Germany’s extreme left Red Army Faction hasn’t gone away

Police confirm that three ex-RAF members are suspected of involvement in two attacks

An undated  composite image  provided by the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) showing the wanted former RAF terrorists Burkhard Garweg, Ernst-Volker Wilhelm Staub and Daniela Klette. Photograph: EPA/BKA

An undated composite image provided by the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) showing the wanted former RAF terrorists Burkhard Garweg, Ernst-Volker Wilhelm Staub and Daniela Klette. Photograph: EPA/BKA

 

Armed with rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs, Germany’s extreme-left Red Army Faction (RAF) is back with a bang.

For two decades the RAF, a radical offshoot of the 1968 student movement, carried out a campaign of terrorist attacks and assassinations before disbanding in 1998.

Now German police have confirmed that three ex-RAF members, from the so-called third RAF generation, are suspected of involvement in two failed attacks on cash transporter vans outside supermarkets near Bremen and Wolfsburg.

Investigators said they found DNA traces of three former RAF members – Daniela Klette, Volker Staub, and Burkhard Garweg, all in their 50s – at both crime scenes.

The first robbery took place on June 6th, 2015, in a supermarket car park on the outskirts of Bremen. Two masked people blocked the path of a security van with a car and threatened personnel with Kalashnikov rifles. A third person appeared on the scene in another car, armed with a rocket launcher.

Though several shots were fired, damaging the transporter’s wheels and shell, the three failed to gain access to the vehicle and the driver sped off.

A similiar attack in December near Wolfsburg, outside another branch of the same supermarket chain, also ended in failure. German police said yesterday it was unlikely the three ageing terrorists were planning to reactivate the faction, founded by Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof in 1970.

With a mix of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology, the so-called Baader-Meinhof gang launched an armed campaign against a West German establishment it accused of rebuilding creeping authoritarian structures with uncomfortably close ties to the Third Reich.

The far-left self-described “urban guerillas” launched a campaign of bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and bank robberies that reached its peak in the autumn of 1977. After Baader, Meinhof and other RAF founders were caught – and eventually died in prison – a second and third generation continued their campaign.

This last generation carried out several high-profile attacks, including the 1989 murder of Deutsche Bank chairman Alfred Herrhausen. Nine years later, on April 20th, 1998, the RAF faxed an eight-page letter to the Reuters news agency declaring that the group had dissolved and that the “urban guerrilla in the shape of the RAF is now history”.

Police have been hunting for ex-RAF members Daniela Klette, Volker Staub and Burkhard Garweg since their DNA was found at the scene of a successful money transporter robbery in Duisburg in 1999. Police believed at the time that the three had established a new terror cell and would use their haul of one million deutschmarks to train new recruits.

In the intervening years, however, things have been quiet on the left-wing extremist front, though the ex-RAF members remain shadowy figures and live off the radar. “I don’t think a fourth (RAF) generation is about to come along,” said Butz Peters, terrorism expert with public broadcaster ARD.

Rather than restart the revolution, he suggested the recent attempted robberies were about stealing a nest egg. He said: “People who have lived for years in the underground haven’t had the chance to pay into a pension fund.”