Bombings point to change in European terrorists' tactics
Recent bombings in Belgium and West Germany represent a new strategy adopted by left-wing terrorists in Western Europe in recent years, according to many analysts. In the 1970s, terrorist groups such as the Bader-Meinhoff gang in West Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy tended to single out for kidnapping and murder individual industrialists, bankers, and government leaders as symbols of ``the evil capitalist system'' and the West's ``destructive'' military-industrial complex.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, however, while the aims and philosophies of left-wing terrorists operating in Western Europe remain the same, their tactics and targets have changed.
``Clearly, in the past three or four years or so, there has been a general shift toward a more random type of terrorism less focused on individuals,'' says Dany Wijgaerts, a sociologist at the Free University of Brussels.
Last week, when President Reagan was meeting with NATO leaders here, a bomb exploded across town in the offices of Motorola, anAmerican electronics firm. The bomb caused considerable damage but no injuries.
The attack was the 25th in Belgium to be claimed by a shadowy Marxist organization known as the Cellules Communistes Combattantes (fighting communist cells) since October 1984.
Last Sunday, 35 persons (almost all of them Americans) were injured by a car-bomb blast at a busy US military store in Frankfurt. In this case, too, no individuals appear to have been singled out by the terrorists. And last August, another car bomb randomly killed two Americans and injured 20 others at Rhein-Main Air Base, also in Frankfurt.
Both attacks are thought to have been the work of the Red Army Faction, a direct ``descendent'' of the Bader-Meinhoff gang. It has allegedly masterminded more than 200 terrorist attacks in West Germany over the past year.
Yet Professor Wijgaerts and other analysts do not believe that the new, random tactics adopted by the terrorists necessarily signal a shift in long-term strategy.
For the fighting communist cells, kidnapping and murder may simply be ``beyond the logistical capabilities'' of such a small organization ``at the present time,'' Wijgaerts says. ``But I have no doubt that their campaign could escalate as their means improve,'' he added. For the Red Army Faction in West Germany, the shift may reflect nothing more than a change in the ``internal dynamics'' of the organization, he says.
One analyst, who declined to be identified, said that the spectacular 1970s-style terrorist campaigns allowed the police ample opportunity to identify and capture terrorists, whereas recent bombing attacks have attracted considerable media attention while leaving the terrorists less open to discovery.
Professor Wijgaerts agrees, adding that tactics that enable the terrorists to elude capture keep the terrorists -- and not the police -- ``in the driver's seat.''
The new tactics have succeeded in keeping the terrorists on the loose. No one is being held, for example, in connection with the fighting communist cells' campaign of terror. There are few leads in other terrorist cases in West Germany, France, or other countries that have been hit by the new wave of terrorist violence.
The irony is that this terrorist ``success'' has come at a time when cooperation among West European police forces has never been closer.