The leftist-anarchist Red Army Faction (RAF) would seem to have two aims in its announced attacks on American officers and military installations in West Germany.
The first is to win sympathizers among the largely apolitical and nonviolent movements opposing American nuclear arms policies.
The second is to convince the US that West Germany has turned against it.
So far there have been 11 attacks this year, five within the past 17 days. These included an unsuccessful grenade and gun ambush of the commander in chief of the US Army in Europe. Gen. Frederick J. Kroesen, Sept. 15, and the placement of two explosive devices on a railroad track leading to an American military airfield in Frankfurt Sept. 16. They also included a bomb explosion that injured 20 at the Ramstein Air Base Aug. 31.
Unrelated violence in recent days also erupted in West Berlin when about a thousand militants burned cars, looted shops, and stoned police after some 50, 000 peaceful demonstrators had protested the presence of US Secretary of State Alexander Haig in the city Sept. 13.
After each major attack on American personnel or property, the RAF (more poplarly known abroad as the Baader-Meinhof gang) has claimed responsibility. West German police tend to credit the claims, since they had previously found plans for attacks on American installations when they raided an RAF apartment.
This year's wave of RAF terrorist attacks is distinct from the original wave of the early 1970s in being concentrated on US military targets. In the initial RAF campaign, American targets were attacked as a kind of warming-up exercise on the way to the murders and kidnappings of prominent West German officials in the mid-'70s. The most dramatic of these involved the 1977 kidnapping and subsequent murder of industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer; the connected hijacking of a Lufthansa jet; and the prison suicides of three leaders of the RAF after the hijacked plane was freed by a West German anti-terrorist squad.
The political aim of the original Baader-Meinhof terrorists, as described in their theoretical writings, was to win popular sympathy for the overthrow of the state.
This they sought to do by assassinating officials who were symbolic rich capitalists or who in some cases had held official positions in Nazi Germany. The hope was that the state, in fighting the terrorists, would become so repressive to society as a whole that more and more people would feel oppressed and eventually rise up against the state.
The West German government tried to keep the fine line, however, between protecting its prominent citizens and maintaining civil liberties. This attempt was controversial, but in the broad sense it succeeded. The terrorists seemed to alienate more potential sympathizers by their increasingly indiscriminate killing than the police did by their counterterrorist searches.
Largely as a result of police intelligence -- and one fluke car accident that killed two leading terrorists in 1980 -- various plans for spectacular leftist actions have been foiled in the four years since the Schleyer murder. Police have been warning for over a year, however, that a hard core of well-armed, well-financed terrorists remained at large.
The new generation of RAF terrorists apparently calculate that the various strong peace movements in the counterculture, the Protestant church, and youth organs of the ruling Social Democratic and Liberal parties, as well as among young professionals, will be less appalled by the abstract violence they fear from a nuclear arms race.
So far the disavowals of terrorist violence by these groups suggest that the terrorists are mistaken.