Red Army Faction

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The Red Army Faction (RAF or Rote Armee Fraktion in German), also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang (or Baader-Meinhof-Bande) after two of its members, was a West German Maoist terrorist group, chiefly active in the 1970s, which performed a variety of robberies, bombings, and kidnappings. They were trained and ideologically influenced by the Popular Front for the Liberation of PalestineWikipedia (PFLP), and received some support from the East German secret police, the Stasi.

The original group was active from 1970-72. Its leaders were quickly captured by police; many died under suspicious circumstances in prison, officially deemed suicides. A second wave sprung up in the mid-1970s, and a third generation carried out more actions in the 1980s and 1990s. One prominent member, Horst Mahler, was an East German spy,[1] and subsequently became a neo-Nazi.[2] The RAF's ideology, like the Revolutionary CellsWikipedia with whom they are sometimes confused, had an oddball combination of obsessions with both Nazis and Zionism. The RAF had received weapons training from the PFLP with referral from the East German Stasi, during which they were exposed to PFLP's ideology as well.

In early September 1977 the RAF kidnapped German industrialist Hanns Martin SchleyerWikipedia as the culmination of a campaign of high profile assassinations and kidnappings. Schleyer was held hostage for the release of imprisoned RAF members; he was also a symbolic target because of his history with the Hitler Youth and the SS. On October 13, 1977 the External Operations faction of the PFLP,Wikipedia which conducted the hijacking of Air France Flight 139Wikipedia in 1976, conducted the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181Wikipedia to apply additional pressure to release the RAF members and demand USD $15 million. On October 18, a German special operations team stormed the hijacked aircraft, killing three of the four hijackers and releasing all the remaining hostages alive. The same day, three imprisoned RAF members died in their cells, one survived with four knife wounds in her chest, and Schleyer was killed; his body was recovered the following day. The prison deaths were officially reported as suicides. The survivor, Irmgard Moeller, claimed that the deaths were extrajudicial killings. The purported motive for extrajudicial killings, otherwise to be regarded as co-ordinated suicides under conditions of no communication and tight security against suicide weapons, was deterrence against further hostage-taking events on behalf of imprisoned RAF members. After the dramatic events of the German Autumn,Wikipedia the RAF committed random violence against prominent Germans during the 1980s and 1990s.

Early history[edit]

1972 bombing of the US Army V Corps headquarters and the officers' mess in Frankfurt

The group arose out of the New Left movement of the 1960s; in Germany in the late 1960s this inspired protests against the Vietnam War, against the 1967 visit of the Shah of Iran to Germany, and against the resulting police brutality (in particular the shooting of student Benno Ohnesorg by police during protests against the Shah). In addition there was widespread antipathy to capitalism and to the complicity of the previous generation in Nazism, and general 1960s dissatisfaction with life.

The RAF's activities started in 1968, with Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader setting off incendiary devices in two Frankfurt department stores. They were arrested soon after, but released in a 1969 amnesty. The RAF proper was formed in 1970, and after training in Jordan by Palestinian guerrillas, they performed a number of bank raids and bombings, killing two policemen and four American soldiers before the first wave of leaders were arrested in 1972.


The group consisted largely of former university students[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18] still fresh from the student revolts in 1968 and in relatively many cases either came from middle-class families or had bourgeois upbringings.[3][4][6][9][10][11][12][13][14][15] Unlike their cohorts in Ireland however, the RAF has very little support among the West German population, due to West Germany's relative post-war political and economic stability and lack of ethnic and religious divisions.

