BERLIN (Reuters) - Former Red Army Faction militant Brigitte Mohnhaupt is to be released from prison, a German court said on Monday, after 24 years in jail for her role in killings that shook West Germany's nascent democracy in the 1970s.
The decision, which came after Mohnhaupt requested early release, was condemned by the relatives of her victims, in part because she has voiced no remorse for a campaign of kidnappings and murders which peaked during the "German Autumn" of 1977.
The ruling comes as President Horst Koehler considers a pardon for Mohnhaupt's former RAF colleague Christian Klar, who has also spent the past 24 years behind bars.
"This is not a pardon, rather a decision that is based on specific legal considerations," the Stuttgart court said in a statement. "The decision for probation was reached based on the determination that no security risk exists."
The court said Mohnhaupt, who has served the minimum sentence for her crimes under German law, would be released on five years probation on March 27.
Mohnhaupt, 57, was arrested in 1982 and sentenced to five life sentences for her role in the murders of leading German figures including industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer, Dresdner Bank head Juergen Ponto and federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback.
Also known as the "Baader-Meinhof Gang" after founders Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, the RAF rose from the student protests of the late 1960s and the anti-Vietnam war movement.
Its members experimented in alternative lifestyles in the "free love" communes of West Berlin and Hamburg before turning violent in a campaign of assassinations, kidnappings and bombings against the German elite and U.S. military.
MANY RELEASED OR PARDONED
The group, which announced in 1998 it was disbanding, is suspected of killing 34 people between 1972 and 1991. Some 26 RAF members died during that period and another 26 were sentenced to life in prison.
Many of them have been released or pardoned and now work as teachers, accountants, filmmakers and journalists -- some under assumed names. Only four, including Mohnhaupt, remain in prison.
Mohnhaupt was a prominent member of a second generation of RAF members who continued the class war after Baader and Meinhof were caught and committed suicide.
The court's decision was condemned by several politicians, some former police officials and relatives of RAF victims.
"I view this as a perversion of justice," said Dirk Schleyer, 54, whose father was dragged out of his car by masked assailants in September 1977 and held hostage for over a month as the RAF demanded the release of jailed comrades.
Hanns Martin Schleyer, a former Nazi party member who was president of West Germany's powerful employers' association in the 1970s, was executed by the RAF in a forest in France. The identity of the militant who shot him remains a mystery.
Others defended the ruling, saying Mohnhaupt had done her time and deserved the same treatment as any other prisoner.
"There is no obligation to show remorse if the minimum sentence has been served," said Bettina Roehl, a Berlin-based author and the daughter of RAF founder Ulrike Meinhof.
But Roehl told Reuters that Mohnhaupt's release did not necessarily mean Germany was ready to draw a line under one of the darkest chapters in its post-war history.
"I think the RAF trauma will raise its ugly head again and again," she said. "It will be with us for some time yet."