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Last Updated: Monday, 12 February 2007, 10:47 GMT
Terror releases divide Germany
As a German court orders the release of one of the last members of the Baader-Meinhof gang remaining behind bars, the BBC's Steve Rosenberg looks at how the country is trying to draw a line under those turbulent years.

Walking into Stammheim Jail is like entering one of Germany's nightmares.

A prison warden leads me through a maze of corridors, punctuated by heavy steel doors. The deeper I go, the more the air fills with an oppressive mix of sweat and dust.

Suddenly a series of alarms indicates I've reached my destination: cell block one, seventh floor. This is the high security wing, locked away from the rest of the prison.

It was built specially for the Baader-Meinhof gang, a group which terrorised West Germany for more than 20 years.

Known too as the Red Army Faction, it waged war on the capitalist state, assassinating judges, businessmen and American servicemen.

The group was considered such a threat to the state that many of its leaders have since spent longer in jail than any Nazi war criminal ever convicted in Germany.

Nine murders

"It was a very terrible time, the most terrible time after the Second World War," Stuttgart's Chief Prosecutor Klaus Pflieger told me. He spent more than a decade investigating Red Army terror.

For much of that time he had three policemen guarding him round-the-clock. "For 30 years there was a fear in Germany, and you feel it until now."

People, he said, were now asking whether the state was strong enough to let them go.

Two of the prisoners Klaus Pflieger helped to convict may soon be released.

After 24 years in jail, Brigitte Mohnhaupt has been granted parole and may be released as soon as next month, while Christian Klar has applied for a pardon from the German president.

They were both senior members of the Red Army Faction. Both had been found guilty of nine murders.

One of their crimes in particular made headlines around the world by its brutality. In September 1977, German industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer was abducted from his car. After being held captive for six weeks, he was murdered.

Divided opinion

For Schleyer's son Joerg, the prospect of his father's killers walking free is too hard to bear.

"I can't understand we would take them out," Joerg told me, "because within the last 30 years there's nothing they've said like 'we are sorry, we murdered your father, we murdered policemen, we are sorry for that'. There is absolutely no word we have been on the false way."

Public opinion in Germany is divided. Many oppose early release, others believe it is time for Germany to show leniency.

"Twenty-four years is a very long time," believes Jutta Limbach, former President of Germany's Constitutional Court, "and our democracy demonstrated it is stable enough to release such perpetrators who hoped to revolutionise with violence our political system."

Germany today may feel strong enough, secure enough, to move on. But that cannot be said of the victims' relatives. They want signs of repentance from the Red Army Faction prisoners. Instead, there is only silence from the cells.


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