Trap shut on top German rebels

Five years of police effort - and the wanderings of a mushroom fancier - led to the capture of three most-wanted terrorist suspects in West Germany this week , Monitor correspondent Elizabeth Pond reports.

The anonymous mushroom collector stumbled onto a major cache of weapons and documents of the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof gang) in a wood near Frankfurt last month and notified authorities. Policemen and members of the special antiterrorist squad GSG-9 then staked out the site, which police have described as the gang's ''central depot.'' A week ago prime suspects Adelheid Schulz and Brigitte Mohnhaupt were seized there, without bloodshed.

A coded list of other caches found at the Frankfurt site was deciphered, and at least one of these was also staked out. Christian Klar, described by federal prosecutor Kurt Rebmann as ''the most dangerous man'' in the country, then walked into exactly the same kind of trap, near Hamburg, on Tuesday. Although he was armed, he was overpowered before he could shoot.

The capture of this leadership trio has dealt the gang a ''catastrophic blow, '' Mr. Rebmann said. Only Inge Viett, the fourth of the four most-wanted terrorist suspects, is still at large. But Mr. Rebmann warned that the base of sympathizers and logistics to support further terrorist acts still exists. Police add that 18 of the gang's core remain at large.

Also still at large are the Revolutionary Cells, a once-independent leftist anarchist terror organization that has coordinated its planning with the Baader-Meinhof gang in recent years. Many of the bombings in US military compounds in West Germany in the past year are attributed to the Revolutionary Cells.

Found in the Frankfurt cache were weapons and explosives including those identified as having been used in the Ponto, Buback, and Schleyer murders; more than 350 forged identity papers, including Swiss and British passports; stolen money; and notes indicating plans for future major operations.

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