Germany and France: contrasting public responses to terrorism

West Germany has never before faced the kind of anarchic Middle East terrorism it is now experiencing. Germany faced a surge of home-grown terrorism in the late 1970s. But the current dilemma is more complicated, with two West German businessmen being held hostage to the treatment of Muhammad Ali Hamadei, a Lebanese terrorist suspect arrested in Frankfurt.

Bonn has given no clues about whether it believes a matter of principle is involved in not yielding to terrorists in order not to encourage more hostage-taking - or whether it hopes the shock of the experience of the businessmen would deter other Germans from traveling to Lebanon and possibly falling hostage in the future.

Police searches go on unabated, and last week netted Mr. Hamadei's brother as well as a small depot of high explosives that the brother told interrogators about.

The current news blackout extends far beyond policy matters to cover all but the barest facts about the dispatch of a diplomatic troubleshooter to Iran. Nothing has been revealed about the whereabouts or condition of the hostages - or how much the government knows about these details - beyond the fact that the first letters from the hostages were received by the government and the families a few days ago.

Aware that terrorists thrive on publicity, the West German press and public basically respect both the government blackout on news and also the privacy of the hostages' families. There are no angry editorials denouncing the blackout. There are no nightly TV updates and no yellow ribbons.

Past West German conduct in hostage situations provides little indication on how the government will proceed in this case. When West Berlin mayoral candidate Peter Lorenz was kidnapped by left anarchists a decade ago, the federal government released imprisoned terrorist suspects to get Mr. Lorenz back. It decided this was a mistake when those released later participated in a bloody siege of the West German Embassy in Stockholm.

As a result, when industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer was kidnapped and a Lufthansa plane was hijacked in 1977, Bonn refused to free, as demanded, convicted members of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Instead, it sent commandos to storm the hijacked plane in Somalia. It thus saved the Lufthansa passengers, and it put up with the death of Mr. Schleyer that it knew would follow.

What does seem clear now - despite the lack of pronouncements about government intentions - is that the Lebanese suspect, Muhammad Ali Hamadei, will be tried for crimes in West German courts and will not be extradited soon, if ever, to the US to stand trial for the hijacking of a TWA airliner in 1985.

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