Startled by the recent wave of neo-fascist and extreme right-wing terrorist bombings in several countries, Western Europe is increasingly alarmed that they represent the work of an international network.
European authorities and the press have for years been aware of the existence of neo-Nazi or right-wing paramilitary organizations, but these were generally dismissed as lunatic- fringe cranks.
Bombings in recent weeks, however, have focused new attention on previously known connections among such groups in Europe, connections extending even to the United States in what has been termed a "black international."
European experts are unsure why these bands have turned to the type of wanton violence displayed in the recent Bologna, Munich, and Paris bombings. But they tend to attribute this wave of terrorism to a combination of frustration at their inability to gain public support with a new boldness stemming from general economic decline, growing influence of right-wing intellectuals, and examples set by left- wing terrorists.
It is no secret that these groups have been active even as they maintained a shadowy existence beyond the fringe of normal political life. They were seen as the heirs of the Nazi and fascist eras, of the secret Army Organization during the French Algerian War, and of the upsurge in violence since the left-wing and student disturbances of 1968. They include the National Front in Britain, the Defense Sport Group headed by Karl-Heinz Hoffmann in West Germany, the European Nationalist Action Federation in France, and the Flemish Military Order in Belgium. They go by a myriad of other names as well, and their presence extends into other European countries.
Although the groups were periodically blamed for plotting and fomenting violence -- including an aborted coup in Italy a few years ago -- they operate in a relatively unhampered twilight zone.
It is Western Europe's general soul-searching and recrimination in the aftermath of the recent bombings that is prompting a longer look at possible connections among the groups and their relationships with authorities.
The groups have not tried to hide their emotional meetings and torch-light ceremonies.Some of these meetings have included representatives of the American Nazi Party or the Ku Klux Klan. There have been frequent reports that the groups undergo military-type training with the Hoffmann group in bavaria, the Flemish group in the belgian Ardennes, or in spain. Although most of the outfits hold their training sessions clandestinely, the Hoffmann organization has held some of its maneuvers before television crews, complete with tanks and other sophisticated equipment involved in firefights.
Public opinion polls show Europeans are disturbed by allegations that some of the groups enjoy the support of police and political figures. A number of officials have been implicated in cover-ups following the aborted Italian coup, a 1969 bank bombing in Milan, and other incidents.
Some reports allege involvement of the US Central Intelligence Agency and Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi. These have never been proven.
But a French police inspector, Paul-Louis Durand, admitted having numerous right-wing contacts following a bombing in Bologna last August. His contacts included some of the suspects in the bombing.
The Bavarian Interior Ministry has noted that neo-Nazi leader Karl-Heinz Hoffmann visited Damascus, Syria, in July. Others say there is information linking his group with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and East German intelligence agencies.
Similar charges were made again recently in Europe by Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who also saw "a certain connection" between European support for the PLO in its recent diplomatic efforts in the Middle East and the upsurge of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Henri Buch, secretary-general of a French policemen's union, said after the Oct. 3 bombing of a Paris synagogue that Interior Minister Christian Bonnet had a list that identifies 30 French police officers as members of the outlawed European National Action Federation. However, it was later said that some, if not all, were police infiltrators of the neo-Nazi group.
While many such reports in weeks -- and years -- have been unconfirmed, the accumulation of evidence and rumors is causing considerable concern in Europe. The Paris daily Le Monde downplayed the possibility of a widespread conspiracy or "black international," following bombings in Bologna, Munich, and Paris, yet it inquired. "How is it still possible to believe that these are isolated acts without any connection . . .?"