The RAF had an unusual high ratio of women for a terrorist organization. During the 70s, the media tried to explain this phenomenon as a bunch of lesbians who tried to reject their femininity by picking up arms because true women were incapable of fanaticism and acting reasonably (in terms of carrying out terrorist actions, mind you) or that they were "mistresses" under the spell of their patriarchal boss Baader.[19]

  • Andreas Baader (1943–1977) Along with Ensslin, a central figure, he was involved since the 1968 bombings. He was arrested in 1970, but sprung from prison by the rest of the gang. In 1972 he was shot in the hip by police and recaptured along with the other first-generation leaders. Jean-Paul Sartre visited him in jail in 1974 and allegedly called him a con, which is quite a rude body part in French. Suicide in jail.
Gudrun Ensslin in the 1967 film Das Abonnement
  • Gudrun Ensslin (1940–1977) founder along with Baader, she took part in the 1967 protests against the visit of the Shah of Iran and the RAF's department store attacks in 1968. Suicide in jail.
  • Peter-Jürgen Boock (1951–), during the late 60s, Boock, a suicidal teen junkie[20] with daddy issues (his pops was a staunch Nazi who brutally abused him until he ran from home) tried to join the RAF after being impressed by Baader and his comrades but was deemed too young at the time.[21] However he got his wish granted a few years later and joined the RAF sometime between 1975 and 1976. He was then active as a rather lousy and ineffective terrorist who couldn't get shit done until 1980 when he distanced himself from the RAF.
He was arrested in 1981 and tried to down-play his role within the RAF to prevent a life sentence. His trial strategy was an abject failure as he had to spent 17 years in jail anyway until 1998.
After prison he has made a career in writing mediocre books about his experiences in the RAF,[22] contributing to movie scripts as a co-author[23] and posing as a retired-terrorist celebrity at every given opportunity, regularly appearing in documentaries about left-wing terrorism and political talk-shows.[24][25][26] After his prison stint he started to aggrandize his role in the RAF and regularly confabulates new stories which contradict his original statements from the early 80s and also snitching on ex-comrades who have already died.[27] However, you have to give the guy credit as he is honest enough to admit that he had been lying through his teeth back then.[28]
Ulrike Meinhof in 1964
  • Ulrike Meinhof (1934-1976) a former journalist, she became friends with Baader and Ensslin after the 1968 attacks; she helped Ensslin free Baader in 1970, and following the shooting of a librarian during the supposedly violence-free rescue, she joined the gang. Despite the common name of the group, she was far less important than Ensslin. Suicide in jail.
  • Holger Meins (1941-1974) captured in 1972 along with Baader and died after a hunger strike in jail.
  • Irmgard Möller (1947–) involved in the 1972 bombing at United States Military Intelligence Headquarters, Heidelberg, she was arrested in July 1972 and (officially) attempted suicide along with Baader and others in 1977 but survived and was released from jail in 1995.
  • Christian Klar (1952–) active from 1976, jailed 1982-2008. In 1985, Klar was convicted for nine murders and eleven attempted murders.
In January 2007, Klar while still incarcerated and hoping for clemency by the state, wrote a piece titled "It could be done differently" which was read at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Conference and which was later published by the Stalinist newspaper Junge Welt, in which he denounced the capitalist ways of Europe and declared himself a cheerleader for the left-nationalist governments of South America. His text didn't include a single call for violence.[29]
You could agree or disagree with his views (which he's legally allowed to express)[30] but definitely admit that it's sheer idiocy to pen words ideologically opposed to the state which you beg hopefully pardons you. Naturally, conservative politicians leapt at these statements, claiming that Klar was still the same staunch terrorist from the past.[31] They either demanded that Klar should rot in prison until he passes away, or absurdly be forced to pledge a dishonest vow to the Federal Republic's values before he was ripe for freedom.[32] Given these events, Klar's appeal for clemency was obviously declined by Germany's then president Horst Köhler. and Klar sought other legal means to get released from prison.
Eventually Klar was released in December 2008 while conservative pundits lamented the fact that during Klar's entire prison sentence the state couldn't force him to lie by showing remorse for his crimes he didn't regret anyway[33] or snitch his way to freedom by spilling necessary information to the police.[34]
After his release Klar hasn't been completely immune from controversy as he has been working as a freelance web maintainer for the website of Diether Dehm, a member of parliament for the Left Party. This working relationship became public when Dehm requested a house ID for Klar to enter the Bundestag, which was declined for security reasons. The CSU, the Bavarian sister party of the CDU, deemed the possibility of Klar getting access to the Bundestag as "scandalous."[35] According to Dehm, he took Klar to the Bundestag multiple times as a personal guest as he's permitted to do so as a member of the parliament.[36]
Dehm went on to detail his relationship with Klar, whom he met during a peace rally a few years prior[36] and described him as a "subtle human being and not a radical stirrer whatsoever," adding on his website that Klar has been legally clean since his release and that he has been working for a "very minuscule" wage for years.[37] Dehm has been criticized for his victimization of Klar and the complete relegation of the RAF's actual victims to mere footnotes.[37]
  • Verena Becker (1952–) active in Movement 2 June and RAF from 1972, she was arrested in 1977 and jailed, being pardoned in 1989; in April 2010 she was charged with being an accessory in the 1977 murder of Siegfried Buback. In 2012 she was convicted and received four years imprisonment.
Horst Mahler (left) in 2001
  • Horst Mahler (1936–) initially a leftist lawyer, he joined the RAF in 1970 and spend most of the 1970s in jail. After a period of Maoism, he became a neo-Nazi,[2] and was jailed for 6 years in 2005 for incitement to racial hatred. He evidently believes his current hatred of Jews to be comparable to earlier RAF actions against German capitalists. He was an agent of the Stasi, the East German secret police, in the 1960s.[38][1]
  • Wolfgang Grundmann, alongside his girlfriend Ingeborg Barz, joined the RAF in late 1971.[39] He was caught after a firefight in which one cop succumbed to his wounds afterwards. Grundmann has only been incarcerated for four years as there has been no evidence that he participated in the shootout as his gun was ostensibly still stuck in his pants,[40] and his ailing health was also given as a reason to shorten his prison sentence.
After four decades of keeping a low profile in peace, Grundmann has now become fully re-socialized and is now a candidate for the SPD in the communal elections in Marburg, which has drawn the ire of the CDU because "former terrorists do not belong in communal committees."[41]

