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Europe Takes Terror From Streets to Courts

March 01, 1987|Paul L. Montgomery | Paul Montgomery is an American journalist living in Europe

BRUSSELS — The mood was somber in recent years whenever anti-terrorism specialists held their meetings under the auspices of the European Community. Officials talked of a freemasonry of violence that brought together Western Europe's bombers and assassins in an interconnected horde.

Virtually all 12 EC member nations had grave and present problems, whether internal--such as the Basques in Spain or the Irish in Britain--or imported--the Palestinians, Kurds or Armenians--or 572680558Euroterrorism seemed to be mounting daily with the casualty lists.

When the specialists next meet this spring the mood should be a little less grim. Recent successes against terrorism, particularly in France and Germany, have changed the perspective from the streets to the courtrooms. While the threat is far from over, a congratulatory mood has crept in. When French police arrested four of the principal figures in Directe Action on Feb. 21, ending a four-year search, the Interior Ministry in Paris was festooned with telegrams of praise from all over the West.

The Belgian Minister of Justice, Jean Gol, was effusive, calling the arrests an "important step" in the fight against terrorism in Europe; he heads the European Community's TREVI (Terrorism, Radicalism, Extremism, Violence International) Group. TREVI, established in the shadowy area where the European Common Market touches on politics, has been influential in promoting bilateral and multilateral contacts among national police forces. Recently, for example, French and German authorities established a data link for instant computer access to information about terrorist weapons, automobiles and explosives--a form of cooperation that would have been unheard of even five years ago. While the Euroterrorists formed their cross-border links in an anti-imperialist front, the authorities were compelled to build cooperative efforts of their own.

The arrest happened at a remote farmhouse near Orleans. The two founders of Directe Action, Nathalie Menigon and Jean-Marc Rouillan, and two of their closest associates, Joelle Aubron and Georges Cipriani, were captured, apparently the result of a tip. Aubron and Menigon had been identified by a witness as the murderers of Georges Besse, the head of the Renault auto firm, last November in the last of Directe Action's four-year campaign of bombing and assassination. Posters of the alleged murderers were hammered up all over France and a shopper reportedly recognized Menigon in a supermarket two weeks ago.

Directe Action was the most international of the European terrorist groups, establishing links with Italy's Red Brigades, issuing joint manifestoes with West Germany's Red Army Factions and spawning Belgium's now-defunct Fighting Communist Cells. These four groups and their connections formed what came to be known as Euroterrorism. The European terrorists, some of whom trained at Palestinian camps, gave logistical support to Middle Eastern groups. The Directe Action arrests are expected to sever its international ties, if not all its activities. The only known member still at large is a near-psychopath whose specialty is making car bombs.

France's success with domestic terrorists directed attention to the nation's other terrorist problem--Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, the suspected leader of the Lebanese Revolutionary Armed Faction, allegedly responsible for attacks on Israeli and American diplomats in France resulting in at least five deaths. Since Abdallah's 1985 arrest in Lyons, at least 12 people have been killed and more than 300 hurt in bombings contrived to secure his freedom.

Last summer Abdallah was condemned to four years in prison for having false papers, consorting with criminals and having an apartment where weapons and explosives were found. U.S. officials, apparently fearing Abdallah was to be let off without further trial, expressed outrage at the light sentence. This week he went on trial again in Paris, accused of complicity in the murders of U.S. Lt. Col. Charles R. Ray and Israeli diplomat Yacob Barsimantov in Paris in 1982, plus the 1984 attempted assassination of U.S. Consul General Robert O. Homme in Strasbourg.

There is evidence that France intended to exchange Abdallah for a French hostage in Lebanon last year but then aborted the deal when police--apparently prodded and helped by intelligence from the United States and Israel--found a link between him and the murders. The connection was a Swiss bank account in Abdallah's name that was used to pay the rent on a Paris apartment where the pistol used in the Ray and Barsimantov killings was found. Abdallah's connection with the Homme attack is a map of Strasbourg, allegedly with markings in his handwriting, found in an abandoned car last September in Belgrade.

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