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The Murder of a CEO
By DAVID CRAWFORD
September 15, 2007
Bad Homburg , Germany
The terrorists who killed Alfred Herrhausen were professionals. They dressed as construction workers to lay a wire under the pavement of the road along Mr. Herrhausen's usual route to work. They planted a sack of armor-piercing explosives on a parked bicycle by the roadside. An infrared beam shining across the road triggered the explosion just when the limousine, one of three cars in a convoy, sped by.
The operation, from the terrorists' point of view, was flawless: Mr. Herrhausen, the chairman of one of Europe's most powerful companies, Deutsche Bank, was killed in the explosion along that suburban Frankfurt road on Nov. 30, 1989.
But was everything what it seemed?
Within days, the Red Army Faction -- a leftist terrorist group that had traumatized West Germany since 1970 with a series of high-profile crimes and brazen killings of bankers and industrialists -- claimed responsibility for the assassination. An intense manhunt followed. In June 1990, police arrested 10 Red Army Faction members who had fled to East Germany to avoid arrest for other crimes. To the police's surprise, they were willing to talk. Equally confounding to authorities: All had solid alibis. None was charged in the Herrhausen attack.
Now, almost two decades later, German police, prosecutors and other security officials have focused on a new suspect: the East German secret police, known as the Stasi. Long fodder for spy novelists like John le Carré, the shadowy Stasi controlled every aspect of East German life through imprisonment, intimidation and the use of informants -- even placing a spy at one point in the office of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.
According to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the murders of Mr. Herrhausen and others attributed to the Red Army Faction bear striking resemblance to methods and tactics pioneered by a special unit of the Stasi. The unit reported to Stasi boss Erich Mielke and actively sought in the waning years of the communist regime to imitate the Red Army Faction to mask their own attacks against prominent people in Western Germany and destabilize the country.
"The investigation has intensified in recent months," said Frank Wallenta, a spokesman for the Federal Prosecutor. "And we are investigating everything, including leads to the Stasi."
If those leads turn out to be true, it would mean not only rewriting some of the most dramatic episodes of the Cold War, but would likely accelerate a broader soul-searching now under way in Germany about the communist past.
In building a reunified country, many Germans have ignored discussion of the brutal realities of its former communist half. When the former East Germany is discussed, it's often with nostalgia or empathy for brothers hostage to Soviet influence.
That taboo is slowly being broken. Last year's Oscar-winning movie, "The Lives of Others," chronicled in dark detail a Stasi agent's efforts to subvert the lives of ordinary people. Material in the Stasi archives shows that senior leaders had a shoot-to-kill order against those fleeing from East to West -- a controversial order that contradicts East German leaders' claims that they never ordered any shootings.
This story is based on more than a dozen interviews with police, prosecutors and other security officials. Several policemen and prosecutors confirmed that the allegation of extensive Stasi involvement with the Red Army Faction is a key part of the current investigation.
Court cases in West Germany in the 1990s established that members of the Red Army Faction were granted free passage to other countries in the 1970s and refuge in East Germany in the 1980s. But the current investigation and documents from Stasi archives suggest far deeper involvement -- that members of the Red Army Faction were not only harbored by the Stasi but methodically trained in sophisticated techniques of bombing and murder.
Traudl Herrhausen, Mr. Herrhausen's widow, is one of those pushing for further investigation. She says she long suspected involvement by the Stasi or other intelligence service such as the KGB, but never spoke publicly because she didn't have evidence and didn't want to interfere in the investigation. She says she is now breaking an 18-year silence in her desire to see justice done. "Now I want to look my husband's killers in the eye," she said in an interview.
The Red Army Faction was founded about 1970 by a band of leftists who justified their terrorism based on opposition to West Germany's ruling elite. Killing members of this elite would provoke the West German state to take repressive measures that would show its true fascist face, Red Army Faction leaders believed.
