Germany Divided Over Release of RAF Terrorist "These People Don't Deserve Mercy"

A German court has decided to release Brigitte Mohnhaupt, who served 24 years for her part in the Baader-Meinhof Gang's murderous battle against the West German establishment in the 1970s. The decision has divided Germany. Has she been punished enough or should she have been left in jail until she showed remorse?


Former top RAF terrorist Brigitte Mohnhaupt: "The court sees no indication that the defendant poses any further danger."
DPA

Former top RAF terrorist Brigitte Mohnhaupt: "The court sees no indication that the defendant poses any further danger."

A German left-wing terrorist Brigitte Mohnhaupt, serving five life sentences for her involvement in a 1970s campaign of murder, kidnapping and bomb attacks that traumatised Germany, is to be released on parole in March after serving 24 years in jail, a court ruled on Monday.

A majority of Germans oppose the release of Mohnhaupt, 57, who was a leading figure in the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, a communist grouping that emerged from the 1968 student protest movement and was bent on overthrowing the capitalist establishment, which it felt had been infiltrated by former Nazis.

The court ruling has angered the relatives of her victims and sparked a debate about whether a life sentence should mean life for someone who never apologised for her actions. Friends have said Mohnhaupt is too proud to show remorse and still doesn’t recognise the inhumanity of the RAF’s actions.

The senior district court in Stuttgart ordered that she be released on March 27 and then remain on parole for five years. A court spokeswoman said the decision was not linked to any considerations of mercy but was simply implementing the terms under which she was sentenced in 1985 – that she be reviewed for parole after 24 years.

“The court sees no indication that the defendant poses any further danger. The parole ruling is justifiable in terms of public safety,” said spokeswoman Josefine Köblitz.

A life sentence in Germany usually means a minimum of 15 years in jail. In Mohnhaupt’s case the judge ordered a longer term given the severity of her crimes.

Three other former RAF terrorists remain in jail, including Mohnhaupt’s main accomplice Christian Klar, who is not eligible for parole until 2009 but who has appealed to the German president, Horst Köhler, for clemency. Klar, involved in nine murders and 11 attempted murders, caused outrage in a television interview in 2001 when he responded to a question about whether he felt remorse: “In the political field, against the background of our struggle, that’s not a concept.”

The legal affairs expert of the center-left Social Democrats, Klaus-Uwe Benneter, welcomed Mohnhaupt’s release.

“We in Germany have always emphasized that we have no political prisoners. We always said the RAF terrorists are criminals who have to be treated the same way as other criminals. They too have a right to human dignity.”

This April 1985 archive photo shows Mohnhaupt being led to a Stuttgart court.
AP

This April 1985 archive photo shows Mohnhaupt being led to a Stuttgart court.

In an apparent swipe at the detention by US authorities of terrorism suspects without trial at Guantánamo Bay, Benneter added: “Our legal system demands that we give such criminals the chance to come free. That’s what distinguishes us, that we apply the rules of justice and law even to such terrorists.”

A number of conservative politicians expressed regret at Mohnhaupt’s release. The interior minister of Bavaria, Günther Beckstein, a leading member of the Christian Social Union, said: “I feel uneasy about the release of a dangerous criminal who never expressed remorse for her actions and who during her time in jail did nothing to aid a full investigation into the crimes or divulge what she knew about her accomplices.”

The court decision had been expected after the federal prosecutor’s office announced last month it was backing Mohnhaupt’s parole application. The case has revived memories of a traumatic period for Germany. The RAF killed a total of 34 people, including leading bankers, diplomats and a federal prosecutor, triggering the country’s biggest manhunt since the war and a wave of anti-terrorism legislation that curbed civil rights.

RAF terrorists also targeted US military bases and personnel in Germany and tried unsuccessfully to assassinate General Alexander Haig, the NATO commander in Europe, with a land mine detonation in 1979.

Mohnhaupt is believed to have commanded the RAF unit that kidnapped industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer in September 1977. They seized him by pushing a pram in front of his convoy, forcing it to stop, and then opening fire. A driver and three policemen died in a hail of bullets. Schleyer was executed after six weeks when the government refused to give in to their demands for the release of jailed RAF terrorists.

Mohnhaupt was also involved in the May 1977 murder of federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback. In July of that year she and Klar walked up to the home of Dresdner Bank Chief Executive Jürgen Ponto and shot him dead in a botched kidnapping attempt.

Schleyer’s widow Waltrude has protested against the release of Mohnhaupt and other RAF terrorists in recent years. “These people don’t deserve mercy,” she said.

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