Area of operations Germany
Opponent Germany (1990–1993)
Allies Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Opponents West Germany (1973–1990) Federal Republic of Germany (1990–1993)
Battles and wars Numerous bombings and one hijacking
Ally Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
The Revolutionary Cells (German: Revolutionäre Zellen, abbreviated RZ) were a self-described "urban guerilla" organisation, that was active between 1973 and 1995, and was described in the early 1980s as one of Germany's most dangerous leftist terrorist groups by the West German Interior Ministry. According to the office of the German Federal Prosecutor, the Revolutionary Cells claimed responsibility for 186 attacks, of which 40 were committed in West Berlin.
The Revolutionary Cells is perhaps most famous internationally for hijacking an Air France flight in cooperation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Operations and diverting it to Uganda's Entebbe Airport, where they were granted temporary asylum until their deaths during Operation Entebbe, a hostage rescue mission carried out by commandos of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on 4 July 1976.
Formed in the early 1970s from networks of independent militant groups in Germany, such as the Autonomen movement and the feminist Rote Zora, the Revolutionary Cells became known to the general public in the wake of the hijacking of an Air France airliner to Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.
The Air France hijacking ended with Operation Entebbe, the Israeli rescue raid and the death of two of Revolutionary Cells' founding members, Wilfried Böse, called Boni, and Brigitte Kuhlmann. Böse's friend Johannes Weinrich, another Revolutionary Cells founder, left the group to work for Ilich Ramírez Sánchez – better known as Carlos the Jackal – together with his girlfriend Magdalena Kopp, later Carlos' wife.
Prior to the Air France hijacking, members of the later Revolutionary Cells took part in bombings of premises of ITT in Berlin and Nuremberg, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in Karlsruhe. Revolutionary Cells member Hans-Joachim Klein took part in the December, 1975 raid on the Vienna OPEC conference, together with Carlos and Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann of J2M.
In June 1981 Revolutionary Cells members bombed the U.S. Army V Corps headquarters in Frankfurt and of officer clubs in Gelnhausen, Bamberg and Hanau. When US President Reagan visited Germany in 1982 the Revolutionary Cells claimed responsibility for many bombs detonated shortly before he arrived, although federal prosecutor Kurt Rebmann said in early December 2008 that Revolutionary Cells were responsible for about 30 attacks over that year.
The last attacks by the Revolutionary Cells, two bomb blasts at an airport and at federal infrastructure in the former East Germany, took place in 1993.
The group is thought to have lost much of its remaining covert support amongst the radical left in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and subsequent German reunification. In a pamphlet published in December 1991, the Revolutionary Cells attempted a critical review of their so-called anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist campaign during the 1970s and '80s with particular emphasis on the ill-fated Air France hijacking and its much publicised segregation of Jewish and non-Jewish passengers.
The antisemitism supposedly evident in the Entebbe hijacking had become the focus of long-running internal arguments during which one of the Revolutionary Cells members, Hans-Joachim Klein, eventually left the movement. Klein had sent a letter and his gun to Der Spiegel in 1977, announcing his resignation. In an interview with Jean-Marcel Bougereau,
Klein expressed the view that the two German political militants who had participated in the Entebbe operation were more antisemitic than Wadie Haddad, leader of the PFLP operational division, for planning to assassinate the famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Even the notorious political militant Carlos opposed this operation on the grounds that Wiesenthal was an anti-Nazi.
According to Simon Wiesenthal (quoting Klein's Libération interview), the plot was first proposed by Wilfried Böse.
Klein also announced that the Revolutionary Cells planned to assassinate the head of the German Jewish community, Heinz Galinski. The Revolutionary Cells responded to Klein's allegations with a letter of their own:
instead of reflecting on Galinski's role in the crimes of Zionism, for the cruelties of Israel's imperialistic army, you don't reflect on the propaganda work and material support of this guy, you don't see him as anything other than "a leader of the Jewish community", and: you don't reflect about what to do against this fact, and what could be done in a country like ours... You avoid this political discussion and get excited about the maintained (anti-semitism?) fascism of the Revolutionary Cells and the men behind them.
Klein hid in Normandy, to where he was eventually traced in 1998. One of the witnesses at his trial was his former friend, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. In some accounts Fischer's break with the far-left was due to the Entebbe affair.
The core beliefs of the Revolutionary Cells can be understood as an amalgam of radical left anti-imperialist liberation doctrine mixed with strong anti-Zionist, anti-patriarchal feminist, and anti-racist elements. The group stated that its participants should be regular members of society, in contrast to the more elitist Red Army Faction, who posited that revolutionaries should truly be "underground" (outside the socio-political system). Structured differently from the better-known RAF, or the more anarchist Movement 2 June, the Revolutionary Cells were very loosely organised into cells, making them much harder to capture. Its members were encouraged to remain "legal" – i.e., continue to operate from within society and even take part in the mainstream political process and its organisations, a tactic which led law enforcement agencies to refer to them at times as "weekend terrorists".