In its early years, the group, also known as the Baader-Meinhof band, made headlines with prison breaks, bank robberies, bomb attacks and deadly shootouts. Four gang members led by Ulrike Meinhof freed Red Army Faction leader Andreas Baader from a Berlin jail a month after his arrest.
Red Army Faction violence in West Germany intensified in 1977 when Jürgen Ponto, then head of Dresdner Bank, was shot and killed at his home. Five weeks later, the group killed four people and abducted the chairman of the German employer association, Hans-Martin Schleyer, one of West Germany's most prominent businessmen. It was the start of a six-week ordeal in which neither government nor terrorists would compromise. To support the Red Army Faction cause, Palestinian terrorists hijacked a Lufthansa jet in Spain, forcing it to land in Mogadishu, Somalia. After the plane was rushed by West German commandos, top Red Army Faction leaders in West Germany committed suicide and Mr. Schleyer was executed by his captors.
Red Army Faction violence began to abate in the late 1970s after the Lufthansa incident. Many in Germany thought the group -- whose attacks were often crude -- lost its will to kill after the arrest of its senior leaders in 1982. So when the group appeared to renew its terror campaign with a series of high-profile attacks in 1985, police were stunned by the level of their sophistication and determination.
This time, the group dazzled police with its ability to hit targets and leave little substantial evidence behind. They used high-tech devices no one thought they possessed. Their marksmen killed with military precision.
Surprisingly, members of the Red Army Faction so-called third generation had a policeman's understanding of forensic science. From 1985 onward, the Red Army Faction rarely left a fingerprint or other useful piece of evidence at a crime scene, according to court records. The murder cases from this era are still open. Some suspected Stasi involvement, but no one could ever prove it, according to a senior police official.
The 1989 car-bomb murder of Mr. Herrhausen particularly stunned police with its audacity and sophistication. Mr. Herrhausen was the head of Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest bank. He was part of the political-business elite that helped turn West Germany from a war-ravaged rump state into an economic powerhouse -- all while East Germany languished in frustration. Mr. Herrhausen was a vocal proponent of a united Germany.
In November 1989, Mr. Herrhausen was following the fall of the Berlin wall and events in the Soviet Union closely, conferring frequently with Mikhail Gorbachev, according to his wife and friends. Then on Nov. 27, Mr. Herrhausen announced a plan to acquire the investment banking firm Morgan Grenfell -- at the time a record-breaking bank acquisition.
Also during November, a spot along Mr. Herrhausen's usual route to work was closed because of construction. Terrorists, dressed as construction workers, laid an electric wire under the road's pavement. On Nov. 29, the stretch reopened.
On the morning of Nov. 30, like every workday morning, Mr. Herrhausen stepped into his limousine at about 8:30. Mr. Herrhausen's driver waited about one minute to allow the first of the three-car entourage to drive ahead and survey the road.
"It was the route they hadn't used in weeks," Mrs. Herrhausen said.
As Mr. Herrhausen sped down the road, a team of terrorists waited. Beside the road, a parked bicycle held a sack of armor-piercing explosives. The detonator was connected by the electric wire under the road to a trigger activated by an interruption in an infrared beam shining across the road.
A terrorist activated the detonator after the first car of bodyguards drove past the bomb. Mr. Herrhausen died at the scene.
As they had during previous attacks, police set up dragnets to round up Red Army Faction cadre. But the June 1990 arrests of 10 members of the group who had earlier been granted political asylum in East Germany produced no leads. All the seized Red Army Faction members had solid alibis.
In July 1991, prosecutors believed they had a breakthrough when an informant claimed he had allowed two members of the Red Army Faction to stay at his home near the Herrhausen residence. Prosecutors followed that trail 13 years before dropping charges in 2004.
Frustrated with the inability of prosecutors to solve the Herrhausen case and believing that prosecutors were ignoring other leads including possible Stasi involvement, German officials replaced the prosecutor overseeing the case.
