armor-plated Mercedes.

That act of precaution saved Kroesen's life. As he was being driven to his headquarters in Heidelberg one morning last week, the green, unmarked limousine rolled up to a red traffic light beside the Neckar River, less than a mile from his office. Kroesen was in back with his wife Rowene.

A West German police driver and the general's aide, Major Philip E. Bodine, occupied the front seats. Just before the car came to a stop, an explosion shook the rear of the Mercedes, spewing glass inside.

A Soviet-made antitank grenade, fired from a rocket launcher, had smashed into the trunk, splintering the inch-thick, shatterproof rear window. Then several rounds of small-arms fire were heard. Said Kroesen later: "When I saw that all the legs and arms were in the right places, and the driver found the car would start, we took off."

With drawn weapons, Kroesen's West German military police escort charged toward the source of the attack, a heavily wooded hillside 200 yds. away. Eyewitnesses said they saw a man running from the scene, but police found only an abandoned campsite with a small tent, sleeping bags, canned food and a powerful radio transmitter, all evidence of a carefully planned operation. Whoever scored on the Mercedes with a grenade at that distance was a good shot with a lot of practice, according to police. Had Kroesen not been protected by the car's armor plating, he and the other occupants would certainly have been killed. As it turned out, the general and his wife received only minor cuts from the broken glass, and the others were unscathed.

The attack was the tenth on U.S. personnel and property in West Germany this year, and the fourth in the past month. The bloodiest came three weeks ago at Ramstein Air Base, the U.S. Air Force's European headquarters, where a bomb blast wounded 20 people. "I don't know who is responsible, but I do know there is a group that said they had declared war on us," said General Kroesen. "I'm beginning to believe it." Specifically, the general was referring to the Red Army Faction, the terrorist group founded by Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhoff, which flourished in the 1970s. Confirmation came the next day when the Frankfurt Rundschau, a left-of-center daily, received a three-page type written letter explaining in turgid jargon that Kroesen had been attacked "because he is one of the U.S. generals who effectively hold in their hands the imperialist policy from Western Europe to the [Persian] Gulf."

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