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Europe: Letter Bombs May Have Racist, Right-Wing Roots

Vienna, 6 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Austrian police have asked police in neighboring countries for help in hunting down accomplices of a man suspected of sending 25 bombs through the post and killing four people and injuring 15 others.

A police spokesman said today there were grounds for believing that the detained man, Franz Fuchs, had not acted alone and that other people in neighboring countries could be involved. The spokesman declined more information with the explanation that it could hinder the inquiries.

In some cases letters have been sent to the authorities after the bomb attacks saying they were the work of a previously unknown organization calling itself the "Bajuwarsches Befreiungs Armee".

The letter bombs began in 1993. The victims included the former Mayor of Vienna, Helmut Zilk, who lost three fingers of his left hand and the step-mother of the former Interior Minister Caspar Einem. At least two other bombs were sent to Germans in Munich and Lubeck. Police are investigating whether the same criminal was responsible for other bombs hidden in post boxes and metal pipes. Some of these were aimed at the Croat minority, the Slovenian minority and gypsies.

Austrian police say cautiously there is "good reason to believe" that at least some of the terrorists had a racist or right-wing nationalist background. The letter bomb which cost Helmut Zilk the use of his left hand was sent because of his work with minority groups. Three other bombs sent at the same time injured a priest who worked with foreigners, an ethnic Croat who was the moderator of a television program and a secretary in a legal office which did work for a Turkish immigrant association.

The series of bomb attacks began in December 1993. Four of them injured Mayor Helmut Zilk and three other people. Another six were found refused by police when the addresses became suspicious. There were no more until August 1994 when a bomb was found outside a school for the Slovenian minority in the city of Klagenfurt. A policeman inspecting the bomb lost both hands when it exploded. More bombs were sent in October 1994 to businesses employing foreigners.

The four dead were gypsies who were killed in 1995 when they picked up a anti-gypsy sign lying on the ground outside their settlement. The bomb was hidden under the sign and exploded when it was lifted. Just 30 hours later, another bomb went off outside a school attended by many ethnic-Croat children. It was hidden in an aerosol spray left on the ground. It was picked up by a Croat who suffered severe injuries to his right hand when it exploded. The bomb attacks on the gypsies and the Croat school occurred in towns only 20 kilometers apart in the Burgenland province, close to the Hungarian border.

One of the letter bombs in Germany was aimed at a black woman who is a popular television moderator. She was unhurt but an assistant was injured.

The most recent attack came in December last year when a letter bomb was sent to a writer who is the step-mother of the then interior minister Caspar Einem. In this case no one was hurt.

The 48-year-old Franz Fuchs, who had never been under suspicion in regard to the letter bombs, was stopped last week in a routine police check in his home village. A bomb he was holding exploded and tore off both his hands. The two policemen who stopped him were injured by metal splinters -- one of them may lose an eye.

In his lodgings police found six explosive devices, among them a bomb hidden in a flower pot. A letter found together with the bomb suggested it was intended to explode during a rally of the Slovenian minority. Police say they found indications that a larger bomb -- about the size of a book -- might have already been posted to someone. They also found detailed guides on how to build various types of bombs.

However the Austrian authorities are being very cautious about what they say about Fuchs. Interior Minister Karl Schoegl would not say that the actual bomber had been caught. All he would say today was: "There is sufficient evidence to suggest a direct involvement in the bomb terror of the last few years."

Some Austrian newspapers say Fuchs has told police he was only a messenger for the terrorists responsible for the bombs. Officials have made no comment on the claim but have noted that press reports are not always accurate.

Fuchs brother appeared on Austrian television with tears running down his face to say the family had no indication that he could have been involved in the bomb terror. He described his brother as a loner who largely avoided contact with other people, including his family. Fuchs is unemployed but works occasionally as a land surveyor.

Police said he has no record of involvement with political organization and is not known to have shown hostility to foreigners. His family say that in 1975 he had a relationship with a woman from Yugoslavia and tried to commit suicide after the relationship ended.

In 1995 the authorities said they had received a nine-page letter claiming responsibility for some of the bomb attacks. Interior Minister Schloegl said today a typewriter found in lodgings of Franz Fuchs is being examined to see if the letters could have been typed on this machine.