Capture and second wave[edit]

Baader, Ensslin, Meinhof, Meins and others were captured by police in 1972. They were held at Stammheim Prison, Stuttgart in solitary confinement but soon worked out a method of communicating while they awaited trial. They carried out hunger strikes and were force-fed; Holger Meins died as a result in 1974. A second generation of terrorists sprung up in sympathy; the 2 June Movement kidnapped Peter Lorenz, a Christian Democrat politician, in February 1975, and he was released in exchange for other prisoners not including the core RAF members. RAF members took over the West German embassy in Stockholm in April 1975.

Deaths and conspiracies[edit]

Ulrike Meinhof hanged herself in jail on 9 May 1976. Her death is widely viewed as suspicious, due in part to the way police mishandled it.[42] After Meinhof's death, the trials of the remaining members continued, as did terrorist attacks by sympathisers.

In 1977, further attempts were made to free the prisoners. Dresdner Bank boss Jürgen Ponto was killed in what appeared to be an attempt to kidnap him; industrialist and former Nazi Hanns Martin Schleyer was successfully kidnapped, and sympathetic PFLP terrorists hijacked Lufthansa Flight 181 from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt. German police stormed the plane and killed the hijackers on 18 October 1977. That night (in the official version) Baader shot himself dead, Ensslin hanged herself, Jan-Carl Raspe shot himself and died the following day, and Irmgard Möller stabbed herself four times in the chest but survived. The following day, the kidnappers announced that Schleyer had been killed.

