Baader-Meinhof member on trial over 1977 murders

30th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Baader-Meinhof gang member stayed ice cool Thursday as she faced charges that in 1977 she helped plan one of the German left-wing guerrilla outfit's most cold-blooded assassinations.

With her eyes hidden behind large black sunglasses, Verena Becker, 58, refused on the first day of her trial to comment on accusations that she played a part in shooting West Germany's top prosecutor 33 years ago.

Siegfried Buback and his chauffeur died immediately when a motorbike pulled up next to their Mercedes as it waited at traffic lights and the pillion passenger opened fire with an automatic weapon in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe.

The attack, in which a third person in the limousine died from his injuries a few days later, marked the start of the "German Autumn," the peak of the gang's reign of terror which was to shake the country to its core.

Other members of the murderous "anti-imperialist" outfit have been convicted for the killings, but the person with the gun has never been identified.

The case was closed in 1980 but was reopened in 2008 when Becker's DNA was found on a letter from the gang, better known to Germans as the Red Army Faction (RAF), claiming responsibility for Buback's death.

The unmarried, childless Becker was re-arrested in August 2009, released on bail in December and charged in April with conspiracy to murder. She continued to live freely in Berlin with her sister.

Becker is not accused of being the one who pulled the trigger, however, only that she helped plan and prepare the attack.

But Buback's son is "99 percent" sure that she was the one who killed his father.

"Around 20 witnesses saw a woman on the motorbike," Michael Buback, who is a co-plaintiff in the trial, told reporters.

According to press reports, she has denied involvement and even told investigators another militant, Stefan Wisniewski, fired the shots.

The gang took up arms against what they considered an oppressive capitalist state still riddled with former Nazis, killing 34 people in attacks on West Germany's elite and US military bases before disbanding in 1998.

Also in 1977 they shot dead a German bank chief and kidnapped and killed industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer -- a former SS officer. Then Palestinians with ties to the gang hijacked a Lufthansa airliner.

"In November 1977 I didn't have much trust in the stability of the nation," West Germany's chancellor at the time, Helmut Schmidt, admitted in a 2008 newspaper interview.

Becker was sentenced to life in prison in 1977 for other Baader-Meinhof activities, but pardoned and freed in 1989. She trained as a physiotherapist but took early retirement after becoming ill.

If convicted, Becker in theory faces a life sentence, but in view of the time already served behind bars she would likely receive substantially less. A verdict is not expected before late December.

© 2010 AFP

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