Police acknowledge that part of the reason for their focus on possible Stasi involvement was that all other leads had dried up. But they say they also knew that over the years the Stasi had worked with and given explosives to other terrorists, including "Carlos the Jackal" and the Basque group ETA in Spain. And in 2001 to 2003, an undercover police officer met with a man who claimed he had been a killer for the Stasi operating in Western Germany, although police were never able to tie him to specific murders.
German investigators turned their attention to Wartin, a small eastern German village nestled in yellow-brown fields of grain near the Polish border. Today, sheep graze in a field spotted with wooden posts.
In the 1980s, however, Wartin was home to the Stasi's AGM/S -- "Minister Working Group/Special Operations." It got its name because it reported to Mr. Mielke, the minister who headed the Stasi for almost all of East Germany's 40-year history.
The Wartin unit's peacetime duties included the kidnapping and murder of influential people in the West, according to Stasi records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal in the Stasi archives in Berlin.
The documents say the unit's activities included "intimidating anti-communist opinion leaders" by "liquidation," and "kidnapping or hostage taking, connected with the demand that political messages be read," according to a description of the unit's activities written by a senior Wartin official in 1982.
Based on these documents, German investigators increasingly believe that the Stasi played a more active role than previously believed in Red Army Faction terrorism. After years of not being able to draw parallels between the Stasi unit in Wartin and the Red Army Faction killings, police are now focusing closely on such a link. Joachim Lampe, who assisted the successful prosecution of the first wave of Red Army Faction terrorists up until 1982 and was then assigned to prosecute Stasi-related crimes in West Germany, says it's time to compare the activities of Wartin with the activities of the Red Army Faction to see where they overlap. "It is an important line of investigation," he said.
A year after the Red Army Faction's first generation collapsed in 1972, an internal Wartin report said cooperation with terrorists is possible if the individuals could be trusted to maintain secrecy and obey orders. Initial contacts, however, may not have taken place until later in the decade. Disillusionment gripped many of the terrorists living on the lam, according to court records citing witness statements by accused terrorists. Beginning about 1980, the Stasi granted refuge to 10 members of the Red Army Faction in East Germany and gave them assumed identities.
The Stasi sympathized with the anti-capitalist ideals of the Red Army Faction, but Stasi leaders were concerned about placing their trust in a group of uncontrollable leftist militants, a review of Stasi records shows. Stasi officials did not want to tarnish East Germany's international reputation, so they toyed with different concepts for cooperation with terrorist groups, according to a prosecutor who has investigated Stasi involvement with terrorism.
One suggestion, contained in a document prepared for new officers assigned to the unit, was to emulate Romanian intelligence, which successfully worked with the terrorist "Carlos" to bomb the Radio Free Europe office in Munich, Germany, in 1981. To assist in such operations, the Wartin unit developed highly specialized explosives, poisons and miniature firearms.
About 1980 the Stasi also proposed a second strategy: instead of using a terrorist group directly -- such cooperation always contained risk of discovery -- they could simply execute attacks so similar to those of known terrorists that police would never look for a second set of suspects, according to Wartin records. The Wartin leadership called this strategy the "perpetrator principle," according to Stasi records. The unit's progress in implementing the steps to imitate terrorist attacks is described in a series of progress reports by Wartin officials between 1980 and 1987.
In September 1981, Red Army Faction terrorists attempted to kill U.S. Gen. James Kroesen in Heidelberg, Germany, shooting a bazooka at his car. About the same time, members of the same Red Army Faction team visited East Germany, where they were asked by the Stasi to shoot a bazooka at a car containing a dog. The dog died, according to court records.
In Wartin, officials wrote up a detailed description of the Red Army Faction members' re-enactment of the Kroesen attack. "It is important to collect all accessible information about the terrorist scene in imperialist countries, to study and analyze their equipment, methods and tactics, so we can do it ourselves," a senior Wartin official wrote in February 1982, according to the report.
