Return of the Red Army Faction

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The brutal re-emergence of the Red Army Faction shook West German authorities out of the complacent belief that the nation's leftist terrorism had largely been brought under control. From a peak of 150 hard-core members four years ago, the Red Army Faction has dwindled to about 30 as a result of arrests, deaths in clashes with police and desertions from the cause. Despite their limited numbers, say West German officials, the terrorists want to exploit the wave of protest against the NATO decision to deploy U.S. medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe.

For Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's government, the upsurge of a terrorist campaign directed against his nation's major ally was a diplomatic as well as a security danger. "These acts of violence are not only attacks against our American allies," said a government statement, "but just as much against our own security and freedom." At stake, it continued, was "the political value and reputation of the Federal Republic."

The attack on General Kroesen clearly seemed to be linked to the huge anti-American demonstration two days earlier in West Berlin that protested the visit of Secretary of State Alexander Haig. "The growth of anti-American rhetoric here is an irreversible invitation to further action of this kind," commented the prestigious Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, which predicted that terrorist acts would continue. Indeed, one day after Kroesen's escape, two explosive devices were found on a rail spur leading to the U.S. Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt. Said a police officer: "They would have blown up a train if it had passed."

The terrorists are unlikely to gain many followers among the pacifist adherents of West Germany's peace movement, although there is a risk that some might become sympathizers. Kroesen did his best to avoid additional fraying of U.S.—West German relations because of the incident. "I know too many German people and too much about the German character," he said, "to think that there would be support for what we call a back shooter." —By Frederick Painton. Reported by Roland Flamini/Bonn

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