Red Army Faction
|Red Army Faction|
|Rote Armee Fraktion
Participant in the German Autumn
|Area of operations|| West Germany (until 1990)
Germany (from 1990)
|Allies||East Germany (until 1990)|
|Opponents|| West Germany (until 1990)
Germany (from 1990)
|Battles and wars||West German Embassy siege, German Autumn|
The Red Army Faction (RAF; German: Rote Armee Fraktion),[a] also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group or Baader-Meinhof Gang (German: Baader-Meinhof-Gruppe, Baader-Meinhof-Bande), was a West German far-left militant organization. The RAF was founded in 1970. Key early figures included Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Horst Mahler and Ulrike Meinhof, among others.[b] The West German government considered the Red Army Faction to be a terrorist organization.[c]
The Red Army Faction engaged in a series of bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, bank robberies, and shoot-outs with police over the course of three decades. Their activity peaked in late 1977, which led to a national crisis that became known as the “German Autumn“. The RAF has been held responsible for thirty-four deaths, including many secondary targets, such as chauffeurs and bodyguards, as well as many injuries throughout its almost thirty years of activity. Although better-known, the RAF conducted fewer attacks than the Revolutionary Cells (Revolutionäre Zellen, RZ), which is held responsible for 296 bomb attacks, arson and other attacks between 1973 and 1995.
Ulrike Meinhof was involved in Baader’s escape from jail in 1970.
Sometimes the group is talked about in terms of generations:
- the “first generation” consisted of Baader, Ensslin, Meinhof and others;
- the “second generation”, after the majority of the first generation was arrested in 1972; and
- the “third generation” RAF, which existed in the 1980s and 1990s up to 1998, after the first generation died in Stammheim maximum security prison in 1977.
On 20 April 1998, an eight-page typewritten letter in German was faxed to the Reuters news agency, signed “RAF” with the submachine-gun red star, declaring that the group had dissolved. In 1999, after a robbery in Duisburg traces of Staub and Klette were found, causing an official investigation into a re-founding. Again, in January 2016, German police identified three RAF members as being the perpetrators of an assault on an armored truck transporting €1 million, thus fueling suspicion that RAF might be active again. These robberies are seen as criminal and not terrorist acts.
The Anti-Imperialist Cell, a two-person group arrested in 1996, claimed succession. In total, the RAF killed 34 people, and 27 members or supporters were killed.
The Red Army Faction’s Urban Guerrilla Concept is not based on an optimistic view of the prevailing circumstances in the Federal Republic and West Berlin.— The Urban Guerrilla Concept authored by RAF co-founder Ulrike Meinhof (April 1971)
The origins of the group can be traced back to the student protest movement in West Germany. Industrialized nations in the late 1960s experienced social upheavals related to the maturing of the “baby boomers“, the Cold War and the end of colonialism. Newly found youth identity and issues such as racism, women’s liberation and anti-imperialism were at the forefront of left-wing politics. Many young people were alienated, from both their parents and the institutions of state. The historical legacy of Nazism drove a wedge between the generations and increased suspicion of authoritarian structures in society (some analysts see the same occurring in post-fascism Italy, giving rise to “Brigate Rosse“).
In West Germany there was anger among leftist youth at the post-war denazification in West Germany and East Germany, which was perceived as a failure or as ineffective, as former (actual and supposed) Nazis held positions in government and the economy. The Communist Party of Germany had been outlawed since 1956. Elected and appointed government positions down to the local level were often occupied by ex-Nazis. Konrad Adenauer, the first Federal Republic chancellor (in office 1949–63), had even appointed former Nazi sympathiser Hans Globke as Director of the Federal Chancellery of West Germany (in office 1953–63).
The radicals regarded the conservative media as biased—at the time conservatives such as Axel Springer, who was implacably opposed to student radicalism, owned and controlled the conservative media including all of the most influential mass-circulation tabloid newspapers. The emergence of the Grand Coalition between the two main parties, the SPD and CDU, with former Nazi Party member Kurt Georg Kiesinger as chancellor, occurred in 1966. This horrified many on the left and was viewed as a monolithic, political marriage of convenience with pro-NATO, pro-capitalist collusion on the part of the social democratic SPD. With 95% of the Bundestag controlled by the coalition, an Extra-Parliamentary Opposition (APO) was formed with the intent of generating protest and political activity outside of government. In 1972 a law was passed—the Radikalenerlass—that banned radicals or those with a “questionable” political persuasion from public sector jobs.
Some radicals used the supposed association of large parts of society with Nazism as an argument against any peaceful approaches:
They’ll kill us all. You know what kind of pigs we’re up against. This is the Auschwitz generation. You can’t argue with people who made Auschwitz. They have weapons and we haven’t. We must arm ourselves!
The radicalized were, like many in the New Left, influenced by:
- Sociological developments, pressure within the educational system in and outside Europe and the U.S., together with the background of counter-cultural movements.
- The writings of Mao Zedong adapted to Western European conditions.
- Post-war writings on class society and empire as well as contemporary Marxist critiques from many revolutionaries such as Frantz Fanon, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara, as well as early Autonomism.
- Philosophers associated with the Frankfurt school (Jürgen Habermas, Herbert Marcuse, and Oskar Negt in particular) and associated Marxian philosophers.
RAF founder Ulrike Meinhof had a long history in the Communist Party. Holger Meins had studied film and was a veteran of the Berlin revolt; his short feature How To Produce A Molotov Cocktail was seen by huge audiences. Jan Carl Raspe lived at the Kommune 2; Horst Mahler was an established lawyer but also at the center of the anti-Springer revolt from the beginning. From their own personal experiences and assessments of the socio-economic situation they soon became more specifically influenced by Leninism and Maoism, calling themselves “Marxist-Leninist” though they effectively added to or updated this ideological tradition. A contemporaneous critique of the Red Army Faction’s view of the state, published in a pirate edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, ascribed to it “state-fetishism”—an ideologically obsessive misreading of bourgeois dynamics and the nature and role of the state in post-WWII societies, including West Germany.