In 1982, West German police discovered two troves of Red Army Faction weapons and documents buried in German forests. Three terrorists, including Red Army Faction leader Christian Klar, were arrested when they approached the sites. The troves were buried in locations easy to find at night, a tactic used by Wartin's own agents to store operational equipment in West Germany, according to an investigator who viewed the troves and Stasi records.
That same year, a Wartin official described the staged bombing of a moving vehicle. According to the report, several Stasi officers shed "tears of joy" when electronic sensors detected the approaching car and ignited the detonator.
A spokesman at Germany's federal police investigative agency, the equivalent of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, declined to comment on the close similarity between the detonator used in the demonstration and the device that killed Mr. Herrhausen, saying this is part of their investigation.
Wartin officers continued their preparations for imitating terrorist attacks in West Germany, according to a 1985 internal Wartin report. They created a special archive profiling the characteristics of known terrorists and terrorist groups, and taught staff members to execute nearly identical attacks, according to Stasi records. Each year, the unit's officers detailed the unit's success in teaching these techniques in their annual reports, according to the reports.
Then, in 1987, the AGM/S stopped offensive operations. The unit was disbanded.
Werner Grossmann, a former three-star Stasi General and former head of foreign intelligence operations, says the AGM/S was responsible for planning attacks in West Germany, but was dissolved "because it didn't produce results." Mr. Grossmann assumed control of part of the AGM/S after most of the unit was dissolved.
Mr. Grossmann says he took control of part of the AGM/S because he wanted to run intelligence operations against West Germany's civil defense infrastructure.
"I refused to have anything to do with terrorism and terrorists," Mr. Grossmann said in an interview. He said he didn't have any influence over the AGM/S activities before 1987 and wasn't informed about the unit's activities before it came under his control.
Olaf Barnickel, a career Stasi officer who served at Wartin, says his unit planned murders in West Germany, but never committed one. "It was all theory and no practice," Mr. Barnickel said in an interview.
But some German police are unpersuaded. They believe the seeds may have been planted for future violent attacks.
In November 1989, as East Germany disintegrated, groups of citizens forced their way into Stasi installations, seizing control. In Wartin, a local church minister led a group of demonstrators to the main entrance of the Stasi base. The base closed.
Within the Stasi as a whole, the chain of command began to disintegrate. Links to organizations in West Germany, including the Red Army Faction, were broken.
Sixteen months after Mr. Herrhausen's murder, the Red Army Faction claimed its last victim, killing Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, the head of the Treuhandanstalt, the powerful trust that controlled most state-owned assets in the former East Germany and was overseeing their privatization. Mr. Rohwedder was killed while he was standing by the window of his house in Düsseldorf.
The murder was performed by a trained sharpshooter, according to a police official familiar with the investigation. The Stasi trained members of the Red Army Faction in sharpshooting skills and had its own teams of sharpshooters, according to witness statements by Stasi officials to a Berlin prosecutor and Stasi records.
In 1998, the Red Army Faction issued the last of its communiques, announcing it was disbanding. German police attribute the group's disappearance to changing times, which made the group seem a relic of the past. Indeed, the Red Army Faction today is largely seen by the German public as part of the social upheaval that plagued West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. More than one in four Germans consider former Red Army Faction members to have been misguided idealists. More than half now think the investigations should be closed for good in the coming decade when the current group of Red Army Faction prisoners finish serving their prison sentences.
German prosecutors say their investigation of the Stasi's role is continuing.
Since last month, Mrs. Herrhausen has been in contact with the next of kin of victims in the other unsolved Red Army Faction murder cases, looking for support to push the investigation. The bomb that killed her husband nearly 18 years ago exploded soon after he left for work, within earshot of their home in suburban Frankfurt.
"I still hear that bomb every day," she says.
--Almut Schoenfeld in Berlin contributed to this article.
Source: THE WALL STREET JOURNAL