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- November 07, 1977
- Vol. 8
- No. 19
Affluent, Educated and Deadly, Terrorist Shock Troops Are Laying Siege to West Germany
Heyward Isham had just returned from a three-and-a-half-year posting as U.S. ambassador to Haiti in September when the State Department appointed him its Director for Combating Terrorism. The timing was fortuitous. Two days later a Japanese airliner with American passengers aboard was hijacked to Bangladesh. Isham has hardly been to bed since.
"As soon as something like that happens, we are in a crisis management situation that goes into a task force operation," explains the 51-year-old career Foreign Service officer. "Working out of our seventh-floor operations center in Washington, we had a watch all night long." Isham was in constant touch with the Japanese government, U.S. embassies abroad and National Security Council representatives in the White House.
The hijacking put to the test both the State Department's terrorist-response system, instituted four years ago, and the new director's skills in a crisis. "There were 10 Americans on the plane," Isham says, "and the hijackers were going to shoot one of them at a certain hour. It was difficult trying to help the Japanese and Bangladesh governments respond to that type of thing. You might save lives in one incident by giving in to the terrorists, but you might jeopardize other lives elsewhere. You have to balance one against the other."
Isham is no stranger to the threat of political violence. His predecessor in Haiti was kidnapped and two of his close friends in the diplomatic corps, Ambassadors Gordon Mein in Guatemala and Francis Meloy in Lebanon, were assassinated. Isham, however, took no unusual precautions in Haiti. "You don't think about it," he observes with a shrug. "The family [wife Sheila and three children, ages 19 through 24] is also quite cool."
Isham is reluctant to talk about U.S. antiterrorist troops except to acknowledge cautiously that "we do have a special force, based on the Army Rangers, that is capable of an operation" like Mogadishu. These crack units, stationed in the U.S. and abroad, are made up of volunteers from the four armed services. Aside from airport screening of passengers, Isham says, "we have all sorts of other devices" for aircraft security. A staff of psychiatrists also tries to plumb the motivation and ideology of potential terrorists—"trying to get early warning."
But the ultimate defense against terrorism, Isham observes, is not commando action but international censure. "There is no magic formula for stopping terrorist groups," he says. "But the knowledge that everybody is against them, that they will have no place to go—this is the deterrent."
Just 36 hours after West Germany's spectacular assault on skyjackers in Somalia, authorities found the corpse of kidnapped auto executive Harms-Martin Schleyer in the trunk of a car in Alsace. The killing was a grim reminder, as it was intended to be, of how persistent and elusive the politicians of terror remain. Stunned in the past seven months alone by the murders of Schleyer, federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback and banker Jürgen Ponto, West Germany began papering the country with wanted posters featuring 16 prime suspects in the latest atrocity. Most were suspected of terrorist crimes long before the Schleyer murder, and they may well surface to kill again. Infuriated by the prison suicides of three of their leaders, and what they fatuously termed the "massacre at Mogadishu," the terrorists have threatened to strike next at West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. The U.S., meanwhile, anxious to avoid such intimations of anarchy, was readying antiterrorist forces at several locations, including the rugged mountain training area (above) near Fort Carson, Colo.
Willy Peter Stoll, 27, helped plan the Buback and Ponto murders and researched the Schleyer abduction. Since becoming a terrorist in 1969, he has been constantly on the move. Convicted twice on minor charges, Stoll is believed to be armed at all times.
Once a nursery school teacher, Inge Viett, 33, is a Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang member suspected of involvement in bank robberies. Jailed for the kidnapping of Berlin politician Peter Lorenz, she has twice broken out of prison, the last time in July 1976.
A philosophy student turned weapons expert, Rolf Heissler, 29 (a/k/a "Rafik Hamiz"), was convicted of robbing a Munich bank of $24,000 in 1975 but was later exchanged for Peter Lorenz. He has been implicated in the Buback and Ponto murders.
Silki Maier-Witt, 27, studied psychology at Hamburg University before going to work for Klaus Croissant, the terrorists' lawyer. She once allegedly built an armed rocket intended for the state prosecutor in Karlsruhe. Her role in the Schleyer case is uncertain.
Accused of being a member of the Baader-Meinhof gang, as well as one of its lawyers, Joerg Lang, 37, is wanted in connection with various crimes. In hiding since 1974, he is known as "Yogi" to his comrades and disguises himself with wigs and beards.
Angelika Speitel, 25, reportedly took part in an Essen bank raid that netted terrorists some $88,000 last February. A onetime office clerk from Stuttgart, she has been charged in the Buback and Ponto killings. Her husband, now in jail, worked for Croissant.
A nurse by training, Adelheid Schulz, 25, specializes in logistical and advance work. She rented the apartments in which the Buback, Ponto and Schleyer crimes were planned. Living underground for the past year, she has adopted the alias "Christa Ziegler."
"The relationship between you and us is war," Brigitte Mohnhapt, 28, told the judge at a terrorist trial. A loyal gang member since 1971, she was jailed for four years on weapons and other charges. Released last February, she quickly rejoined the underground.
"I'm fed up gorging myself on caviar and salmon," Susan Albrecht, 26, once told a friend. Since then the Hamburg lawyer's daughter has worked for several terrorist factions as a courier and killer. She allegedly murdered Ponto, an old family friend, herself.
A Baader-Meinhof gang member since the early 1970s, Juliane Plambeck, 25, is a suspect in the Peter Lorenz kidnapping case and in the 1974 murder of Justice Gunter von Drenckmann. She has been in hiding since making a spectacular prison break in July 1976.
The son of a high-ranking education official, Christian Klar, 25, found his way into terrorism via liberal politics. An effeminate loner, he is implicated in the Buback, Ponto and Schleyer murders and is suspected of killing a Swiss border guard last year.
Once a promising actor (and the son of prominent actors), Christof Michael Wackarnagel, 26, is the terrorists' media specialist. Police believe he videotaped government installations to help raiders—and made films, seen on TV, showing Schleyer in captivity.
Formerly a Hamburg photographer, Sigrid Sternebeck, 28, is an alleged co-conspirator in the Ponto slaying and a terrorist go-fer who drives stolen cars, rents apartments and does other advance work. She too is a friend of fugitive lawyer Klaus Croissant.
Elisabeth Von Dyck, 27, is reputed to be among the terrorists' top weapons procurers. She is suspected of several break-ins at Swiss army depots—and of supplying guns for the terrorist assault on the German embassy in Stockholm last year.
Though he is, at 37, among the elders of the Baader-Meinhof gang, Rolf Clemens Wagner is also one of its least-known members. He is a suspect in several major West German terrorist crimes, and police boast of hard evidence linking him to the Schleyer case.
Friederike Krabbe, 27 (whose sister took part in the German embassy siege in Stockholm), rented the Cologne apartment where the Schleyer kidnapping was planned. Before becoming a terrorist, she had been a sociology student at Heidelberg University.
January 31, 2015
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