It is claimed that property destruction during the Watts riots in the United States in 1965 influenced the practical and ideological approach of the RAF founders, as well as some of those in Situationist circles.
The writings of Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse were drawn upon. Gramsci wrote on power, cultural and ideological conflicts in society and institutions—real-time class struggles playing out in rapidly developing industrial nation states through interlinked areas of political behavior, Marcuse on coercion and hegemony in that cultural indoctrination and ideological manipulation through the means of communication (“repressive tolerance”) dispensed with the need for complete brute force in modern ‘liberal democracies‘. His One-Dimensional Man was addressed to the restive students of the sixties. Marcuse argued that only marginal groups of students and poor alienated workers could effectively resist the system. Both Gramsci and Marcuse came to the conclusion that the ideological underpinnings and the ‘superstructure‘ of society was vitally important in the understanding of class control (and acquiescence). This could perhaps be seen as an extension of Marx’s work as he did not cover this area in detail. Das Kapital, his mainly economic work, was meant to be one of a series of books which would have included one on society and one on the state, but his death prevented fulfilment of this.
Many of the radicals felt that Germany’s lawmakers were continuing authoritarian policies and the public’s apparent acquiescence was seen as a continuation of the indoctrination the Nazis had pioneered in society (Volksgemeinschaft). The Federal Republic was exporting arms to African dictatorships, which was seen as supporting the war in Southeast Asia and engineering the remilitarization of Germany with the U.S.-led entrenchment against the Warsaw Pact nations.
Ongoing events further catalyzed the situation. Protests turned into riots on 2 June 1967, when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, visited West Berlin. There were protesters but also hundreds of supporters of the Shah, as well as a group of fake supporters armed with wooden staves, there to disturb the normal course of the visit. These extremists beat the protesters. After a day of angry protests by exiled Iranian radical Marxists, a group widely supported by German students, the Shah visited the Berlin Opera, where a crowd of German student protesters gathered. During the opera house demonstrations, German student Benno Ohnesorg was shot in the head by a police officer while attending his first protest rally. The officer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, was acquitted in a subsequent trial. It was later discovered that Kurras had been a member of the West Berlin communist party SEW and had also worked for the Stasi, though there is no indication that Kurras’ killing of Ohnesorg was under anyone’s, including the Stasi’s, orders.
Along with perceptions of state and police brutality, and widespread opposition to the Vietnam War, Ohnesorg’s death galvanised many young Germans and became a rallying point for the West German New Left. The Berlin 2 June Movement, a militant-Anarchist group, later took its name to honour the date of Ohnesorg’s death.
On 2 April 1968 Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader, joined by Thorwald Proll and Horst Söhnlein, set fire to two department stores in Frankfurt as a protest against the Vietnam war. They were arrested two days later.
On 11 April 1968 Rudi Dutschke, a leading spokesman for protesting students, was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by the right-wing sympathizer Josef Bachmann. Although badly injured, Dutschke returned to political activism with the German Green Party before his death in a bathtub in 1979, as a consequence of his injuries.
Axel Springer’s populist newspaper Bild-Zeitung, which had run headlines such as “Stop Dutschke now!”, was accused of being the chief culprit in inciting the shooting. Meinhof commented, “If one sets a car on fire, that is a criminal offence. If one sets hundreds of cars on fire, that is political action.”
Formation of the RAF
World War II was only twenty years earlier. Those in charge of the police, the schools, the government — they were the same people who’d been in charge under Nazism. The chancellor, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, had been a Nazi. People started discussing this only in the 60’s. We were the first generation since the war, and we were asking our parents questions. Due to the Nazi past, everything bad was compared to the Third Reich. If you heard about police brutality, that was said to be just like the SS. The moment you see your own country as the continuation of a fascist state, you give yourself permission to do almost anything against it. You see your action as the resistance that your parents did not put up.
All four of the defendants charged with arson and endangering human life were convicted, for which they were sentenced to three years in prison. In June 1969, however, they were temporarily paroled under an amnesty for political prisoners, but in November of that year, the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) demanded that they return to custody. Only Horst Söhnlein complied with the order; the rest went underground and made their way to France, where they stayed for a time in a house owned by prominent French journalist and revolutionary, Régis Debray, famous for his friendship with Che Guevara and the focus theory of guerrilla warfare. Eventually they made their way to Italy, where the lawyer Mahler visited them and encouraged them to return to Germany with him to form an underground guerrilla group.
The Red Army Faction was formed with the intention of complementing the plethora of revolutionary and radical groups across West Germany and Europe, as a more class conscious and determined force compared with some of its contemporaries. The members and supporters were already associated with the ‘Revolutionary Cells‘ and 2 June Movement as well as radical currents and phenomena such as the Socialist Patients’ Collective, Kommune 1 and the Situationists.
Baader was arrested again in April 1970, but on 14 May 1970 he was freed by Meinhof and others. Less than a month later, Gudrun Ensslin would write an article in a West Berlin underground paper by the name of Agit883 (Magazine for Agitation and Social Practice), demanding for a call to arms and a building of the Red Army. The article ended with the words, “Develop the class struggles. Organize the proletariat. Start the armed resistance!” Baader, Ensslin, Mahler, and Meinhof then went to Jordan, where they trained with Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrillas[not in citation given] and looked to the Palestinian cause for inspiration and guidance. But RAF organisation and outlook were also partly modeled on the Uruguayan Tupamaros movement, which had developed as an urban resistance movement, effectively inverting Che Guevara‘s Mao-like concept of a peasant or rural-based guerrilla war and instead situating the struggle in the metropole or cities.
Many members of the RAF operated through a single contact or only knew others by their codenames. Actions were carried out by active units called ‘commandos‘, with trained members being supplied by a quartermaster in order to carry out their mission. For more long-term or core cadre members, isolated cell-like organisation was absent or took on a more flexible form.
…a person who fights the military dictatorship with weapons, using unconventional methods. … The urban guerrilla follows a political goal, and only attacks the government, big businesses, and foreign imperialists.
