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Red Army Faction terrorist gets parole

BERLIN -- A court paroled a one time leader of Germany's notorious Red Army Faction yesterday after 24 years in prison, amid bitter memories of the left-wing terrorist group's attacks on law enforcement and business leaders, which plunged the country into fear three decades ago.

Brigitte Mohnhaupt, 57, is to leave prison March 27, the first day she becomes eligible for release, the Stuttgart state court ruled.

Her case has set off a public debate about whether it is time to show mercy to those who showed none to their victims and has made Germans relive a tense time when their country was still divided between a democratic West and a communist East.

A student at the University of Munich before going underground, Mohnhaupt was arrested in 1982 and convicted of involvement in nine murders, including those of West German chief federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback, Dresdner Bank head Juergen Ponto, and Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the head of the country's industry federation.

She shot Ponto three times when he resisted a kidnapping attempt in Oberursel near Frankfurt in 1977, the court said. Other times, she was involved in planning killings and attacks.

She was given five life sentences for murder and other non fatal attacks, including a 1981 rocket-propelled grenade assault on the car of US General Frederick Kroesen -- then the commander of US forces in Europe -- which injured the general and his wife.

The Stuttgart court, supported by prosecutors, decided Mohnhaupt no longer posed a threat. The decision was made "according to legal conditions and was not an act of clemency," spokeswoman Josefine Koeblitz said.