French police deal severe blow to terrorists

The mass arrests last week in France of two major suspected French and Italian terrorist groups indicate the growing extent to which European governments have joined forces in combating terrorism -- without entering a formal agreement.

Although analysts consider it unlikely that terrorists in Europe are operating as part of a tightly knit network controlled by a single unified command, there has been a definite overlap in activities among certain groups.

Financing and training has in some cases come from abroad. At the height of their activities during the mid 1970s, members of the Baader-Meinhof gang (also known as the Rote Armee Fraktion) in West Germany were known to have had close affiliations with Palestinian guerrilla groups. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland has reportedly received some of its funds and weapons from Libya.

With such groups as the Red Brigades in Italy, the Euzkadi ta Azkatasuna (ETA) in spain's Basque country and the National Liberation Front in Corsica threatening internal stability, Western European governments haved moved toward close cooperation in their anti-terrorist operations.

In December 1977, following an increase in bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations, particularly in West Germany and Italy, French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing called for "European legal space" in anti-terrorist measures prior to the European Community (EC) summit conference in Dublin.

Regarded as a serious threat to democracy, European leaders felt terrorism could become contagious unless quick, effective action was taken. In France, for example, terrorist activities had jumped from about 100 a year in the early 1970s to over 600 in 1978.

EC governments therefore tacitly agreed to cooperate and treat terrorists as criminals rather than political agitators. Terrorism, they said, should be defined as any violent act ranging from bomb attacks, to diplomatic kidnappings, to airplane hijackings.

But the lifting of border restrictions under original EC regulations only created later difficulties for police in their attempts to control terrorist movements across frontiers. Travelers taking automobile and train routes from West Germany to France, for example, normally only undergo perfunctory controls.

However, during the height of the Hanns-Martin Schleyer affair, when the West German industrialist was kidnapped in 1977 and later murdered by the Baader Meinhof Gang, border controls were severely tightened.

French, Swiss, and Belgian police also cooperated with the West Germans by posting wanted photographs of the terrorists in public buildings. Since the rise in terrorist attacks, ministers of different countries have been meeting discreetly to discuss anti-terrorist measures. National police forces have also made their computer files available to each other.

In France, there is still confusion, although it seems unlikely that last week's capture of 19 French and 4 Italian suspected terrorists is related. French police, with the cooperation of special Italian officials, refuse so far to disclose the nature of interrogations with suspects.

The French first moved against the suspects when they arrested two Frenchmen, alleged members of the Action Directe terrorist group, as they boarded a plane at Orly Airport March 27.

French Minister of Justice Alain Peyrefitte was on the same plane traveling to the French Island of La Reunion. The police, who had been staking out the two suspects, would have preferred to observe the alleged terrorists longer, but felt they could not take the risk in allowing them to travel with the minister.

With the whistle blown, Paris police then swooped against other suspected members of Action Directe responsible for at least 12 terrorist attacks in France since May 1979. The arrests included four Italians in a villa near Toulon in southern France. One of them, Franco Pinna, a member of the Red Brigades, is thought to have been behind the kidnapping and murder of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1979.

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