Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Red Army Faction

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Area of operations
Red Army Faction


Battles and wars
West German Embassy siege, German Autumn

The Red Army Faction or Red Army Fraction (RAF; German: Rote Armee Fraktion), in its early stages commonly known as the Baader-Meinhof Group or Baader-Meinhof Gang (German: Baader-Meinhof-Gruppe, Baader-Meinhof-Bande), was a West German far-left revolutionary group supported by the Stasi. The RAF was founded in 1970 by Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Horst Mahler, and Ulrike Meinhof. The West German government considered the Red Army Faction to be a terrorist organization.


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.

Although Ulrike Meinhof was not considered to be a leader of the RAF at any time, her involvement in Baader's escape from jail in 1970 and her well-known status as a German journalist and intellectual led to her name becoming closely associated to it in the public discourse.
There were three successive incarnations of the organization:

  • the "first generation" which consisted of Baader, Meinhof and their associates,
  • the "second generation" RAF, which operated in the mid- to late 1970s after several former members of the Socialist Patients' Collective joined, and
  • the "third generation" RAF, which existed in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • 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. However, 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.


    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 origins of the group can be traced back to the student protest movement in West Germany. Industrialised 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 extremist 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. 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 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.

    In 1969 the Brazilian revolutionary Carlos Marighella published his Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla. He described the urban guerrilla as:

    ...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 Germany during 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, spoiled psychopath, 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.

    After an intense manhunt, Baader, Ensslin, Meinhof, Holger Meins, and Jan-Carl Raspe were eventually caught and arrested in June 1972.

    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 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 conspiracy theories. Other theories suggest that she took her life because she was being ostracized by the rest of the group.

    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.

    Security measures

    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.

    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 (2 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 SS colonel, 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 scandal in 1962. Theodor Prinzing was accused by defense attorney Otto Schily that he had been appointed arbitrarily displacing other judges.

    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.

    Lawyers' arrests

    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.

    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-9 units, 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. 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.

    Defence 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 FRG were justifiably targets of international retaliation. They requested several politicians (like R. Nixon and H. 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.

    The above statements were confirmed by the well-known CIA case officer Philip Agee

    German Autumn

    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 100 on 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.

    The events in the autumn of 1977 are frequently referred to as Der Deutsche Herbst ("German Autumn").

    "Death Night"

    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.

    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 ones 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."
  • 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 supposedly committed suicide), and 17–18 October 1977, an auxiliary was in charge of surveillance rather than the usual guard. 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 other terrorists 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.)

    In response to this statement, former BKA President Horst Herold said, "With this statement the Red Army Faction has erected its own tombstone."


    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, the 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 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, i.e. a 'fraction' of a whole.

    RAF vis-à-vis 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 not a group with two figure heads.

    RAF Commandos

    The following is a list of all known RAF Commando Units – Most RAF units were named after deceased RAF members, others were named after deceased members of international militant left-wing groups such as the Black Panthers, Irish National Liberation Army and the Red Brigades.

  • 15 July Commando
  • 2 June Commando
  • Andreas Baader Commando
  • Ciro Rizzato Commando
  • George Jackson Commando
  • Gudrun Ensslin Commando
  • Holger Meins Commando
  • Ingrid Schubert Commando
  • Jan-Carl Raspe Commando
  • José Manuel Sevillano Commando
  • Katharina Hammerschmidt Commando
  • Khaled Aker Commando
  • Manfred Grashof Commando
  • Mara Cagol Commando
  • Patsy O'Hara Commando
  • Petra Schelm Commando
  • Siegfried Hausner Commando
  • Sigurd Debus Commando
  • Thomas Weissbecker Commando
  • Ulrich Wessel Commando
  • Ulrike Meinhof Commando
  • Vincenzo Spano Commando
  • Wolfgang Beer Commando
  • Films

    Numerous West German film and TV productions have been made about the RAF. These include Klaus Lemke's telefeature Brandstifter (Arsonists) (1969); Volker Schloendorff's The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (a 1978 adaptation of Heinrich Böll's novel Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum); Germany in Autumn (1978), codirected by Alexander Kluge, Volker Schloendorff, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Edgar Reitz; Fassbinder's Die dritte Generation (The Third Generation) (1979); Margarethe von Trotta's Die bleierne Zeit (The German Sisters) (1981); and Reinhard Hauff's Stammheim (1986). Post-reunification German films include Christian Petzold's Die innere Sicherheit (The State I Am In) (2000); Christopher Roth's Baader (2002).

