The bomb that killed two and injured 17 at the key US Rhine-Main Air Base yesterday represents an escalation in recent terror in West Germany. It shows that (presumed) left-wing urban guerrillas have sufficiently revived from the arrests of their ringleaders in recent years to organize attacks on well-defended military targets, and not just on ``soft'' targets like unprotected businessmen and commercial offices.
Yesterday's incident is distinguished from the 30-odd bomb and arson attacks last December and January, in which one weapons-manufacturing executive was murdered at his home in Munich and numerous buildings were heavily damaged in West Germany, Belgium, and France.
In that period electronics, chemical, and other firms were attacked, along with US and NATO military installations. The rudiments of a new ``Euroterrorism'' were also laid, as evidenced in the use of explosives stolen in Belgium for bombings in West Germany and in statements made by West German and French terrorist groups.
As of this writing, no group had claimed responsibility for the air base explosion, according to spokesman Sgt. Michael Bowers at the Rhine-Main Air Base. Sgt. Bowers did not have information about the origin of the bomb, which was placed in a parked car with false US military plates.
But the choice of target has led West German Federal Prosecutor Kurt Rebmann to name the Red Army Faction as the likely perpetrator.
Ever since the early 1980s controversy over NATO's planned stationing of new American Euromissiles in Western Europe, US and NATO military buildings and pipelines have been the prime target of the left-anarchist Red Army Faction, or Baader-Meinhof gang, as it was known.
The arrest of faction leaders Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Christian Klar in 1982 -- and the pair's subsequent sentencing for complicity in three murders in 1977 -- gave rise to some hope that the organization might have been decapitated. Lower-level urban guerrillas continued to operate, however, and were able to mount the flurry of attacks at year's end in support of a hunger strike by jailed Red Army Faction members.
But even this surge displayed some signs of amateurishness: One would-be bomber apparently blew himself up in a premature explosion eight months ago; a bomb was discovered and defused before it went off at a NATO school in the same period.
Yesterday's attack on the Rhine-Main Air Base, by contrast, was carried out with a professionalism reminiscent of the heyday of the Red Army Faction in the late 1970s.
West German law-enforcement authorities do not believe that the group currently has the logistical strength to match, say, the 1977 murder of three public figures and coordination of a plane hijacking with the kidnapping of one of the three victims. But they take seriously the group's apparent recovery despite the jailing of several leaders. The federal Bundeskriminalamt (roughly equivalent to the FBI) has taken over the Rhine-Main investigation.
The Red Army Faction was a violent fringe movement that grew out of the 1968 youth revolt against elders and against the 1960s involvement of the US in Vietnam. Its original stated aim was to goad the West German state into repressive measures -- not only against terrorists, but also against citizens in general -- in order to turn citizens against the political system. West Germans were, however, repelled by this terrorism. The original Red Army Faction obsession with violence has deteriorated into lit tle more than an expression of rage.
The Rhine-Main Air Base, the crucial logistics node for any American military operations in West Germany, is the headquarters of the 435th Tactical Airlift Wing. The base's runways are contiguous to the Frankfurt civilian airport, where a terrorist bomb of unknown origin killed three people in mid-June.
Previous attacks on American military targets in West Germany included the attempted murder of Gen. Frederick Kroesen in 1981. In another incident yesterday, an arson attempt against the US Information Agency's Amerika Haus in Hamburg was reportedly foiled.