The importance of small arms training, sabotage, expropriation, and a substantial safehouse/support base among the urban population was stressed in Marighella’s guide. This publication was an antecedent to Meinhof’s ‘The Urban Guerrilla Concept’ and has subsequently influenced many guerrilla and insurgent groups around the globe. Although some of the Red Army Faction’s supporters and operatives could be described as having an anarchist or libertarian communist slant, the group’s leading members professed a largely Marxist-Leninist ideology. That said, they shied away from overt collaboration with communist states, arguing along the lines of the Chinese side in the Sino-Soviet split that the Soviet Union and its European satellite states had become traitors to the communist cause by, in effect if not in rhetoric, giving the United States a free pass in their exploitation of Third World populations and support of “useful” Third World dictators. Nevertheless, RAF members did receive intermittent support and sanctuary over the border in East Germanyduring the 1980s.
Anti-imperialism and public support
The Baader-Meinhof Gang drew a measure of support that violent leftists in the United States, like the Weather Underground, never enjoyed. A poll at the time showed that a quarter of West Germans under forty felt sympathy for the gang and one-tenth said they would hide a gang member from the police. Prominent intellectuals spoke up for the gang’s righteousness (as) Germany even into the 1970s was still a guilt-ridden society. When the gang started robbing banks, newscasts compared its members to Bonnie and Clyde. (Andreas) Baader, a charismatic action man indulged in the imagery, telling people that his favourite movies were Bonnie and Clyde, which had recently come out, and The Battle of Algiers. The pop poster of Che Guevara hung on his wall, (while) he paid a designer to make a Red Army Faction logo, a drawing of a machine gun against a red star.
When they returned to West Germany, they began what they called an “anti-imperialistic struggle,” with bank robberies to raise money and bomb attacks against U.S. military facilities, German police stations, and buildings belonging to the Axel Springer press empire. In 1970, a manifesto authored by Meinhof used the name “RAF” and the red star logo with a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun for the first time.
Custody and the Stammheim trial
After the arrest of the protagonists of the first generation of the RAF, they were held in solitary confinement in the newly constructed high security Stammheim Prison in the north of Stuttgart. When Ensslin devised an “info system” using aliases for each member (names deemed to have allegorical significance from Moby-Dick), the four prisoners were able to communicate again, circulating letters with the help of their defence counsels.
To protest against their treatment by authorities, they went on several coordinated hunger strikes; eventually, they were force-fed. Holger Meins died of self-induced starvation on 9 November 1974. After public protests, their conditions were somewhat improved by the authorities.
The so-called second generation of the RAF emerged at the time, consisting of sympathizers independent of the inmates. This became clear when, on 27 February 1975, Peter Lorenz, the CDU candidate for mayor of Berlin, was kidnapped by the 2 June Movement (allied to the RAF) as part of pressure to secure the release of several other detainees. Since none of these were on trial for murder, the state agreed, and those inmates (and later Lorenz himself) were released.
On 24 April 1975, the West German embassy in Stockholm was seized by members of the RAF; two of the hostages were murdered as the German government under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt refused to give in to their demands. Two of the hostage-takers died from injuries they suffered when the explosives they planted mysteriously detonated later that night.
On 21 May 1975, the Stammheim trial of Baader, Ensslin, Meinhof, and Raspe began named after the district in Stuttgart where it took place. The Bundestag had earlier changed the Code of Criminal Procedure so that several of the attorneys who were accused of serving as links between the inmates and the RAF’s second generation could be excluded.
On 9 May 1976, Ulrike Meinhof was found dead in her prison cell, hanging from a rope made from jail towels. An investigation concluded that she had hanged herself, a result hotly contested at the time, triggering a plethora of so-called conspiracy theories. Other theories suggest that she took her life because she was being ostracized by the rest of the group. There is, however, evidence to the contrary of this hypothesis.
During the trial, more attacks took place. One of these was on 7 April 1977, when Federal Prosecutor Siegfried Buback, his driver, and his bodyguard were shot and killed by two RAF members while waiting at a red traffic light. Buback, who had been a Nazi member during WWII, was considered by RAF as one of the key persons for their trial. Among other things, two years earlier, while being interviewed by Stern magazine, he stated that “Persons like Baader don’t deserve a fair trial.” In February 1976, when interviewed by Spiegel he stated that “We do not need regulation of our jurisdiction, national security survives thanks to people like me and Herold (chief of BKA), who always find the right way…”
Eventually, on 28 April 1977, the trial’s 192nd day, the three remaining defendants were convicted of several murders, more attempted murders, and of forming a terrorist organization; they were sentenced to life imprisonment.
A new section of Stammheim Prison was built especially for the RAF and was considered one of the most secure prison blocks around the world at the time. The prisoners were transferred there in 1975 (three years after their arrest). The roof and the courtyard was covered with steel mesh. During the night the precinct was illuminated by fifty-four spotlights and twenty-three neon bulbs. Special military forces were guarding the roof, including snipers. Four hundred police officers along with the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution patrolled the building. The mounted police officers oscillated on a double shift. One hundred more GSG-9 units reinforced the police during the trial. BKA agents guarded the front of the court area. Finally there were helicopters flying around the area.:549
The accredited correspondents of the media had to pass the first police road block 400 meters away from the court. The police noted their data and the number-plate, and photographed their cars. After that they had to pass three verification audits, and finally they were undressed and two judicial officials thoroughly searched their bodies. They were allowed to keep only a pencil and a notepad inside the court. Their personal items including their identities were held by the authorities during the trial. Every journalist could attend the trial only twice (two days). The Times questioned the possibility whether a fair trial could be conducted under these circumstances which involved siege-like conditions. Der Spiegel was wondering whether that atmosphere anticipated “the condemnation of the defendants who were allegedly responsible for the emergency measures.”
