Red Army Faction killer freed after 24 years in prison

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Brigitte Mohnhaupt, a former Red Army Faction terrorist described as the "most evil and dangerous woman in Germany", was cleared to be released from jail yesterday after serving her minimum sentence of five life terms for nine murders by the left-wing urban guerrilla group in the 1970s and 1980s.

A court in Stuttgart ruled that Mohnhaupt, 57, who has never expressed remorse for her crimes, should be freed on probation next month after serving 24 years for killing a judge, a lawyer and a German industrialist during the group's "anti-imperialist" campaign.

The judges said they considered that she no longer posed a threat to society. "This is not a pardon but a decision based on specific legal considerations," they said in a joint statement.

Reactions to the ruling were predictably diverse. Left-wing and liberal politicians greeted it as the mark of a civilised society. "Our justice system is not out for revenge," Dieter Wiefelspuetz, of the ruling Social Democrats, said. "It allows for sentences to be commuted to probation under certain circumstances and we have to respect this."

But Joerg Schleyer, the son of Hanns Martin Schleyer, the German industrialist who was kidnapped and shot dead by the group in 1977, said: "I can't understand the court or why she should be freed. In 30 years Mohnhaupt never uttered one word of apology for killing my father."

Until her arrest in 1982, Mohnhaupt was known as the leader of the "second generation" Red Army Faction, a left-wing terrorist organisation founded in the late 1960s, which declared war on capitalist West Germany because of its perceived failure to destroy its links with the Nazi era. The organisation carried out bomb attacks and kidnappings which claimed 34 lives before it disbanded it in 1998.

Mohnhaupt, called "Germany's most evil and dangerous woman" by one of the country's mass circulation newspapers, has never given an interview to the media or sought a pardon. It was not clear yesterday whether the conditions for her release from Aichach prison in Bavaria would include giving her a new identity.

The case coincides with that of Christian Klar, 54, the other prominent former terrorist from the group still in prison. Klar, who was convicted of nine murders and 11 counts of attempted murder after his capture in 1985, has two years of a 26-year sentence to serve before he is eligible for release.

Unlike Mohnhaupt, Klar recently appealed to President Horst Köhler to grant him a pardon. Mr Köhler has yet to make a decision on the case, which has caused controversy because of conflicting reports about Klar's readiness to show remorse. A recent poll showed that 70 per cent of Germans opposed Klar's early release if he does not show regret for his crimes.

In a television interview conducted from jail in 2001, Klar appeared a bewildered individual locked in left-wing guerrilla ideology. Asked whether he felt remorse, he said: "In the political arena and against the background of our struggle, this is not a concept." He has since reportedly modified his views.

Aichach's governor, Wolfgang Deuschl, said he understood Mohnhaupt's reasons for failing to show remorse. "She committed crimes when still young, then she was arrested, freed, went underground and spent another 20-plus years in jail ... You can hardly expect her to say, 'Everything that I have done in my life was rubbish'."

The other members

* CHRISTIAN KLAR: Jailed for 26 years for nine murders and 11 attempted murders. Scheduled for release in 2009, he has requested a pardon.

* BIRGIT HOGEFELD: Second generation Faction terrorist captured in 1993. Jailed for life for a string of murders. Earliest release 2011.

* ANDREAS BAADER: Red Army Faction founding member arrested in 1972 for arson and robbery. Found dead in his cell from gunshot wounds in 1977.

* ULRIKE MEINHOF: Former journalist and founding member of Red Army Faction. Arrested in 1970 and jailed for eight years. Killed herself in 1976.