Jail Outwits Waiting Media Former German Terrorist Released

Brigitte Mohnhaupt, a former leader of the notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang, has been released from jail after 24 years following last month's controversial court decision to let her out on parole. Prison authorities shielded her from the media waiting at the gate, much to the anger of Germany's top-selling paper.

A police photo of Mohnhaupt in the 1970s.

A police photo of Mohnhaupt in the 1970s.

Former left-wing terrorist Brigitte Mohnhaupt was released early on Sunday morning after 24 years in jail for her role in a campaign of kidnapping and murder during the 1970s.

Mohnhaupt, 57, left the prison in the Bavarian town of Aichach shortly before two o'clock in the morning and was picked up by friends. The court decision last month to let her out on parole caused a storm of controversy with relatives of her victims and conservative politicians expressing outrage that she had not expressed remorse for her actions.

Prison authorities let her out two days before the official release date of Tuesday March 27, and appeared to have sent out a decoy vehicle to enable her to avoid reporters waiting at the prison gate. Shortly before midnight on Saturday night a van drove out and disappeared into the night. A little later the gate opened again and a car drove out with Mohnhaupt. She was handed over to friends at a secret location.

To spare her a media frenzy Mohnhaupt's departure was only announced after she had left. Friends have organized an apartment for her. Her lawyer urged the media to leave Mohnhaupt alone so that she could start leading a normal life.

Mass circulation newspaper Bild, part of the establishment the Baader-Meinhof gang, also known as the Red Army Faction, had tried to overthrow, ran a banner front page headline on Monday saying "Worst Terrorist Free!"

Fuming at having been prevented from seeing Mohnhaupt's release, the newspaper declared that she had been let out "in a government operation that was almost as big and secret as her arrest in 1982."

"And why? So as not to endanger her return to society! How generous of the state to protect the welfare of a dangerous criminal who was bent on destroying this state. Yes, sure, the release of Brigitte Mohnhaupt was legal. We have to bear it. But we are also allowed to feel anger."

Mohnhaupt, the leader of a second generation of Red Army Faction terrorists, was involved in the murders of federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback, employers federation chief Hanns Martin Schleyer and seven other people. She was caught in 1982 and sentenced to five life terms plus 15 years. She wasn't eligible for parole until this year.

The Stuttgart district court that ordered her release ruled that she no longer posed a threat to society. Her release is likely to fan debate about whether to free fellow terrorist Christian Klar, who does not come up for parole until 2009 but who has appealed to German President Horst Köhler for clemency.

His chances of freedom got a setback when it emerged that he had sent a letter to a left-wing conference in Berlin in January calling for a "defeat of the plans of capitalism," comments that some officials have interpreted as indicating he has not reformed in jail.



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