Gasoline bombs and paint-filled bottles were hurled last night at the home of the U.S. consul general and the neighboring residence of the French consul general in the West German city of Frankfurt, and early this morning firebombs were thrown at an empty guard post at an airfield in the headquarters of the U.S. Army in Europe at Heidelberg, 50 miles from Frankfurt.
The attacks were the latest of more than a dozen instances of violence against U.S. and other NATO targets in Western Europe, chiefly West Germany, in recent weeks. The outbreak is causing concern about a revival of the urban-guerrilla style of terrorism that plagued the continent in the late 1970s.
West Germany's extreme left-wing Red Army Faction, a latter-day version of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang of the 1960s and 1970s, reportedly claimed responsibility for last night's Frankfurt attacks and for several others, including attacks just before the New Year on a U.S. military intelligence office in Duesseldorf and a French Embassy annex outside Bonn.
West German state police today also attributed a firebomb at a Heidelberg University research lab to "Red Army Faction strategy."
Thus far, the attacks have been relatively minor and U.S., West German and French authorities say that while there is an anti-NATO quality to many of the assaults, there is no hard evidence or proof that attacks in Spain, Portugal, Belgium and West Germany are being coordinated by some international group or even between groups in different countries.
These authorities also note that there appears to be some shift in tactics, with most of the attacks thus far aimed at damaging property and installations rather than at killing and kidnaping as occurred in the late 1970s. Also, in West Germany, attackers now seem to be giving warning of impending attack on some occasions, perhaps also to avoid casualties.
Although no one has been hurt in the attacks thus far, an attempted attack on Dec. 18 at a U.S.-NATO school in Oberammergau, West Germany, could have taken a heavy toll if a bomb in the trunk of a vehicle that had been driven into the school compound had exploded before security guards found and disarmed it.
West German press spokesmen yesterday said that the explosive used in the Oberammergau incident had been stolen in Belgium, which lent the first international aspect to the assaults.
The attacks in West Germany come at a time when several jailed members of the Baader-Meinhof group and its successor Red Army Faction are taking part in a hunger strike. They are protesting the conditions in prison, demanding that their solitary confinement be ended and that they be allowed to associate with each other.
West German government sources say that, as in the past, hunger strikes in prison usually mean guerrilla action in the streets by group members and sympathizers. The West German police in recent years have had considerable success in smashing the Red Army group, and sources now estimate that there are only about 100 sympathizers still at large, about 20 of whom are believed to be the bomb planters.
Nevertheless, both U.S. and West German officials privately acknowledge that the police successes of recent years may have been overstated. The string of new attacks has surprised officials in terms of the frequency, the capability and the fact that the gang hit so soon after the arrest last summer of four leading Red Army Faction figures that was thought to have broken the back of the organization.
Aside from support for the hunger strikers, the attacks by the Red Army Faction and related groups in West Germany also clearly have an anti-NATO tone, and West German officials believe the attacks have a dual role.
One official said the upsurge in Red Army Faction attacks seemd to be "an attempt to prove to themselves and to the public that they were still a force to be reckoned with." They represented, he added, a "bit of self-assurance, after having been taken apart by the security forces in past years" and after watching the peace and antimissile movements collapse in 1983 when the allies deployed new Pershing II missiles in West Germany despite Soviet threats.
U.S., West German and French sources say that this may only be the initial, limited phase of a new upswing in such violence. But they all say that no one is sure what the group's real capabilities are.
One West German noted that Bonn's attorney general has refrained from joining the chorus of those who said the group had been smashed in recent years.
A statistical summary of terrorist incidents published by the Office for Combating Terrorism of the U.S. Department of State for 1982 and 1983 found a worldwide total of 791 and 898 respectively. Of those, which included acts of kidnaping, bombing, hijacking, armed attack, threats and hoaxes, and sniping, one-third or more of the total in each year -- 340 in 1982 and 311 in 1983 -- occurred in Western Europe.
Recent instances of violence against U.S. or allied targets outside West Germany have included a Nov. 25 attack with mortar shells on the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon claimed by the April 25 People's Forces; a bomb attack on a NATO fuel pipeline in Belgium on Dec. 11 claimed by the Combatant Communist Cells, and a bombing of an oil pipeline linking three U.S. military bases in Spain on Dec. 18, for which no organization has claimed responsibility.