During the visits from lawyers and, more rarely, relatives (friends were not allowed), three jailers were observing the conversations the prisoners had with their visitors. The prisoners were not allowed to meet each other inside the prison, until late 1975 when a regular meeting time was established (30 minutes, twice per day), during which they were obviously guarded.
The judges and their pasts are considered important by supporters of the accused. Judge Weiss (Mahler’s trial) had judged Joachim Raese (president of the Third Reich’s court) as innocent seven times. When he threatened Meinhof that she would be put into a glass cage she answered caustically, “So you are threatening me with Eichmann’s cage, fascist?” (Adolf Eichmann who was an Obersturmbannführer in the SS, was held inside a glass cage during his trial in Israel). Siegfried Buback, the RAF’s main trial judge in Stammheim, had been a Nazi Party member. Along with Federal Prosecutor Heinrich Wunder (who served as senior government official in Ministry of Defense), Buback had ordered the arrest of Rudolf Augstein and other journalists regarding the Spiegel affair in 1962. Theodor Prinzing was accused by defense attorney Otto Schily that he had been appointed arbitrarily displacing other judges.:547
During several points in the Stammheim trial, the microphones were turned off while defendants were speaking, they were often expelled from the hall, and other actions were taken. It was later revealed that the conversation they had between them as well with their attorneys were recorded. Finally it was reported by both the defendants’ attorneys and some of the prison’s doctors, that the physical and psychological state of the prisoners held in solitary confinement and white cells was such that they couldn’t attend the long trial days and defend themselves appropriately. By the time the Stammheim trial began in early 1975, some of the prisoners had already been in solitary confinement for three years.
Two former members of RAF, Karl-Heinz Ruhland, and Gerhard Müller, testified under BKA’s orders, as revealed later. Their statements were often contradictory, something that was also commented on in the newspapers. Ruhland himself later reported to Stern that his deposition was prepared in cooperation with police. Müller was reported to “break” during the third hunger strike in the winter 1974/75 which lasted 145 days. Prosecution offered him immunity for the murder of officer Norbert Schmidt in Hamburg (1971), and blamed Baader, Meinhof, Ensslin and Raspe instead. He was eventually freed and relocated to USA after getting a new identity and 500,000 Deutschmarks.:352
The government hastily approved several special laws for use during the Stammheim trial. Lawyers were excluded from trial for the first time since 1945, after being accused of various inappropriate actions, such as helping to form criminal organisations (Section 129, Criminal Law). The authorities invaded and checked the lawyers’ offices for possible incriminating material. Minister of Justice Hans-Jochen Vogel stated proudly that no other Western state had such an extensive regulation to exclude defense attorneys from the trial. Klaus Croissant, Hans-Christian Ströbele, Kurt Groenewold, who had been working preparing for the trial for three years were expelled the second day of the trial. On 23 June (1975), Croissant, Ströbele (who had already been expelled) and Mary Becker were arrested, and in the meantime police invaded several defense attorneys’ offices and homes, seizing several documents and files. Ströbele and Croissant were remanded and held for 4 weeks and 8 weeks accordingly. Croissant had to pay 80,000 Deutschmarks, to report weekly to police station as well as having his transport and identity papers seized.:545-572
The defense lawyers and prisoners were not alone to be affected by measures adopted for the RAF-trial. On 26 November 1974 an unprecedented mobilization by police and GSG-9units, to arrest 23 suspected RAF members, included invasion of dozens of homes, left-wing bookstores, and meeting places, and arrests were made. However none of the guerrillas was found.:266 BKA’s chief, Horst Herold stated that despite the fact that “large-scale operations usually don’t bring practical results, the impression of the crowd is always a considerable advantage.”
On 16 February 1979 Croissant was arrested (on the accusation of supporting criminal organisation — section 129), after France denied his request for political asylum, and was sentenced to a prison term of two and half years to be served in Stammheim prison.
Defense strategy on trial
The general approach by defendants and their attorneys was to highlight the political purpose and characteristics of RAF.
On 13 and 14 January 1976 the defendants readied their testimony (about 200 pages) where they were analyzing the role of imperialism and its furious struggle against the revolutionary movements in the countries of the “third world.” They also expounded the fascistization of West Germany and its role as an imperialistic state (alliance with USA over Vietnam). Finally they talked about the task of urban guerillas and they undertook the political responsibility for the bombing attacks. Finally their lawyers (following Ulrike Meinhof’s proposal) requested that the accused be officially regarded as prisoners of war.
On 4 May (5 days before Meinhof’s death) the four defendants requested to provide data about the Vietnam War. They claimed that since the military intervention in Vietnam by U.S (and indirectly FRG), had violated international law, the U.S. military bases in West Germany were justifiably targets of international retaliation. They requested several politicians (like Richard Nixon and Helmut Schmidt) as well as some former US agents (who were willing to testify) to be called as witnesses.
Later when their requests were totally rejected, US agents Barton Osbourne (ex-CIA, ex-member of the Phoenix Program), G. Peck (NSA), and Gary Thomas gave an extensive interview (organized by defense lawyers) on 23 June 1976 where they explained by which ways FRG support was crucial for US operations in Vietnam. Peck concluded that RAF “was the response to criminal aggression of the U.S. government in Indochina and the assistance of the German government. The real terrorist was my government.” Thomas presented data about the joint operations of FRG and US secret services in Eastern Europe. He was also observing Stammheim trial and referred to a CIA instructor teaching them how to make a murder look like a suicide.
Acts of terroris
The Baader-Meinhof gang has been associated with various acts of terrorism since their founding. The first act of terrorism attributed to the group after the student Benno Ohnesorghad been killed by a policeman in 1967 was the bombing of the Kaufhaus Schneider department store. On 2 April 1968, affiliates of the group firebombed the store and caused an estimated 200,000 USD worth of property damage. Prominent members of the bombing include Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin, two of the major founders of the Baader-Meinhof gang. The bombs detonated at midnight when no one was in the store, thus, no one was injured. As the bombs ignited, Gudrun Ensslin was at a nearby payphone, yelling to the German Press Agency, “This is a political act of revenge.”
