BERLIN – A German court on Monday approved parole for one of the last jailed members of the Red Army Faction in a case that has revived painful memories of the left-wing terrorist group's 1970s heyday.
Brigitte Mohnhaupt, 57, will be released March 27 after serving 24 years of a life sentence for multiple murders, the Stuttgart state court ruled.
Conservative politicians and police questioned the decision.
"The RAF terrorists murdered 10 police officers," said Konrad Freiberg, the head of Germany's police union. "Although the ruling follows the rule of the law and the opinion of the judges needs to be accepted, we will not forget these murders. A feeling of bitterness remains."
Mohnhaupt was convicted in 1985 of involvement in nine murders, including those of West German chief federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback and of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the head of the country's industry federation.
She was given five life sentences on the murder charges and convictions on other counts. Those included attempted murder for her part in a 1981 rocket-propelled grenade attack on the car of U.S. Gen. Frederick Kroesen -- then the commander of U.S. forces in Europe -- which injured both the general and his wife.
Mohnhaupt, who will be on five years' probation, was a leader in the Red Army Faction, once known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, which sought to combat what it saw as capitalist oppression of workers and U.S. imperialism.
Active from 1970 -- when it grew out of student anti-Vietnam war protests -- until 1992, when it abandoned violence, the Red Army Faction formally disbanded in 1998. During that time, the group carried out kidnappings, bank robberies and attacks on prominent government and business figures.
U.S. military facilities and personnel in Germany were also targeted, and the group had ties to Palestinian radicals and to communist East Germany's secret police, the Stasi.
Over the decades, Red Army Faction members killed 34 people and injured hundreds. Victims included bystanders, police officers and chauffeurs.
The court decided Mohnhaupt fulfilled the conditions of her sentence and no longer posed a threat to society, court spokeswoman Josefine Koeblitz said.
The decision was made "according to legal conditions and was not an act of clemency," Koeblitz said.
Mohnhaupt was captured early in her involvement with the Red Army Faction in Berlin in 1972 and jailed for several years. Released in 1977, she immediately went back to the group and played a key role in the trail of death it left later that year, which became known as the "German Autumn."
She was arrested again in then-communist Yugoslavia in 1978, but allowed to go six months later.
She was finally captured by West German authorities on Nov. 11, 1982, as she went to an arms cache in woods near Frankfurt, which had been staked out by police for two weeks after they received a tip from locals who had stumbled upon it.
Mohnhaupt had petitioned for her release in a bid for parole that was supported by prosecutors in a closed hearing in January.
The ruling coincides with as a separate petition for clemency from Germany's president by another convicted Red Army Faction member, Christian Klar. Klar still has two years to serve before qualifying for parole.
While some say Mohnhaupt and Klar, like other convicted murderers, have a right to parole under German law, others want to see expressions of remorse and clarification of questions over who pulled the trigger in the murders of Buback, Schleyer and others.
Bavaria's conservative interior minister, Guenther Beckstein, said the ruling left him concerned that "such a serious criminal can be set free without ever repenting her acts."
But the opposition Left Party said the ruling was "long overdue."
"Now the other three former RAF activists who are still incarcerated ... need to be set free," said Ulla Jelpke, the party's spokeswoman on domestic issues.