Bonn 'errors' in shoot-out: Questions over death of terrorist

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The Independent Online
THE GERMAN government yesterday published a report acknowledging 17 different mistakes in connection with a recent shoot-out in which a presumed terrorist and a member of the anti-terrorist unit died.

The 142-page report did nothing, however, to clear up a key question - how Wolfgang Grams, the terrorist, was killed.

Two members of the GSG-9 anti-terrorist unit are under investigation in connection with allegations that Grams was shot in cold blood, while lying wounded at the station at Bad Kleinen, in north-eastern Germany. GSG-9 colleagues remain loyal, insisting that they would 'put their hand into the fire' to swear that their colleagues (known only as 'Six' and 'Eight') were not to blame.

When the Interior Minister, Manfred Kanther, and the Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, presented the report to a parliamentary committee yesterday, Mr Kanther acknowledged that there had been a 'considerable number of mistakes', especially failures of communication, and failure to pass on vital information. But he said there was 'not the least evidence' for the suggestion that evidence about the death of Grams had been deliberately covered up or destroyed.

Two witnesses - a woman working in a newspaper kiosk and a member of the GSG-9 unit, speaking anonymously to Der Spiegel magazine - have spoken of Grams being 'executed' with a bullet fired at close range. It is now clear that the fatal shot was fired at point-blank range. But GSG-9 continue to deny the suggestion that one of their number might indeed have executed Grams, perhaps using Grams's own weapon. Instead, they prefer the suggestion that Grams might have committed suicide, unnoticed by witnesses on the station, including the GSG-9 men, or might have shot himself by accident, also unnoticed. As Der Spiegel noted, suicide now seems 'very doubtful'.

The GSG-9 man whose statements to Der Spiegel caused a furore has not repeated them to the investigators, and has remained anonymous.

Joanna Baron, the woman in the newspaper kiosk, is reported to have been put under considerable pressure to change her story. In an apparent attempt to make her testimony seem unreliable, she has been described as an alcoholic. She has also received threats at home.

The sequence of events has been reminiscent of the events after Death on the Rock, the British documentary about SAS killings of IRA suspected bombers in Gibraltar. Carmen Proetta, the key witness in that film, became the subject of a smear campaign, apparently because of what she said she had seen.

Mr Kanther said yesterday that he hoped the investigation would be complete by next month. Some are beginning to suggest that the truth will never become clear. But there appears to be a sharp contrast between the German desire to see the full truth and the British attitude with regard to the alleged shoot- to-kill policy against the IRA in Northern Ireland. In that case, the only person to lose his job was John Stalker, the policeman who was actively seeking to investigate the allegations. In Germany, two heads have already rolled and more are likely to go.

The interior minister, Rudolf Seiters, resigned in the immediate wake of the operation, which was briefly hailed as a success, before doubts and confusions began to mount. By resigning so quickly, while pleading ignorance, he avoided almost all public criticism. Next to go was the federal prosecutor, Alexander von Stahl, who clung to his job, but was finally pushed.