Red Brigades announce end of their struggle to overthrow German state


German detectives yesterday confirmed as authentic a declaration by the Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorist group that its struggle to overthrow the German state is over. In an eight-page statement delivered to Reuters news agency on Monday, the group, which was responsible for dozens of shootings and bomb attacks during the 1970s and 1980s, said it had formally disbanded.

"The RAF emerged from a liberation action nearly 28 years ago on May 14th, 1970. Today we are ending this project. The urban guerilla group in the form of the RAF is now history," the statement said.

The Interior Minister, Mr Manfred Kanther, yesterday welcomed the declaration as a victory for the state over terrorism, but he ruled out offering an amnesty for former RAF members still in prison.

The Red Army Faction grew out of the Baader-Meinhof group founded by Andreas Baader and the journalist-turned-revolutionary, Ulrike Meinhof. The group never developed a coherent ideology but supported revolutionary movements in the Middle East, Africa and Central America. It received help in its turn from the communist government in East Germany, eager to destabilise its western neighbour.

The RAF carried out a succession of political murders, hijackings and kidnappings throughout the 1970s and 1980s but was plagued in its later stages by splits and police infiltration and formally abandoned the "armed struggle" in 1992.

According to East German secret police files seen by The Irish Times, the group offered help to the IRA during its campaigns against British military bases in Germany in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The IRA declined the offer, probably because it feared that the German terrorists' lack of skill would endanger the security of its own members.

The climax of the RAF's terror campaign came during a six-week period in 1977 that became known as the "German Autumn". During this time, the group kidnapped and murdered Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the head of Germany's employers' federation; their supporters hijacked a Lufthansa flight to Somalia, leading to the storming of the aircraft by German commandos; on the same night, terrorists Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe committed suicide in Stammheim prison.

Helmut Schmidt's Social Democratic government reacted to the terrorist threat by introducing repressive laws, including a ban on the employment of "terrorist sympathisers" in the public service. Captured terrorists were, it was widely believed, kept in isolation at Stammheim prison and forced to endure worse conditions than other prisoners.

Horst Bubeck, a former prison warder in charge of the terrorist wing at Stammheim, revealed last year that, far from being treated badly, members of the RAF enjoyed privileges that were unique within the German prison system.

Male and female prisoners were allowed to fraternise with one another throughout the day and only separated at night. Each had a personal television, unlike other prisoners who watched one film each week on a communal set.

"The prisoners had rowing machines, home trainers, all kinds of sports equipment that nobody else in the jail had at that time. They got extra food when they wanted it: fruit, raw eggs, yoghurt, cheese, meat. Because of alleged back pains, Baader had a visit from a masseur three times a week," Bubeck said.

The statement, which bore the RAF's emblem of a Heckler & Koch machine gun within a five-pointed star, paid tribute to "those who sacrificed their lives in the armed struggle" but admitted that not all of the group's actions were justified.

"It is not possible for us to look back on a smooth history free of errors," the statement said.

The group stopped short of apologising for its murders but said it had been a mistake not to develop a political wing to accompany its armed struggle.

Mr Otto Schilly, a Social Democrat member of parliament who once acted as a defence lawyer for the group, said the government should consider relaxing its antiterrorist laws in view of the statement. But he admitted that the unapologetic tone of the document suggested that the RAF could reconstitute itself. "Their text drips with self-justification," he said.

The mass circulation newspaper, Bild, reacted angrily to the RAF statement. "It may grieve for its comrades in arms but we grieve for their victims," it stated.