Kohl gives backing to embattled anti-terrorist unit: Praise for elite force caught up in bungled arrest after tip-off by police 'mole'

Click to follow
THE German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, yesterday delivered a ringing endorsement of Germany's elite anti-terrorist unit, which has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks.

Mr Kohl made a special visit to the headquarters of GSG-9, near Bonn, to praise their 'precise, efficient, and successful' work. There has been much controversy surrounding the alleged execution of the presumed terrorist, Wolfgang Grams, when he was already lying wounded and out of action. But Mr Kohl described it as 'intolerable and scandalous' that the death of Michael Newrzella, a GSG-9 agent who died in the operation, has been almost ignored. 'Instead, attempts have been made to turn his murderer into a martyr.'

In this respect, Mr Kohl may have struck a chord. Various bodies have blamed each other for confusion and blunders in the lead-up to and during the operation. But those arguments have sometimes had as much to do with party political considerations as with mistakes that have been made. Above all, the mutual accusations have been of poor co-ordination and poor leadership.

Many details of what happened at Bad Kleinen station on 27 June, when Birgit Hogefeld of the terrorist Red Army Faction was arrested and her boyfriend Grams was killed, are still unclear. But Die Woche yesterday put forward a scenario which would answer at least some of the questions raised about the V-Mann - 'confidence man' or mole - who led police to Hogefeld and Grams. The V-Mann, previously described only as 'Klaus', was named by Hogefeld this week as Klaus Steinmetz, an active member of the far left in Wiesbaden until his unmasking.

According to Die Woche, the physical similarity between Steinmetz and Grams meant there was a brief confusion of identity when Grams, Steinmetz and Hogefeld emerged from the station cafe to go to their train. According to this version, the plan was that Steinmetz should be allowed to 'escape' - and thus continue as an informant - while Grams should be pinned down and arrested.

Instead, Steinmetz was pinned down, while Grams ran up the platform steps unhindered. He passed a GSG-9 man who ran down into the blocked-off station tunnel, where Hogefeld and Steinmetz had been arrested. According to Woche, it was only when Grams began to fire his weapon on the steps - shooting Newrzella dead - that the GSG-9 agents realised their mistake.

Die Woche's scenario, though not yet confirmed, appears to have the merit of simplicity and answers several of the questions raised. Meanwhile, it seems likely that Mr Kohl's irritation at the criticism of GSG-9 will be shared by many Germans, who are glad two presumed terrorists have been rendered harmless, in whatever circumstances. A recent poll showed that only 5 per cent are in favour of GSG-9 being disbanded, as some politicians have demanded.

The Interior Minister and the federal prosecutor have already resigned, as a result of the blunders and confusion in the case. As Bonn plunges into its Sommerloch, or 'summer hole', the case may be almost forgotten by the time the politicians return to their desks; equally, however, it is possible that yet more embarrassments will emerge.