France and West Germany agreed today to step up cooperation in battling a resurgence of left-wing terrorism in Europe by creating a joint antiterror working group and a special hot line to accelerate the exchange of information.
The measures were announced after talks here today between French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The two leaders told a press conference that criminal experts from their two countries would now meet regularly to coordinate action against the wave of bombings, arson and shootings directed mainly at NATO targets since December.
During the past 10 days, a high-ranking official in the French Defense Ministry and a leading West German industrialist whose company produced engines for NATO tanks and aircraft have been assassinated.
France's extreme leftist Direct Action and West Germany's Red Army Faction have claimed responsibility for the killings. Both groups issued statements last month saying they were joining forces against NATO. They have also carried out bombings using explosives stolen from the same source, according to European antiterror specialists.
In recent weeks, U.S. and NATO targets in Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece have also been bombed, but it remains unclear whether such attacks are related to a European-wide offensive mounted by a left-wing terrorist alliance.
The fear that French and West German terrorists may be escalating their terror campaign and extending links to other left-wing European guerrilla groups, however, has prompted urgent consultations among governments and security services to halt the spread of violence.
Both West Germany and France "agree completely that all that is humanly possible must be done to banish this scourge of civilization," Kohl said.
Fabius, paying his first visit to a European capital since becoming prime minister, said the recent outbreak of violence underscored the need "to form a united front against terrorism between France and West Germany, as well as the other European countries involved."
He said that the interior ministries in Paris and Bonn, headed by France's Pierre Joxe and West Germany's Friedrich Zimmermann, would intensify cooperation on "an operational level." The two ministers conferred today on details of a coordinated antiterror drive.
Zimmermann said the unprecedented degree of cooperation was necessary because "the latest attacks show that there are direct links between the terrorists and that this internationalization of terrorism above all affects France and West Germany."
Joxe said the "rapid and precise exchange of information" through a high-speed telex connection and direct involvement of "operational working groups" were the most practical means of active cooperation between the two countries in combating urban terrorism in Europe.
Security authorities in West Germany, France and Belgium said the only clear evidence linking terror squads is the collaboration so far between Direct Action and the Red Army Faction. Other claims for bomb attacks across Europe could be inspired by imitation rather than coordination, the specialists said.
Despite efforts to tighten police cooperation, France and West Germany have had difficulty in the past in coordinating efforts to combat cross-border terrorism.
The West Germans, along with Italian officials, have criticized France's relatively relaxed policy of granting asylum, which allegedly has enabled various European extremists and terrorism suspects to elude arrest and prosecution in their home countries.
West German security specialists have also complained about France's lack of sophistication and equipment to process clues and information in tracking wanted German terror suspects who are believed to have sought refuge among left-wing allies in France.
But French sources pointed out today that Bonn's sensitive privacy laws, which restrict the release of personal data of West German citizens, could prove to be a bigger obstacle to new plans for more effective Franco-German security collaboration in fighting terrorism.
West Germany's own efforts to hunt down two Red Army Faction members who are believed to have shot Ernst Zimmermann, chief executive of the MTU engineering firm, Friday at his home near Munich, have been complicated by a federal-state police row over who is in charge of the investigation.
Meanwhile, the last of 30 jailed Red Army Faction terrorists who launched a hunger strike Dec. 4 abandoned their fast today. The leaders of the strike, Christian Klar and Brigitte Mohnhaupt, started taking food shortly after learning of the attack on Zimmermann Friday.
West German security officials consider their decision to end the fast as evidence that their stated demand, to be assembled together as political prisoners, obscured their real motive -- to elicit sympathy and mobilize new recruits.