Germany releases its `most wanted' terrorist

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GERMAN JUSTICE finally caught up with one of its most wanted terrorists yesterday, and promptly let her go. In a fitting finale to a trial riddled with farce, a middle-aged mother of three was convicted of supplying the weapons used in the notorious hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner to Mogadishu in 1977.

Her punishment appeared to reflect not so much the seriousness of her alleged crime, but the solidity of the evidence against her, resting as it did on confessions of a Mossad agent taped in a Lebanese jail. For her role in one of Germany's worst terrorist crimes, Monika Haas was sentenced to five years. Since she has already served two and a half years while on trial, she was allowed to return to her small Frankfurt apartment on probation.

Haas's conviction appears to clear up one of the last great mysteries of the "German autumn": the cataclysmic events that climaxed in the storming of a hijacked Lufthansa aircraft in Mogadishu, Somalia, the murder of the industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer, and the apparent suicides in prison of Andreas Baader and two other leaders of the Red Army Faction.

Most of the central players in the bloodiest episode in Germany's post- war history have since been killed or captured. But the blonde who smuggled the grenades, guns and detonator in a pram to the hijackers in Majorca in October 1977 had never been caught.

The terrorists, demanding the release of their German and Palestinian comrades from jails around the world, murdered the pilot and dumped his body on the airport asphalt. Three of the four hijackers were killed when German special troops stormed the aircraft in Mogadishu.

That is where the matter stood until five years ago, when Monika Haas, a divorced equal- opportunities officer at Frankfurt university, was led away from her suburban home on the admittedly dubious evidence of incriminating Stasi documents. Her children had to fend for themselves.

Haas, nicknamed "Pretty Woman" in the underground, seemed to fit the investigators' picture of the blonde who had hidden the weapons in sweet- tins under her three-month-old girl. She had entered the world of urban guerrillas in 1975, had attended a Palestinian training camp, and a year later was caught in Kenya in possession of a letter carrying instructions for a commando attack on an Israeli aircraft. She married Zaki Helou, the leader in Yemen of the hard-line Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Yet she denies involvement in the Mogadishu job, and returned to Germany after her marriage broke up in the Eighties, upon official assurances that she was not being sought by the authorities.

But investigators renewed their interest in Haas when they discovered her name in Stasi files after German reunification. She challenged that evidence successfully in court, but then the prosecution produced a witness, Suhaila Andrawes, the only one of four Palestinians who survived Mogadishu.

German prosecutors persuaded Andrawes to testify against Haas in return for a reduced sentence. Andrawes obliged, but then recanted. Her evidence was as unreliable as the Stasi papers, the Frankfurt court ruled yesterday. But the Germans found, several months into the trial, another witness. Languishing in a Lebanese jail was Andrawes' former husband, Said Ali Slim. German detectives spent three days interviewing Slim in his cell. This testimony, produced by a man jailed for treachery, led to Haas's conviction.

Slim described travelling with Haas and her daughter from Algiers to Majorca, to rendezvous with the hijackers. His account was so detailed as to be beyond reproach, the prosecution said. Because of his incarceration, the defence had no chance to cross-examine him. Slim has since had his sentence reduced.

Haas and civil liberties groups following her case say she is the victim of a miscarriage of justice. "Our impression was that the judges were under pressure to convict her, so as to justify this inordinately long trial," Frank Haas, her oldest son, said. Monika Haas is appealing to Germany's highest court against the verdict.