Urban terrorism has returned to Western Europe, with its perpetrators this time taking aim at new targets and pledging to strengthen cross-border cooperation. National government and NATO officials are not panicking. ``We'll cope,'' says one investigator here.
But concern clearly runs deep in government and military circles, as well as among the public at large.
Today's terrorists, mostly claiming to fight for leftist causes, have struck where their forerunners caused havoc a decade ago, mainly in West Germany and Italy. But they have also hit out in countries previously spared organized terror, such as France and Belgium.
The newest target: the Western world's defense community, specifically installations, personnel, and suppliers connected with the Brussels-based North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The number of attacks against NATO targets has increased dramatically over the past four months. Earlier this month, two well-known guerrilla groups -- Direct Action in France and the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof Gang) in West Germany -- announced that they were forming a political-military front in Western Europe with NATO as its main target.
This disturbing sign of stepped-up cooperation among terrorist groups in different countries was followed by news this week that the explosives used by Direct Action in a failed attack in Paris last summer were of the same type as those employed by the Red Army Faction in the attempted bombing of a NATO officers' school in West Germany on Dec. 18.
This same type of explosive had also been used in six bomb attacks against NATO fuel pipelines in Belgium nine days earlier by the newest self-proclaimed leftist group to appear on the terrorist scene, the Fighting Communist Cells. All the explosives were reportedly stolen in southern Belgium last June.
``It's the first piece of concrete evidence we've had in a long time that the different groups are working together,'' says one investigator. He notes that previous reports of links between various guerrilla groups in Western Europe were based more on suspicion than fact.
New evidence of closer links also came this month when the the Fighting Communist Cells, which launched a series of bomb attacks against NATO-related targets in Belgium last October, said in a communiqu'e:
``We dedicate our attack [against the administrative headquarters of the US military in Belgium on Jan. 15] to the fighters of the Red Army Faction who struggle today in a collective hunger strike against their conditions of detention/extermination in special prisons.''
Nearly 40 suspected and convicted Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorists have been on hunger strike in West German jails since last month.
Since mid-December more than 40 bomb and arson incidents have been investigated by West German police -- at least 20 of them strongly believed to have been the work of the RAF, including seven against US installations. The rest were directed at French diplomatic buildings, British barracks, and large West German industrial plants.
Security authorities reportedly have tightened security around likely human targets such as senior NATO officers, judges, lawyers, and leading businessmen.
Unlike the terrorist groups of the 1970s, however, the born-again violence-wreakers of the mid-1980s so far have been content for the most part to wreck property and to leave human beings alone. The RAF's predecessor, the Baader-Mainhof Gang, claimed responsibility for killing a number of victims, including West German business leader Hanns-Martin Schleyer and Dresdner Bank chief Jurgen Ponto.
The exception to the current tendency to avoid killing people is Italy, where attacks against human life by both the extreme left and extreme right have continued almost unabated since the days of the now-infamous Red Brigades in the late 1960s and 1970s.
France's Direct Action group came to prominence in 1980 with a series of bomb attacks against government buildings. It has also struck out against rightists and Israelis.
Last year, Direct Action indicated that it could be making a change in tactics when it tried (unsuccessfully) to bomb the Paris offices of the Western European Union (WEU) -- a long-moribund organization of several European countries now being brought to life as a forum for discussing the strengthening of West European defense.
Announcing the formation of a joint ``political-military front'' earlier this month, the RAF and Direct Action said specifically that they had joined forces in order to more effectively fight ``NATO's new politics'' and other Western defense-related activities, including the deployment of new US cruise and Pershing II nuclear missiles in Western Europe.
From the start, the Fighting Communist Cells, which has carried out bomb attacks in Belgium on nine separate occasions since it first became known last October, has left no doubt that its main goal would be to terrorize NATO-related targets.
It singled out Belgium for an ``armed political-military struggle.'' It said this was because Belgium has a ``limited but central place'' in the ``imperialist military machine,'' as evidenced by NATO's decision to locate both its political and military headquarters on Belgian soil.
Until its latest attack, on Jan. 15, the Belgian group avoided tactics such as kidnappings and bombings, which have the potential of injuring or killing human beings. All its work was done in pre-dawn hours or far from populated areas. But now the Fighting Communist Cells has vowed to change that.
A communiqu'e signed by the group and found after the Jan. 15 bombing of the administrative headquarters of the US military in Brussels warned that future actions could ``kill Yankee military and their accomplices. . . . Human life is not an absolute in itself, a mysterious value. It holds no sacred character for us.''
