Swiss triumph in embassy rescue gives way to anticlimactic questions
This picturesque capital city is still enveloped in a warm, triumphant glow following last week's dramatic police rescue of hostages held in the besieged Polish Embassy.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Yet an anticlimax is already setting in, revealing a number of troubling questions.
The most worrying question for Swiss government officials is: How were four heavily armed gunmen able to stroll into an embassy which is supposedly guarded round the clock?
The Bern police force only numbers 390. And among their many other duties they have to guard no less than 73 diplomatic missions. As a first mark of concern the city council decided to increase the force to 440.
Furthermore, despite the efficiency with which the police stormed the embassy , they were all members of the normal city police force. True, they had had special anti-terrorist training; but this week, as a government official points out, they could well be back on traffic duty again.
Unlike the Israelis, Americans, British, West Germans, or Austrians, the Swiss have no special federal anti-terrorist squad - a point that was underlined by the Swiss justice minister Sept. 9 at an otherwise jubilant press conference.
The lack of such a force prompted speculation that other countries had offered help and even dispatched experts. One of the most unlikely offers came from Poland. It emerged that a special force had been dispatched from Warsaw to help lift the siege but been turned back at Zurich.
The Polish offer clearly nettled Swiss officials. One said it had been rejected ''as a matter of principle.''
Switzerland has had several brushes with terrorism. In recent months Armenians have exploded at least 10 bombs in Geneva alone. But when Justice Minister Kurt Furgler proposed the creation of a 1,300 man anti-terrorist force four years ago, the idea was resoundingly rejected in a nationwide referendum.
Many apparently felt such a force could be used to put down legitimate demonstrations. Others felt that Mr. Furgler - easily the most charismatic member of the seven-man Swiss Federal Council, or cabinet - was empire-building. Last week's embassy drama now may give fresh impetus to the creation of such a force.
At present each canton has responsibility for its own police force. There is intense rivalry between the cantons - particularly those in French- and German-speaking Switzerland. Some of the smaller cantons like Grisons and Uri have almost no traffic police, let alone anti-terrorist specialists.
What, asked one government official here, if terrorists were to seize a nuclear plant in one of them?
Equally troubling is the way that the four gunmen were able to crisscross West Europe with impunity before reaching Switzerland. Florian Kruszyk, the leader of the gang, is now believed to have served in the Polish secret service from 1962 to 1965.
It wasn't until the night of Sept. 8, when the siege had lasted 65 hours, that Justice Minister Furgler was told of Kruszyk's identity.
''We then decided that it was too dangerous to continue negotiations,'' he said. The elaborate plans for storming the embassy were then put into motion.