On 2 February 1972, the Baader-Meinhof gang bombed the West Berlin British Yacht Club. The result was the killing of Irwin Beelitz, a German boat maker. The 2 June Movementwing of the group claimed responsibility for the bombing, voicing that the reason behind the bombing was a political statement in support of the Irish Republican Army.
On 11 May 1972, the Baader-Meinhof gang placed three pipe bombs at the United States headquarters in Frankfurt. The bombing resulted in the death of a U.S officer and the injury of 13 other people. The stated reason for the bombing was a political statement in protest of U.S imperialism, specifically, protest of several mining facilities that belonged to U.S that were located in North Vietnam harbors.
On 24 May 1972, just two weeks after the bombing of the United States headquarters in Frankfurt, the group set several car bombs off at the Campbell Barracks in Heidelberg. The bombing resulted in the death of three U.S officers and the injury of five others.
On 10 November 1974, the group killed Günter von Denkmann, the president of Germany’s superior court of justice. The killing occurred after a string of events that led to the failed kidnapping of him by the 2 June Movement, a group that splintered off the Baader-Meinhof group after the death of Holger Meins by hunger strike in prison.
Starting in February 1975 and continuing through March 1975, the 2 June Movement kidnapped Peter Lorenz, who at the time, was the Christian Democratic candidate in the race for the mayor of West Berlin. In exchange for the release of Lorenz, the group demanded that many Baader-Meinhof and 2 June Movement members that were imprisoned for reasons other than violence be released from jail. The government obliged and released several of these members for the safe release of Lorenz.
On 24 April 1975, six members affiliated with the Baader-Meinhof group seize the West German embassy located in Stockholm. The group took hostages and set the building to explode. They demanded the release of several imprisoned members of the Baader-Meinhof gang. The government refused the request, which led to the execution of two of the hostages. A few of the bombs that were intended to blow up the embassy prematurely detonated, which resulted in the death of two of the six Baader-Meinhof affiliates. The other four members eventually surrendered to the authorities.
In May 1975, several British intelligence reports circulated that stated that the Baader-Meinhof gang had stolen mustard gas from joint U.S and British storage facility. The reports also indicated that the Baader-Meinhof gang had intended to use the stolen gas against many major German cities. It eventually turned out that the mustard gas canisters were just misplaced; however, the Baader-Meinhof gang still successfully capitalized on the news by frightening several different agencies.
During the early 1980s, the German and French newspapers reported that the police had raided a Baader-Meinhof gang safe house in Paris and had found a makeshift laboratory that contained flasks full of Clostridium botulinum, which makes botulinum toxin. There reports were later found to be incorrect; no such lab was ever found.
On 30 July 1977, Jürgen Ponto, the head of Dresdner Bank, was shot and killed in front of his house in Oberursel in a botched kidnapping. Those involved were Brigitte Mohnhaupt, Christian Klar, and Susanne Albrecht, the last being the sister of Ponto’s goddaughter.
Following the convictions, Hanns Martin Schleyer, a former officer of the SS and NSDAP member who was then President of the German Employers’ Association (and thus one of the most powerful industrialists in West Germany) was abducted in a violent kidnapping. On 5 September 1977, Schleyer’s convoy was stopped by the kidnappers reversing a car into the path of Schleyer’s vehicle, causing the Mercedes he was being driven in to crash. Once the convoy was stopped, five masked assailants immediately shot and killed the three policemen and the driver and took Schleyer hostage. One of the group (Sieglinde Hofmann) produced her weapon from a pram she was pushing down the road.
A letter then arrived at the Federal Government, demanding the release of eleven detainees, including those from Stammheim. A crisis committee was formed in Bonn, headed by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, which, instead of acceding, resolved to employ delaying tactics to give the police time to discover Schleyer’s location. At the same time, a total communication ban was imposed on the prison inmates, who were now allowed visits only from government officials and the prison chaplain.
The crisis dragged on for more than a month, while the Bundeskriminalamt carried out its biggest investigation to date. Matters escalated when, on 13 October 1977, Lufthansa Flight 181 from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt was hijacked. A group of four PFLP members took control of the plane (named Landshut). The leader introduced himself to the passengers as “Captain Mahmud” who would be later identified as Zohair Youssef Akache. When the plane landed in Rome for refueling, he issued the same demands as the Schleyer kidnappers, plus the release of two Palestinians held in Turkey and payment of US$15 million.
The Bonn crisis team again decided not to give in. The plane flew on via Larnaca to Dubai, and then to Aden, where flight captain Jürgen Schumann, whom the hijackers deemed not cooperative enough, was brought before an improvised “revolutionary tribunal” and executed on 16 October. His body was dumped on the runway. The aircraft again took off, flown by the co-pilot Jürgen Vietor, this time headed for Mogadishu, Somalia.
A high-risk rescue operation was led by Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski, then undersecretary in the chancellor’s office, who had secretly been flown in from Bonn. At five past midnight (CET) on 18 October, the plane was stormed in a seven-minute assault by the GSG 9, an elite unit of the German federal police. All four hijackers were shot; three of them died on the spot. None of the passengers were seriously hurt and Wischnewski was able to phone Schmidt and tell the Bonn crisis team that the operation had been a success.
Half an hour later, German radio broadcast the news of the rescue, to which the Stammheim inmates could be listening on their radios. In the course of the night, Baader was found dead with a gunshot wound in the back of his head and Ensslin was found hanged in her cell; Raspe died in the hospital the next day from a gunshot wound to the head. Irmgard Möller, who had several stab wounds in the chest, survived and was released from prison in 1994.
On 18 October 1977, Hanns-Martin Schleyer was shot to death by his captors en route to Mulhouse, France. The next day, on 19 October, Schleyer’s kidnappers announced that he had been “executed” and pinpointed his location. His body was recovered later that day in the trunk of a green Audi 100on the rue Charles Péguy. The French newspaper Libération received a letter declaring:
After 43 days we have ended Hanns-Martin Schleyer’s pitiful and corrupt existence… His death is meaningless to our pain and our rage… The struggle has only begun. Freedom through armed, anti-imperialist struggle.
