Law snatches retired terrorist

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DIRCK CLAUSEN ceased to exist at a few minutes before six last Tuesday evening.

The long-haired, neatly-dressed German in his early 50s, a familiar type in la France Profonde, was sitting on his favourite stool in La Coulande, the only bar in his adopted village in Normandy. Dirck, who described himself as a Swiss-German freelance journalist, was a popular figure in Sainte-Honorine-La-Guillaume. He was a practical joker who sometimes drove away his friends' cars and hid them; a man generous with his time, who ran the smash-an-egg stall at the village fete. He was due to go that evening to a Chinese restaurant in the nearby town of Flers with his best friend in the village, Daniel Godey, the chef at the bar-restaurant.

But before Mr Godey arrived, four grim-looking strangers, two men and two women, walked into La Coulande. They seized Dirck, pulled him from his stool, put him in handcuffs and led him away. He just had time to grin at the barmaid. Not a word was spoken.

After 21 years on the run, from the police and from his former associates, Dirck Clausen was once again Hans-Joachim Klein - a repentant but still internationally hunted terrorist, a former associate of Carlos the Jackal and the Baader-Meinhof gang. His arrest last week - just as he was negotiating his surrender - caused a furious row in the German election campaign.

Several German journalists have known of Klein's whereabouts for years; the French police also knew that he was in France. In a statement to Le Monde on Friday, the 1968 student leader, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and four other French and German intellectuals admitted to financing Klein in exile and keeping up his spirits during his "long solitude". The statement said that Klein, 51, was "a few days" from surrendering to "German justice". Why arrest him now?

German Greens and Social Democrats believe the retired terrorist was picked up to discredit the Green leader, Joschka Fischer. In 1973 a handful of guns, stolen three years earlier from a US base, were transported in a Volkswagen owned by Mr Fischer, then a student radical. There has never been any suggestion that the young Fischer knew that the guns were in his car. He had given the vehicle to a motor mechanic friend for a tune- up. The friend was Hans-Joachim Klein.

Mr Fischer is now one of Germany's key politicians, certain to enter the cabinet if a Red-Green coalition takes power after the federal election two weeks from today. His supporters are convinced that last week's arrest - carried out by the crack French anti-terrorist squad, the DNAT - was requested by the Kohl government to remind voters of the Green leader's murky past. Perhaps. The fact is that the German authorities - even without pending elections - have shown relentless determination to track down all those involved in the ultra-left terrorism of the 1970s.

Klein, always a peripheral figure, went on to become part of the gang which kidnapped Opec oil ministers in Vienna in 1975 - an operation in which three people were killed and he himself was shot in the stomach. Disillusioned, he withdrew from terrorism in May 1977, sending his revolver and bullets to the magazine Der Spiegel. He also gave warning of his former friends' plans to attack prominent Jewish figures in Germany.

In 1979, he wrote a book, The Mercenary Death, in which he explained why he had left "the struggle" and why he originally drifted into violent revolutionary socialism - a reaction, he said, to his father's membership of the SS and his Jewish mother's imprisonment in Ravensbruck.

Klein seems to have somewhat embellished his early life story, perhaps to portray himself as a more romantic figure. His mother, who committed suicide when he was four, was not Jewish, although his father was a policeman who had indeed been in the SS. He treated his son so brutally that he was sent to an orphanage.

In his book, Klein said he had never killed anyone during his brief career as a terrorist. During the Opec raid, he stated, the only thing he shot at was a telephone. After recovering from his wound in Algeria, he spent some time in Palestinian camps in Libya and then took refuge in eastern Europe.

His movements after he gave up terrorism and before he arrived in Normandy five years ago remain unclear. He spent some time in Britain; he was camping in the English countryside when interviewed by a French journalist in 1978. He is thought to have flitted in and out of France and spent short periods in North Africa.

Over the years, a number of attempts have been made to broker a deal and persuade Klein to go back to Germany to face charges of murder and attempted murder. Further contacts were made in recent months, with the help of his old friend, and constant helper in exile, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. In Le Monde Mr Cohn-Bendit and others said they made no apology for helping Klein, paying his rent, giving him cash and protecting him from "the death threats and vengeance of his ex-friends".

Klein, they said, was one of the first to reveal the truth about the cynical machinations of the "armed struggle". By doing so, he had helped to turn subsequent generations of young Germans away from political violence.

Klein originally lived in his small stone cottage near Sainte-Honorine- La-Guillaume with a French woman - introduced to villagers as his wife - and two small children. The family moved out a couple of years ago, but the children visited him during the last two summers. There were signs at his home last week (including half-filled packing cases) that he expected to leave shortly - whether to flee or to surrender is uncertain.

The mayor, Serge Clerembaux, besieged by international phone calls and media visitors last week, described Klein as a gentle, friendly man who had been entirely accepted into local life.

"We chatted about politics sometimes," he said. "He would get agitated if you mentioned the National Front. Otherwise he was a very calm man. He may have been a terrorist, but he didn't look like one. Of course, he must be punished for what he did but he should then be allowed to return to a normal life. He will always be welcome here."