Germany in shock at release of Baader-Meinhof killer

Christian Klar to be freed after 26 years in prison
Click to follow

One of the last imprisoned, but unrepentant, leaders of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang is to be freed early next year after spending more than a quarter of a century in jail for a series of murders during the Seventies and Eighties.

Christian Klar, 56, has shown no remorse for the nine murders and 11 attempted murders for which he was convicted. A court decided, nonetheless, yesterday that he will be released in early January from a prison in the German town of Bruchsal.

Klar was sentenced in 1985 to five terms of life imprisonment and has served only the minimum 26 years required under German law. But judges at the Stuttgart state court declared that he no longer posed a threat to society. "The court no longer has any evidence to suggest that Christian Klar will commit future crimes," they said.

Some commentators pointed out that Klar had spent more time in jail than many of the leading Nazis who were responsible for the deaths of millions during the Second World War, but his early release provoked outrage from politicians and relatives of victims.

Klar was a member of the so-called second generation Red Army Faction, the terrorist organisation founded by the militant leftists Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof at the end of the 1960s. It was commonly known as the the Baader-Meinhof gang, and murdered 30 people during its campaign, which formally ended in early 1990s when the RAF disbanded.

The Baader-Meinhof Complex, the first comprehensive feature film about the gang, by the director Uli Edel, was completed this year and was released in Britain this month. Politicians and relatives of the victims said they were shocked and dismayed by the court's decision. Many, including Joachim Hermann, the Bavarian state's justice minister, pointed out that Klar had refused to identify those who carried out the gang's murders. Mr Hermann described the judges' decision as an "incomprehensible abuse of justice ... Christian Klar deserves no sympathy so long as he continues to show none for his victims and their families." Jürgen Vietor, the pilot of the Lufthansa airliner that was hijacked and flown to Mogadishu in 1977, expressed his anger by handing back the "Federal cross of honour" awarded for his bravery during the drama. "Setting Klar free is an insult to all of the RAF's victims," he wrote in a letter to President Horst Köler.

The gang waged war on Germany's post-war establishment, which its members accused of perpetrating the evils of the Nazi era under the guise of democracy. Its targets were bankers, industrialists, businessmen, judges and American servicemen. Klar took part in one particularly brutal killing, in which the banker Jürgen Ponto was shot to death with a machine gun in his living room after being presented with a bouquet by an RAF hit squad masquerading as friends of the banker's daughter. In another high-profile attack, the gang kidnapped the industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer, a former Nazi SS officer, and shot him dead after their demands were not met.

Klar was 30 when he was ambushed and arrested in November 1982. He had been on the run for nearly six years. He was caught while jogging through the Sachsenwald forest near Hamburg.

Like many other RAF members, Klar came from a respectable middle-class German family and went to university. He joined the RAF in 1976 and together with Brigitte Mohnhaupt, who was freed in March last year, he carried out the murder of Ponto in 1977.

In 1980, nearly half of the RAF "retired" and went into hiding in Communist East Germany. Klar and his supporters carried on, but many of their attempted high-profile killings failed and the gang later limited its activities to armed bank robberies. After his conviction, Klar was held in solitary confinement for seven years, spending 23 hours a day in his cell.

In 2001 Klar was granted a television interview in which he was asked whether he felt any remorse. His reply suggested that he had not renounced RAF ideals. "Against the background of our struggle, that is not a concept," he said. "I respect the feelings of the other side, but I can't share them. The fact that so many lives count for nothing here in the rich countries sits too deep."

Brigitte Mohnhaupt, Klar's erstwhile accomplice, was given a new identity after her release in March last year. It was not clear yesterday whether Klar would seek similar protection.

Birgit Hogefeld, 52 will be the last remaining RAF terrorist in jail. She was given a life sentence in 1993.

The gang: Where are they now?

*Ulrike Meinhof was arrested in 1972 and hanged herself in Stammheim prison during her trial in 1976.

*Andreas Baader was captured in a shoot-out with police in 1972. He committed suicide in prison with his girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin, in 1977.

*Brigitte Mohnhaupt, 59, joined the gang in 1971. She was arrested in 1982 and sentenced to life in jail. She was released in March last year.