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The official inquiry concluded that the group made a collective decision to commit suicide on a predetermined night. However, the autopsy and police reports contained several contradictory statements.
It has been questioned how Baader and Raspe managed to obtain a gun in the high-security prison wing specially constructed for the first generation RAF members. Independent investigations showed that the inmates’ lawyers were able to smuggle in weapons and equipment despite the high security, something that the lawyers themselves denied, arguing that every meeting with their clients was observed by jailers. The claims were based primarily on the testimonies of Hans-Joachim Dellwo, brother of RAF prisoner Karl-Heinz Dellwo, and Volker Speitel, the husband of RAF member Angelika Speitel, who were arrested on 2 October 1977 and charged with belonging to a criminal organisation. The fact that they both received lighter sentences, and after release were given new identities, raises the question as to whether they were acting under police pressure and immunity proposal (as was the case with the ex-RAF members and perjurers Karl-Heinz Ruhland and Gerhard Müller). However based on these testimonies, the defense attorneys Armin Newerla and Arndt Müller were tried in 1979 and one year later they were convicted of weapon smuggling receiving three and a half years and four years and eight months sentences respectively.:515
As regards Möller, only a total commitment to her cause could have allowed Möller to inflict the four stab wounds found near her heart. She claims that it was actually an extrajudicial killing, orchestrated by the German government, in response to Red Army Faction demands that the prisoners be released.
A few more questions that were raised regarding the death night were:
- The autopsy concluded that Baader shot himself in the neck, 3 cm above the hairline in a direction that made the bullet come out through the forehead from a straight trajectory, with a 7.65 calibre pistol which is considered implausible. Moreover, the investigation carried out by the ballistic expert Dr Roland Hoffman using Baader’s gun, showed that the bullet must have been fired from a distance of between 30 and 40 centimetres, which is considered likely impossible. The only case according to Hoffman that such small amount of gunpowder that was found, would fit the shoot by contact scenario would be if a silencer was used, however apparently the gun had no silencer when the body was found
- The fact that three bullets were found inside Baader’s cell is considered suspicious. The first explanation given was that Baader signaled the other prisoners. However the cells were soundproof and the jailors who were posted a few meters from the cells didn’t hear any suspicious sound, so it remains in question how the other prisoners could have communicated.
- There was no gunpowder traces on Raspe’s hands, even though it is considered impossible to fire a gun without leaving gunpowder on one’s hands, something that it is always mentioned in autopsy reports. Baader had gunpowder on his right hand, despite the fact that he was left-handed.
- There were no fingerprints found on either Raspe’s or Baader’s gun or the kitchen knife Möller used to stab herself four times, according to official statements. The public prosecutor’s office argued that due to the large amount of blood that covered the weapons, the traces couldn’t be determined. However, later Mr. Testor who was the head of the investigation team for the events in Stammheim, argued that there was no blood on Raspe’s pistol, and stated: “If the weapons had been polished with a cloth before the act, then no usable traces could have remained after only being used once.” Finally Raspe was still holding the gun inside his hand when he was found, something considered at least unusual.
- As regards Ensslin, there were similar questions to Meinhof’s case. There are arguments that the chair she allegedly used to hang herself was too far away from her body to have been used, and that the cable used to hang herself was such that it would most likely not tolerate the weight of a fallen body. Finally Ensslin had written to their lawyers: “I am afraid of being suicided in the same way as Ulrike. If there is no letter from me and I’m found dead; in this case it is an assassination.”:518
Finally the international commission that had been formed to investigate Ulrike Meinhof’s death, and hadn’t been dissolved at the time, noticed that on both nights (8–9 May 1976; the night Meinhof had allegedly committed suicide), and 17–18 October 1977, an auxiliary was in charge of surveillance rather than the usual guard.:519 They also discovered an uncontrolled entrance to the seventh floor which led to the roof. The authorities claimed they were unaware of this until 4 November 1977.
RAF since the 1980s
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in late December 1991 was a serious blow to Leninist groups, but well into the 1990s attacks were still being committed under the name RAF. Among these were the killing of Ernst Zimmermann, CEO of MTU Aero Engines, a German engineering company; another bombing at the US Air Force’s Rhein-Main Air Base (near Frankfurt), which targeted the base commander and killed two bystanders; the car bomb attack that killed Siemens executive Karl-Heinz Beckurts and his driver; and the shooting of Gerold von Braunmühl, a leading official at Germany’s foreign ministry. On 30 November 1989, Deutsche Bank chairman Alfred Herrhausen was killed with a highly complex bomb when his car triggered a photo sensor, in Bad Homburg. On 1 April 1991, Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, leader of the government Treuhand organization responsible for the privatization of the East German state economy, was shot and killed. The assassins of Zimmermann, von Braunmühl, Herrhausen and Rohwedder were never reliably identified.
After German reunification in 1990, it was confirmed that the RAF had received financial and logistic support from the Stasi, the security and intelligence organization of East Germany, which had given several members shelter and new identities. This was already generally suspected at the time. In 1978 part of the group was exfiltrated through Yugoslavia to communist Poland to avoid manhunt in Germany. Brigitte Mohnhaupt, Peter Boock, Rolf Wagner and Sieglinde Hoffmann spent most of the year in SB facilities in Mazury district, where they were also going through series of trainings along with others from Arab countries.
In 1992, the German government assessed that the RAF’s main field of engagement now was missions to release former RAF-members. To weaken the organization further the government declared that some RAF inmates would be released if the RAF refrained from violent attacks in the future. Subsequently, the RAF announced their intention to “de-escalate” and refrain from significant activity.
The last action taken by the RAF took place in 1993 with a bombing of a newly built prison in Weiterstadt by overcoming the officers on duty and planting explosives. Although no one was seriously injured this operation caused property damage amounting to 123 million Deutschmarks (over 50 million euros).
