Germany and France: contrasting public responses to terrorism

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

France fears renewed terrorism. The fears stem from last week's decision ordering trials for both accused Lebanese terrorist Georges Ibrahim Abdallah and three members of the French terrorist group Direct Action. Strained relations with Iran add to the tension.

Prime Minister Jacques Chirac met with a special security council late last week for the first time since a wave of terror attacks struck Paris last autumn.

French police believe Mr. Abdallah's supporters were responsible for those bloody bombings. Direct Action claimed responsibility for the November assassination of Renault chief Georges Besse.

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French antiterror policy centers on intricate - critics say appeasement-minded - Mideast diplomacy. While French officials insist that they do not negotiate with terrorist groups, they do acknowledge attempts to woo Iran and Syria.

To satisfy Tehran, the French expelled activists hostile to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini residing here, and paid back some $300 million of a $1 billion loan taken out from the former Shah of Iran's government. Recent reports in the magazine L'Express say the French government has sold arms to Iran.

To satisfy Damascus, Paris refused to follow the British example and break relations after Syrian complicity in last April's attempted El Al bombing in London was established.

Results are limited. The French credit Syria for helping to obtain the release last year of three French hostages held in Beirut. But relations with Iran remain tense. Tehran insists that Paris stop supporting Iraq. The French refuse. After a visit to Paris in January by a high-ranking Iranian diplomat, Prime Minister Chirac said the outlook for better relations with Iran remained bleak.

Along with using diplomacy to fight terrorism, the French are employing controversial police and legal measures. Most non-European Community visitors now need visas to enter the country, troops now reinforce border controls, and suspected terrorists once again are tried before special non-jury courts composed of a panel of seven judges.

These courts, abolished by the socialist government, were revived in January after the case involving the three Direct Action terrorists collapsed because jurors, threatened with retaliation by the defendents, refused to serve.

French toughness remains suspect despite the decision to go ahead with terrorist trials.

Rumors are rampant that French officials negotiated a six-month ``cease-fire'' with Abdallah's followers, presumably on the understanding that he would be tried no later than March - and acquitted.

If true, the French face a nasty no-win solution.

Abdallah's acquittal will leave them accused of giving in to terrorist blackmail. Abdallah's conviction may bring panic back to the Paris streets.

Another test of French resolve concerns imprisoned terrorist Anis Naccache. In 1980, Mr. Naccache attempted to assassinate exiled Iranian leader Shahpur Bakhtiar. Terrorists holding six French hostages in Lebanon demand Naccache's release.

If Chirac pardons Naccache, he again will be accused of caving in. If Naccache stays in jail, French hostages could remain in Lebanon.

Public pressure is constant.

For more than a year now, the nightly news has begun with a reminder that French hostages are being held in Lebanon.

And yet, public opinion is fickle. When the government insisted it would stand tough, polls showed support from a vast majority of Frenchmen.

When the government soon was revealed to be dealing with states supporting terrorism, the public continued to offer support.

Getting results is what counts here, observers say, no matter what methods are used.

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