Behind the new terrorist surge. Attackers seek to take advantage of Pan Am hijacking publicity
With the end of summer a season of terrorist bombings has begun in Western Europe. September has seen two explosions in West Germany and four attacks carried out or attempted in France. The groups behind the surge undoubtedly have complex motives, but one thing driving them may be a desire to strike while world memory of the Pan American World Airways hijack tragedy in Pakistan is fresh.
``You get a publicity multiplier effect. If you just bombed Cologne in the absence of other terrorism, you wouldn't get as much attention,'' says Robert Kupperman, a terrorism expert at the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). This may be particularly true of the German attacks, which appear to have been the work of the urban terror group Red Army Faction.
The faction is mainly an organization of European youth committed to violence against the NATO defense infrastructure. The recent bombs fit this target pattern: The first, on Sept. 8, blew the front off a West German counterintelligence office in Cologne; the second, on Monday, did extensive damage to a Munich factory owned by a company that produces NATO's Tornado jet fighter.
A typewritten note found after the first attack demanded the release of G"unther Sonnenberg, a Red Army Faction member now serving a life sentence for terrorist acts. The Cologne bomb itself was hidden in a car, then detonated by a long wire, a technique used in previous faction attacks.
The Paris bombings that have so upset the city's traditional elegant composure appear to be of an entirely different character. Investigators have linked them to a series of attacks that began nine months ago and may be organized by allies of a Lebanese leftist, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, who is now in a French jail awaiting trial. (There was an explosion in a Paris restaurant yesterday, but officials said it most likely an accident.)
Among other things, Mr. Abdallah has been implicated in the 1982 murder of Col. Charles Ray, a United States military attach'e in Paris. Allegedly the Czech-made automatic pistol used to shoot Ray was found in Abdallah's apartment.
In the early 1980s Abdallah apparently led a terror group called the Lebanese Armed Revolution Faction, made up mainly of leftist Christians from north Lebanon. But US terrorism experts say they have never thought of Abdallah as a particularly important member of the shadowy terrorist network.
``I've never seen his name associated with that of the big-time players,'' says Shoshana Bryen, of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
A group calling itself the Committee for Solidarity with Arab Political Prisoners now purports to have adopted Abdallah's cause. Between December and March of last year this group carried out a series of Paris attacks, calling for his release. The attacks stopped during the summer, perhaps because the group felt its point had been made and the new government of conservative Prime Minister Jacques Chirac would negotiate.
But no deal developed, and now there have been four bombings in quick succession, including an audacious one in the headquarters of the Paris police.
US experts have various interpretations of the continuing campaign. One is that things are as they seem to be, and Abdallah is the linchpin. No one had heard of the Committee for Solidarity before these attacks, but it is not unusual for old groups to adopt a new ``command name'' for a series of operations.
``It's conceivable that here you have a guy with 10 or 15 loyal friends trying to get him out of jail,'' says Mrs. Bryen.
If this is the case, the group has made a grave strategic error, say a number of US analysts. In the face of the recent campaign, there is next to no chance Prime Minister Chirac would so obviously cave in to terrorist demands, they add.
But if this is a group of 10 or 15 friends, they are extremely well organized for a small cell, points out Bryen. In the latest attack they managed to smuggle 4 pounds of explosives past a security checkpoint, plant the bomb under a bench, and walk out of the building.
This leads to speculation about a second possibility -- namely, that the ``Committee for Solidarity'' is backed by a large organization such as the PLO -- or Libya.
``There are a number of people in the intelligence community who feel this is Libya trying to get even,'' says Dr. Kupperman of CSIS. The fact that the bomb targets are not US-related is evidence against this possibility. Still, the attacks could be warnings to France not to go along with new US efforts for economic sanctions against Libya.