The official inquiries found that the group had conspired to commit suicide on the same night. However, just as Meinhof's death is regarded as suspicious by many, conspiracy theorists wonder how Baader and Raspe got the guns. Ballistics evidence for Baader's gunshot suicide was odd; he shot himself in the back of the head from a distance of 30-40 cm, and the lack of gunpowder residue suggests a silencer was used, though one was not found. No gunpowder traces were found on Raspe's hands either, and there were no fingerprints on the guns or Möller's knife. Möller's attempted suicide by stabbing herself four times in the chest shows extraordinary strength of will, to say the least. She later claimed she did not attempt suicide and the others were murdered to prevent any further rescue attempts.

Creepy mad German scientists[edit]

After the terrorists' collective suicide, the German government had the brains of Baader, Meinhof, Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe removed without the families' permission for study at the Neurological Research Institute at the University of Tübingen, all of which have disappeared without a trace. Apparently the authorities had a morbid fascination with the killers, even going as far as making an unauthorised mask of Baader.[43] Before the brains were lost, only Meinhof's brain had the unpleasant fortune to be studied on. The research came to the conclusion that Meinhof had an unsuccessful surgery to remove a benign tumor and that it was possibly one of the factors in abandoning an aspiring journalistic career for becoming a terrorist.[44][45]

Later actions[edit]

Even after the deaths of the founders and arrest of the second generation, further actions were carried out in the 1980s and 1990s. These included the killings of engineering boss Ernst Zimmermann, Deutsche Bank chairman Alfred Herrhausen, and civil servant Detlev Karsten Rohwedder who was involved in privatizations in the former East Germany. In 2024, one member was arrested in connection with the earlier actions, and two others are still wanted by the police.[46]

Stasi involvement[edit]

After the reunification of Germany and the opening of Stasi files, it was confirmed that the group had received support from the East German government, which sheltered group members in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[47] According to East German records, Horst Mahler was an agent of the Stasi before he joined the RAF. The police officer Karl-Heinz Kurras, whose shooting of student protestor Benno Ohnesorg inspired Baader and Ensslin, was also a Stasi agent.[1] The Stasi had a complex relationship with the RAF, but it included spying on them, giving them shelter, enabling their travel to the Middle East, and giving them weapons training.[48][49]

Media depictions[edit]

The group has inspired a number of films, including The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (Volker Schlöndorff; 1975), Die bleierne Zeit (Margarethe von Trotta; 1981), and The Baader Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel; 2008). Leading German artist Gerhard RichterWikipedia produced a series of paintings depicting the gang in vague shadowy monochrome images, emphasising the shady ambiguous nature of German politics. Professional miserabilist and musician Luke HainesWikipedia formed a band called Baader Meinhof who released a self-titled disco album, because even terrorists like to party. The 1988 action movie Die Hard featured a group of twelve German terrorists committing a mass hostage taking and $650 million robbery in a corporate headquarters in Los Angeles, a caper resembling a Baader-Meinhof operation on steroids.

International equivalents[edit]

There was a less successful British version, the Angry Brigade, which planted a few small bombs in the early 1970s. The Italian Red BrigadesWikipedia (Brigate Rosse) also had similar aims, though interestingly some of the attacks that were initially thought to be their doing were later proven to have been committed by members of GladioWikipedia, a NATO "stay behind" organisation and similar right wing groups. The Japanese Red ArmyWikipedia (日本赤軍) conducted a number of attacks around the world in the 1970s and 1980s.


Rescued passengers at Ben Gurion Airport

The RAF was influenced by PFLP ideology and and rhetoric, which associated them with PFLP's attacks on Jewish targets. That disgusted fellow leftists who might have otherwise been sympathetic towards the RAF. Joschka Fischer (then a violent leftist) started to become disillusioned with political violence because of the treatment of Jewish hostages during the hijacking of Air France Flight 139.Wikipedia[50][51] RAF is sometimes incorrectly reported as participating the Air France hijacking in which two members of the Revolutionary CellsWikipedia participated. A former East German Stasi handler of the RAF, Horst Mahler, later became a neo-Nazi. RAF's terror targets were prominent non-Jewish Germans and much of their rhetoric was focused on purported remaining Nazi influences in Germany.