The group's latest bombing, in fact, which caused an estimated $500,000 in property damage, did slightly injure a US military policeman guarding the building and appeared calculated to kill him and his fellow guard on duty the night of the bombing.
``We're taking this new threat very seriously,'' said a Belgian Justice Ministry official.
The difficulty, if not impossibility, of tracking down small bands of terrorists who strike and then disappear underground until their next attack has been underscored by Belgium's failure to turn up concrete leads (except those stolen explosives used by the Fighting Communist Cells and groups in France and West Germany) since the Belgian group surfaced for the first time nearly four months ago.
Even NATO security officials here have become impatient with the Belgian police, who protect the perimeter of the organization's sprawling headquarters just outside Brussels.
``We'd feel a little more comfortable if we had more information,'' said one official.
After the Fighting Communist Cells' first bombing last October, the Belgian Justice Ministry beefed up the country's antiterrorist squad. Some 250 policemen will be hired this year to help fight terrorism. But Justice Minister Jean Gol has been left empty-handed in the struggle, issuing statements calling for greater cooperation among European countries to fight terrorism but having little to show as an example of how to do it.
A grim reminder that terrorism in Western Europe is not limited to left-wing, or even right-wing, groups but can cover the whole spectrum of causes and ideas -- anti-British (IRA), anti-Semitic, anti-Palestinian, anti-Spanish (Basques), anti-Turk (Armenians) -- came earlier this month when Belgium's intelligence services learned that a possible suicide bomb attack was being planned by the Islamic fundamentalist group, Islamic Jihad, against undisclosed targets in Belgium.
Some 1,500 police were put on full alert for nearly a week, and security was tightened at Western and some Middle Eastern embassies, NATO headquarters, and most government installations.
The plot, which was apparently foiled, was also a reminder that isolated acts of terrorism can be prevented.
Perhaps the best example of that came only last month when Swiss and Italian antiterrorist squads joined forces to squash a plan to destroy the US Embassy in Rome -- a plot also reportedly being hatched by the Islamic Jihad.
The combined counter-terrorist operation began when Swiss police found several explosive devices in the suitcase of a Lebanese national changing planes in Zurich on his way to Rome.
The Swiss police alerted the Italian secret service. As a result, in a predawn raid on two apartments northwest of Rome, the Italian security services were able to round up seven young Lebanese students.
US officials found out about the plot only after the raid had taken place. Later, the American Ambassador to Italy, Maxwell Rabb, paid a call on Rome's police chief to express his gratitude. ``Your country,'' he said, ``has again demonstrated that it is in the vanguard of the fight against subversive elements that stain the world with blood.'' Table: Six-month tally of Euroterrorism June 1984: Explosives stolen from Ecaussines quarry near Brussels. July 14: French Ministry of Industry bombed. Aug. 2: European Space Agency headquarters in Paris bombed. Aug. 14: West German helicopter carrying federal prosecutor fired on. Aug. 23: Unexploded car-bomb discovered outside Western European Union in Paris. Oct. 3: Brussels office of Litton Industries bombed. Oct. 4: Brussels subsidiary of West German M.A.N./Volkswagen plant bombed. Oct. 8: Brussels office of Honeywell bombed. Oct. 15: Brussels study center of Belgian Liberal Party bombed. Oct. 15: Ghent, Belgium, offices of Flemish Social Christian Party bombed. Oct. 18: School bombed in Kassel, West Germany. Nov. 5: Car-bomb defused outside Brussels police station. Nov. 26: Communications pylons blown up outside air base near Brussels. Nov. 27: Plot foiled to blow up US Embassy in Rome. Dec. 11: Six bomb attacks on NATO fuel pipelines in Belgium. Dec. 18: Bomb defused at NATO officers' school in Oberammergau, West Germany. Dec. 23: Bombing of Rome-Milan express train. Dec. 29: Bomb defused outside US Air Force base in Wiesbaden, West Germany. Dec. 30: Bomb damages US Army intelligence building in D"usseldorf, West Germany. Dec. 31: French Embassy in Bonn bombed. Jan. 3, 1985: US consul's home firebombed in Frankfurt, West Germany Jan. 5: West German-bound train halted near Amsterdam by 25 terrorists and spray-painted with slogans. Jan. 7: Bomb explodes near NATO fuel pipeline in Karlsruhe, West Germany. Jan. 9: Italian policeman killed in Tor Vaianica, Italy. Jan. 15: Car-bombing of US Army community center in Brussels. Jan. 20: Stuttgart computer center bombed.