BONN — A car bomb exploded Thursday in a parking lot at the huge U.S. Air Force's Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt, killing two Americans and injuring more than 20 other people.
Base officials said a U.S. airman and the wife of another U.S. serviceman died when an Audi sedan loaded with explosives blew up about 7:15 a.m. as base personnel were reporting for work.
West German authorities said they were seeking a dozen members of the far-left Red Army Faction terrorist group in connection with the bombing. That organization has been held responsible for numerous attacks against North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. military facilities in West Germany.
"The circumstances of the attack point to the Red Army Faction," Kurt Rebmann, West Germany's chief federal prosecutor, told the Associated Press.
No warning was given before the explosion, which occurred in a parking lot in front of the headquarters of the 435th Tactical Airlift Wing, the main U.S. combat transport unit in Germany. The blast blew out hundreds of windows in the headquarters building and a nearby dormitory and destroyed or damaged dozens of automobiles.
The explosion also carved out a crater three feet deep and six feet wide in the parking lot.
Security was immediately tightened at the sprawling base of 4,000 Air Force personnel six miles outside Frankfurt. Rebmann, the prosecutor, said the explosives were apparently planted in a car with forged U.S. armed forces license plates.
There is heavy traffic into the base in the morning hours, according to officers at Rhein-Main, partly because some of the quarters for the servicemen and their dependents are located outside the complex.
The dead man was identified by U.S. European Command headquarters in Stuttgart as Airman 1st Class Frank H. Scarton, 20, of Woodhaven, Mich., a member of the 437th Military Airlift Wing on temporary duty at Rhein-Main.
Maj. Richard L. Zeigler, a Pentagon spokesman in Washington, identified the woman as Becky Jo Bristol, wife of Senior Airman John R. Bristol, who is assigned to the Aero-Medical Airlift Squadron at Rhein-Main. He said her age was not available and her last home of record was in San Antonio, Tex.
A base spokesman said that "more than 20 people" were treated for injuries suffered in the explosion. At least two of them remained hospitalized late Thursday, although their conditions were not known.
Germans Aid Investigation
Georg Wegemann, a German photographer working for the Air Force at the base, said of the blast, "It was terrible, worse than war because it was totally unexpected."
Air Force Capt. George Silla, deputy chief public affairs officer, reported: "First there was a bright yellow flash followed by a massive explosion. I looked out of the shattered window and saw bodies lying in the street and wrecked cars, rattled roof tiles and more shattered windows everywhere."
About 40 West German federal police officers aided U.S. military investigators in a probe near the bomb site.
Shortly before the explosion two would-be arsonists were surprised trying to set fire to a U.S. cultural center in Hamburg and fled without carrying out the attack, according to Hamburg police.
A young man and woman were discovered by a janitor as they were about to ignite two cans of gasoline in America House in Hamburg. They sprayed tear gas at the janitor and then escaped.
In Washington, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said President Reagan was informed of the bombing by a National Security Council staff member after the extent of casualties had been determined.
"The United States government deplores and condemns this and similar acts of terrorism," Speakes said. "Preliminary information available to us here indicates that a violent radical group has targeted our military and other Western service personnel, as well as innocent civilians."
Speakes said U.S. officials are working closely with West German authorities and "we have full confidence in their capabilities." Experts on counterterrorism from the seven major industrial powers met in Bonn recently to discuss a series of attacks in Western Europe by Marxist-oriented groups against U.S. and NATO-related targets, he added.
"These reprehensible acts will not succeed in weakening the Atlantic Alliance and our close relationship with our friends," Speakes said.
West German authorities had predicted in a recent report that the Red Army faction was planning a new wave of attacks against military and civilian targets.
The same group claimed responsibility for a May, 1972, bomb attack at the U.S. Army's 5th Corps headquarters in Frankfurt, which killed a lieutenant colonel. Several days later, the group also claimed to have set off a car bomb at U.S. Army European headquarters in Heidelberg that killed three soldiers.
The Red Army's last major attack was the bombing of the U.S. Air Force's European headquarters at Ramstein, West Germany, in 1981. Eighteen people were injured in that explosion.
West Germany officials have also blamed the Red Army Faction for 30 bomb and arson attacks on NATO facilities and government buildings in December, 1984, and January, 1985, while 30 imprisoned members of the gang were on a hunger strike to win recognition as "prisoners of war."
Times staff writer Don Shannon in Washington contributed to this story.