See also[edit]

  • Frequency illusion, also known as Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, where you start seeing references to the Baader-Meinhof gang everywhere


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Der Spiegel
  2. 2.0 2.1 Germany: Former left-wing radical Horst Mahler joins the neo-fascist NPD By Max Rodenberg (1 September 2000) World Socialist Web Site
  3. 3.0 3.1 Short biography of Susanne Albrecht, German
  4. 4.0 4.1 Short biography of Andreas Baader, German
  5. Short biography of Hans-Jürgen Bäcker, German
  6. 6.0 6.1 Short biography of Gudrun Ensslin, German
  7. Short biography of Wolfgang Grams, German
  8. Short biography of Rolf Heißler, German
  9. 9.0 9.1 Short biography of Klaus Jünschke, German
  10. 10.0 10.1 Short biography of Christion Klar, German
  11. 11.0 11.1 Short biography of Horst Mahler, German
  12. 12.0 12.1 Short biography of Ulrike Meinhof, German
  13. 13.0 13.1 Short biography of Holger Meins, German
  14. 14.0 14.1 Short biography of Irmgard Möller, German
  15. 15.0 15.1 Short biography of Brigitte Mohnhaupt, German
  16. Short biography of Jan-Carl Raspe, German
  17. Short biography of Margrit Schiller, German
  18. Short biography of Silke Maier-Witt, German
  19. "Women in the RAF", German
  20. Short biography of Peter-Jürgen Boock, German
  21. "Buback and Boock at ARD", German
  22. "His books at Amazon Germany" Not a purchase endorsement!
  23. "Ex-terrorist writes film"
  24. "Buback and Boock at ARD", German
  25. "Peter-Jürgen Boock, the talk-show-terrorist", German
  26. "Peter-Jürgen Boock: RAF-dropout with insider knowledge and credibility issues", German
  27. "Boock names alleged marksmen"
  28. "RAF-dropout Boock: "I lied for all what's worth", German
  29. "It could be done differently", German
  30. "Klar describes his critics as 'opinion block wardens'"
  31. "Increasing doubts about RAF prisoner Klar's innocuousness", German
  32. "Germany: Release of ex-Red Army Faction terrorists sparks hysterical debate"
  33. "Christian Klar to be released from prison | Freed RAF terrorist doesn’t regret crimes"
  34. "Christian Klar shows no remorse - and is set free", German
  35. Former RAF-terrorist works for member of parliament, German, 19 February, 2016
  36. 36.0 36.1 Dehm defends employment of ex-RAF-terrorist Klar, German, 21 February, 2016
  37. 37.0 37.1 Victim Amnesia, German, 27 February, 2016
  38. Baader-Meinhof terrorist may have worked for the Stasi, Helen Pidd, The Guardian, 1 August 2011
  39. Wolfgang Grundmann
  40. FAZ: Controversy around candidacy of Ex-RAF-terrorist, German, 03 March, 2016
  41. Focus: Controversy around candidacy of Ex-RAF-terrorist, German, 03 March, 2016
  42. The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History. Projectiles for the people, J. Smith, André Moncourt
  43. Red Army Faction brains 'disappeared'
  44. Meinhof brain study yields clues
  45. Terrorism: a willful act or a mere brain damage?
  46. Baader–Meinhof group member arrested after 30 years on the run – but Germany still can’t close the chapter on far-left terrorism by Claudia Hillebrand (March 4, 2024 12:03pm EST) The Conversion.
  47. Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F., Stefan Aust, Anthea Bell, pp 435-6, Google Books
  48. Stasi und RAF: Neuer Themenschwerpunkt in der Stasi-Mediathek
  49. Stasi Mediathek: Sammlungen, Stasi und RAF