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German Trial Recalls Terrorism of '70s, '80s

Henchman of Carlos the Jackal is accused in a series of deadly attacks in Europe.

March 06, 2003|Henry Chu | Times Staff Writer

BERLIN — Memories of terrorism past pushed to the surface in Germany on Wednesday as one of the top henchmen of notorious criminal mastermind Carlos the Jackal went on trial under tight security.

Already serving a life sentence for carrying out a deadly bombing here 20 years ago, Johannes Weinrich sat impassively in court while prosecutors opened the trial against him on six counts of murder and 153 counts of attempted murder in a wave of attacks in the 1970s and '80s.

Looking more professorial than conspiratorial in his suit, Weinrich, 55, declined to respond to most questions put to him by the judge. Asked his occupation, he answered, "Prisoner."

Authorities put Weinrich at the center of a terrorist network that orchestrated violent attacks from France to Germany to Greece while he served as the head of European operations for Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the now-imprisoned Venezuelan better known as Carlos the Jackal.

Driven by a left-wing ideology and ardent anti-Zionism, Sanchez and his associates plotted bombings on trains, in airports and at other public places, resulting in the deaths of dozens of people. Investigators believe that the terrorists were often in the employ of former East Bloc nations and countries such as Syria and Libya.

Weinrich was captured in Yemen in 1995. His first trial lasted four years, ending in January 2000 with a conviction and life sentence for his part in a 1983 bombing at a French cultural center in what was then West Berlin. One man died and 23 people were injured in that explosion. The case against Weinrich was built largely on evidence found in the files of the Stasi, the secret police of communist former East Germany.

The new trial is also expected to draw heavily from those files, as well as testimony from victims of some of his alleged attacks and from Magdalena Kopp, a former lover of Weinrich and wife of Sanchez. Kopp has served jail time on terrorism-related offenses.

Among the incidents Weinrich now stands accused of are a bomb attack aboard a French train, which killed three people; an explosion at a railway station in Marseille, in which two people died; and a car bombing in Paris, which killed a pregnant woman. All three attacks occurred in the early '80s.

Weinrich is also suspected of involvement in an attack on a Munich radio station and a failed plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Athens.

Some observers have questioned the need to try Weinrich again when he is already serving a life sentence. Chief prosecutor Detlef Mehlis countered that argument, saying that he was not in the business of dispensing "discount justice" where someone "gets six free murders" for the price of one.

"The relatives have the right [to hear] the justice system tell them, 'This is who killed your father, mother or child,' " Mehlis told reporters.

Such cases have particular resonance here because of the '70s radicalism that many Germans were once caught up in, including the country's most admired politician, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Two years ago, Germans were transfixed by the murder and terrorism trial of Hans-Joachim Klein, an old friend of Fischer. Klein was found guilty of killing three people in a 1975 attack on OPEC ministers in Vienna, but the star of the trial was Fischer, who testified about his past as an anti-establishment activist.

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