The last big action against the RAF took place on 27 June 1993. A Verfassungsschutz (internal secret service) agent named Klaus Steinmetz had infiltrated the RAF. As a result, Birgit Hogefeld and Wolfgang Grams were to be arrested in Bad Kleinen. Grams and GSG 9 officer Michael Newrzella died during the mission. While it was initially concluded that Grams committed suicide, others claimed his death was in revenge for Newrzella’s. Two eyewitness accounts supported the claims of an execution-style murder. However, an investigation headed by the Attorney General failed to substantiate such claims. Due to a number of operational mistakes involving the various police services, German Minister of the Interior Rudolf Seiters took responsibility and resigned from his post.
On 20 April 1998, an eight-page typewritten letter in German was faxed to the Reuters news agency, signed “RAF” with the machine-gun red star, declaring the group dissolved:
“Almost 28 years ago, on 14 May 1970, the RAF arose in a campaign of liberation. Today we end this project. The urban guerrilla in the shape of the RAF is now history.” (German: Vor fast 28 Jahren, am 14. Mai 1970, entstand in einer Befreiungsaktion die RAF. Heute beenden wir dieses Projekt. Die Stadtguerilla in Form der RAF ist nun Geschichte.)
Horst Mahler, a founding RAF member, is now a vocal Neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier. In 2005, Mahler was sentenced to 6 years in prison for incitement to racial hatred against Jews. He is on record as saying that his beliefs have not changed: Der Feind ist der Gleiche (The enemy is the same).
In 2007, amidst widespread media controversy, German president Horst Köhler considered pardoning RAF member Christian Klar, who had filed a pardon application several years before. On 7 May 2007, pardon was denied; regular[d] parole was later granted on 24 November 2008. RAF member Brigitte Mohnhaupt was granted release on five-year parole by a German court on 12 February 2007 and Eva Haule was released 17 August 2007.
Faction versus Fraktion
The usual translation into English is the Red Army Faction; however, the founders wanted it not to reflect a splinter group but rather an embryonic militant unit that was embedded in or part of a wider communist workers’ movement,[e] i.e. a fraction of a whole.
RAF vs. Baader-Meinhof
The group always called itself the Rote Armee Fraktion, never the Baader-Meinhof Group or Gang. The name refers to all incarnations of the organization: the “first generation” RAF, which consisted of Baader, Ensslin, Meinhof and others, the “second generation” RAF, and the “third generation” RAF, which existed in the 1980s and 90s.
The terms “Baader-Meinhof Gang” and “Baader-Meinhof Group” were first used by the media and the government. The group never used these names to refer to itself, since it viewed itself as co-founded group consisting of numerous members and not a group with two figureheads.
List of assaults attributed to the RAF
|22 October 1971||Hamburg||Police officer killed||RAF members Irmgard Möller and Gerhard Müller attempted to rescue Margrit Schiller who was being arrested by the police for engaging in a shootout. Police sergeant Heinz Lemke was shot in the foot, while Sergeant Norbert Schmid, 33, was killed, becoming the first murder to be attributed to the RAF.|
|22 December 1971||Kaiserslautern||Police officer killed||German Police officer Herbert Schoner, 32, was shot by members of the RAF in a bank robbery. The four militants escaped with 134,000 Deutschmarks.|
|11 May 1972||Frankfurt am Main||Bombing of US Army V Corps headquarters and the officers’ mess Terrace Club||US Army LTC Paul A. Bloomquist killed,13 wounded|
|12 May 1972||Augsburg and Munich||Bombing of a police station in Augsburg and the Bavarian State Criminal Investigations Agency in Munich||5 police-officers wounded. Claimed by the Tommy WeissbeckerCommando.|
|16 May 1972||Karlsruhe||Bombing of the car of the Federal Judge Buddenberg||His wife Gerta was driving the car and was wounded. Claimed by the Manfred Grashof commando.|
|19 May 1972||Hamburg||Bombing of the Axel Springer Verlag. The building was not evacuated even though warnings about the bombing were made by the RAF.||17 wounded. Ilse Stachowiak was involved in the bombing.|
|24 May 1972 18:10CET||Heidelberg||Bombing outside of Officers’ Club followed by a second bomb moments later in front of Army Security Agency (ASA), U.S. Army in Europe (HQ USAREUR) at Campbell Barracks. Known involved RAF members: Irmgard Möller and Angela Luther, Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin, Holger Meins, Jan-Carl Raspe.||3 dead (Ronald A. Woodward, Charles L. Peck and Captain Clyde R. Bonner), 5 wounded. Claimed by 15 July Commando (in honour of Petra Schelm). Executed by Irmgard Moeller.|
|24 April 1975||Stockholm, Sweden||West German embassy siege, murder of Andreas von Mirbach and Dr. Heinz Hillegaart||4 dead, of whom 2 were RAF members.|
|7 May 1976||Sprendlingennear Offenbach||Police officer killed||22-year-old Fritz Sippel was shot in the head when checking an RAF member’s identity papers.|
|4 January 1977||Giessen||Attack against US 42nd Field Artillery Brigade at Giessen||In a failed attack against the Giessen army base, the RAF sought to capture or destroy nuclear weapons present. A diversionary bomb attack on a fuel tank failed to fully ignite the fuel.|
|7 April 1977||Karlsruhe||Assassination of the federal prosecutor-general Siegfried Buback||The driver and another passenger were also killed. Claimed by the Ulrike Meinhof Commando. This murder case was brought up again after the 30-year commemoration in April 2007 when information from former RAF member Peter-Jürgen Boock surfaced in media reports.|
|30 July 1977||Oberursel(Taunus)||Killing of Jürgen Ponto||The director of Dresdner Bank, Jürgen Ponto, is shot in his home during an attempted kidnapping. Ponto later dies from his injuries.|
|5 September 197718 October 1977||Cologne resp.Mulhouse, France||Hanns Martin Schleyer, chairman of the German Employers’ Association, is kidnapped and later shot||3 police-officers and the driver are also killed during the kidnapping.|
|22 September 1977||Utrecht, Netherlands||Police officer killed||Arie Kranenburg (46), Dutch policeman, shot and killed by RAF Knut Folkerts outside a bar.|