    The most prominent and acclaimed film was Uli Edel's 2008 The Baader Meinhof Complex (German: Der Baader Meinhof Komplex)), based on the best selling book by Stefan Aust. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in both the 81st Academy Awards and 66th Golden Globe Awards.

    Outside Germany, films include Swiss director Markus Imhoof's Die Reise (The Journey) (1986). On TV, there was Heinrich Breloer's Todesspiel (Death Game) (1997), a two-part docu-drama, and Volker Schloendorff's Die Stille nach dem Schuss (The Legend of Rita) (2000).

    There have been several documentaries: Im Fadenkreuz – Deutschland & die RAF (1997, several directors); Gerd Conradt's Starbuck Holger Meins (2001); Andres Veiel's Black Box BRD (2001); Klaus Stern's Andreas Baader – Der Staatsfeind (Enemy of the State) (2003); Ben Lewis's In Love With Terror, for BBC Four (2003); and Ulrike Meinhof – Wege in den Terror (Ways into Terror) (2006).

    The 2010 feature documentary Children of the Revolution tells Ulrike Meinhof's story from the perspective of her daughter, journalist and historian Bettina Röhl, while Andres Veiel's 2011 feature film If Not Us, Who? provides a context for the RAF's origins through the perspective of Gudrun Ensslin's partner Bernward Vesper. In 2015 Jean-Gabriel Périot released his feature-length found footage documentary A German Youth on the Red Amy Faction.

    Fiction and art

  • Australian-British playwright Van Badham's play Black Hands/Dead Section provides a fictionalised account of the actions and lives of key members of the RAF. It won the Queensland premier's award for literature in 2005.
  • Gerhard Richter, a German painter whose series of works entitled 18 October 1977 repainted photographs of the Faction members and their deaths.
  • The Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum made a painting called The Murder of Andreas Baader in 1977–1978, that shows Nerdrum's personal commentary to the events in the Stammheim prison.
  • Josef Žáček, a Czech painter created a series of paintings entitled Searching in Lost Space 1993 that were inspired by events that had occurred in 1993 in Bad Kleinen.
  • Heinrich Böll's book The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, 1974, describes the political climate in West Germany during the active phase of the RAF in the seventies. Schlöndorff and Trotta (who knew the leading RAF cadre) filmed the book in 1975.
  • Cabaret Voltaire, the influential industrial band from Sheffield, England, recorded a song called "Baader-Meinhof" that pondered the group's importance in history and their motivations. There are at least two different released mixes of the recording.
  • Christoph Hein's novel In seiner frühen Kindheit ein Garten (In His Early Childhood, a Garden) deals with a fictionalized aftermath of the Grams shooting in 1993.
  • In 1996, British singer songwriter Luke Haines released a 9-track album under the Baader Meinhof moniker. In this concept album, all songs are a romanticized retelling of the RAF actions.
  • In 2004, Canadian singer songwriter Neil Leyton composed and released a song entitled "Ingrid Schubert."
  • In 2003, The Long Winters released the song "Cinnamon," about the Baader-Meinhof gang.
  • In 1990, the album "Slap!" by the influential British Anarchist Punk band Chumbawamba featured a song titled "Ulrike", about Ulrike Meinhof and the RAF.
  • The feature film See You at Régis Debray, written and directed by CS Leigh tells the story of the time Andreas Baader spent hiding in the apartment of Régis Debray in Paris in 1969.
  • The Professionals episode Close Quarters featured a German terrorist organisation known as the Meyer-Helmut Group, and was possibly inspired by Baader-Meinhof.
  • René Antoine Fayette's novel Third Line Doctor, 2016, introduce fictionalised, but with insider knowledge into the attacks (1985 to 1993) of the mysterious "third generation" RAF in the nineties.
  • References

    Red Army Faction Wikipedia