West German officials are bracing for what some security experts say is a new spate of attacks by urban terrorists. The attempted assassination this week of a West German finance official - linked to the Red Army Faction, a radical group - is a grim reminder of the problem this country still faces in countering such threats.
The attack has stirred a controversy over how West Germany deals with the smouldering remnants of its once-extensive terrorist network.
This week's incident was apparently timed to disrupt the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which began meetings yesterday in West Berlin. The ambushed official, Hans Tietmeyer, is one of West Germany's main representatives at these talks. Mr. Tietmeyer and his driver escaped unharmed.
In recent months, many West German politicians have quietly come out in favor of opening up dialogue with terrorists willing to give up violence. Conservative politicians oppose any form of pardon, arguing that it would send the wrong signal to radicals.
At the center of the debate is President Richard von Weizs"acker. Mr. Weizs"acker is considering a request to pardon two former Red Army Faction members now serving life sentences. Both prisoners have broken ties with the terrorists and say they regret their past actions.
This week's attack has tended to reinforce the position of conservatives - making it politically impossible to launch an effort for pardon in the near future. The attack also raises troubling questions.
The Red Army Faction, which at its peak in the 1970s was thought to involve about 120 hard-core terrorists in West Germany, had staged no violent operations for nearly two years. Only part of this lull has been attributed to the fact that many key terrorists are either dead or in prison.
Some West German experts thought the group was waiting to see whether indirect negotiations with the Bonn government would clear the way for a general pardon, or at least better treatment for terrorists in prison.
They wonder whether the group has given up on such efforts and is planning new attacks.
``There was reason to believe something of this sort was coming,'' says Wilfrid Dissmann, a West German terrorism expert. Statements began circulating as early as this spring - including announcements in the Red Army Faction's underground newspaper.
These announcements indicated that several groups were planning violent actions during the World Bank and IMF meeting.
West Germany has other active terrorist groups in addition to the Red Army Faction. The Rote Zora, for instance, is a group of radical feminists specializing in firebombing clothing stores, which they say exploit third-world garment workers, especially women.
The World Bank and IMF meeting runs through next Thursday, and is a convenient target for many groups opposing the global capitalist economic system, particularly as it relates to the developing world.
The meeting is the largest international economic gathering in postwar West Berlin, attracting an estimated 10,000 officials from 151 countries.
An assortment of left-wing, environmental, and religious groups have vowed to stage peaceful protests during the sessions. This has created a dilemma for West Berlin's police, who worry that such activities could be used as a cover by terrorists.
Berlin is clamped under a blanket of security unlike anything seen there since the war. The city has brought in thousands of police reinforcements from other parts of West Germany.
A letter sent to news agencies after Tuesday's ambush on Tietmeyer didn't refer specifically to the Berlin meeting. It did, however, cite Tietmeyer's role in the international financial system, dubbing the civil servant ``one of the leading actors in international crisis management.'' A followup letter yesterday, also reported to be from the Red Army Faction, confirmed that the group tried to kill Tietmeyer because of his role in international finance. This letter accused Tietmeyer of contributing to ``mass misery'' in the third world.
At a press conference Wednesday, a West German government spokesman vowed to resist any efforts by terrorists to disrupt the meetings or conduct operations anywhere else in West Germany.
Whatever happens in West Berlin, many West Germans are convinced the nation's approach to dealing with terrorism is undergoing a fundamental change.
During the 1970s, West Germany's terrorism increased by more than 1,000 percent. Extraordinary measures were tolerated as part of the fight - including the establishment of a computer in Wiesbaden which keeps track of more than 3 million fingerprints.
Although the effort seemed to bring the problem under control, many West Germans now wonder whether it was worth the cost in terms of intrusions on personal freedoms.