|24 September 1978||A forest near Dortmund||Police officer killed||Three RAF members (Angelika Speitel, Werner Lotze, Michael Knoll) were engaged in target practice when they were confronted by police. A shootout followed where one policeman (Hans-Wilhelm Hans, 26)was shot dead, and one of the RAF members (Knoll) was wounded so badly that he would later die from his injuries.|
|1 November 1978||Kerkrade, Netherlands||Gun-battle with four Dutch custom officials||Dionysius de Jong (19) was shot to death, and Johannes Goemanns (24) later died of his wounds, when they were involved in a gunfight with RAF members Adelheid Schulz and Rolf Heissler who were trying to cross the Dutch border illegally.|
|25 June 1979||Mons, Belgium||Alexander Haig, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, escapes an assassination attempt||A land mine blew up under the bridge on which Haig’s car was traveling, narrowly missing Haig’s car and wounding three of his bodyguards in a following car. In 1993 a German Court sentenced Rolf Clemens Wagner, a former RAF member, to life imprisonment for the assassination attempt.|
|7 August 1981||Kaiserslautern, Germany||USAF Security Police Officer Sgt. John Toffton was attacked in Kaiserslautern by Christian Klar and Brigitte Mohnhaupt and unknown third party||A USAF Security Police Officer was on his way to work from his residence on Malzstrasse near Eisenbahnstrasse and Mozartstrasse riding a bicycle when he was attacked. The officer survived the attack with little injury. Mohnhaupt, the driver and Klar fled the scene in a green VW Fast Back with German plates. Unknown third party swinging a club was injured or killed. A large amount of blood and broken eyeglasses was found at the scene, none of the blood was from the victim.|
|31 August 1981||Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany||Large car-bomb exploded in the HQ USAFE and HQ 4th ATAF parking lot of Ramstein Air Base|
|15 September 1981||Heidelberg||Unsuccessful rocket propelled grenade attack against the car carrying the US Army’s West German Commander Frederick J. Kroesen. Known involved RAF members: Brigitte Mohnhaupt, Christian Klar.|
|2 July 1982||Nuremberg||Unsuccessful sniper attack against US Army Nuclear Storage Site NATO-23. Four civilians (two adults and two children) were killed the next day in an accidental shooting by American troops who had been placed on high alert after the attack. Known involved RAF members: Christian Klar.||A family of four who were out hunting mushrooms, made their way through a broken fence the day after the sniper incident, and were killed by members of the 3/17th Field Artillery Battalion, who were on high alert. They were guarding the NATO 2-3 Nuclear storage site at the time, and had been fired upon several times the night before by Christian Klar, when two US soldiers had been slightly wounded and one killed.|
|18 December 1984||Oberammergau, West Germany||Unsuccessful attempt to bomb a school for NATO officers. The car bomb was discovered and defused.||A total of ten incidents followed over the next month, against US, British, and French targets.|
|1 February 1985||Gauting||Shooting||Ernst Zimmerman, head of the MTU is shot in the head in his home. Zimmermann died twelve hours later. The assassination was claimed by the Patsy O’Hara Commando.|
|8 August 1985||Rhein-Main Air Base (near Frankfurt)||A Volkswagen Passat exploded in the parking lot across from the base commander’s building||Two people killed: Airman First Class Frank Scarton and Becky Bristol, a U.S. civilian employee who also was the spouse of a U.S. Air Force enlisted man. A granite monument marks the spot where they died. Twenty people were also injured. Army Spec. Edward Pimental was kidnapped and killed the night before for his military ID card which was used to gain access to the base. The French revolutionary organization Action Directe is suspected to have collaborated with the RAF on this attack. Birgit Hogefeld and Eva Haule have been convicted for their involvement in this event.|
|9 July 1986||Straßlach (near Munich)||Shooting of Siemens manager Karl Heinz Beckurts and driver Eckhard Groppler|
|10 October 1986||Bonn||Killing of Gerold Braunmühl||The senior diplomat of the German Foreign Office was shot by two people in front of his residence on Buchholzstraße.|
|30 November 1989||Bad Homburg vor der Höhe.||Bombing of the car carrying the chairman of Deutsche Bank Alfred Herrhausen (killed)||The case remained open for a long time, as the advanced explosive method employed baffled German prosecutors, as it could not have been the work of guerrillas like the RAF. Also, all suspects of the RAF were not charged due to alibis. However, the case received new light in late 2007 when German authorities learned that the Stasi, the former East German secret police, may have played a role in the assassination of Herrhausen, as the bombing method was exactly the same as one that had been developed by the Stasi.|
|13 February 1991||Bonn||Sniper attack on U.S. embassy||Three Red Army Faction members fired automatic rifles from across the Rhine River at the U.S. Embassy Chancery. No one was hurt.|
|1 April 1991||Düsseldorf||Assassination of Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, at his house in Düsseldorf||Rohwedder was the chief of the Treuhandanstalt, the agency that privatized the former East German enterprises after the German reunification.|
|27 March 1993||Weiterstadt||Attacks with explosives at the construction site of a new prison||Led to the capture of two RAF members three months later at a train station, and a shoot-out between RAF member Wolfgang Grams and a GSG 9 squad; GSG9 officer Michael Newrzella was killed before Grams allegedly was shot, while Birgit Hogefeld was arrested. Damage 123 million Deutschmarks (over 50 million euros). The attack caused a four-year delay in the completion of the site that was planned to open in 1993.|
|June 2015||Bremen||Attempted robbery of a security van using another van in a blocking move. Three shots fired from semi-automatic weapons, but attackers were unable to open the security van’s door.||In January 2016, police have identified the individuals involved in the attempted robbery using DNA from fingerprints, naming the suspects as RAF militants Ernst-Volker Staub, Daniela Klette, and Burkhard Garweg.|