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The origins of the RAF lie in the 1968 movement. Then the Red Army faction developed into the most brutal terrorist group in the Federal Republic. After almost 30 years, it dissolves in 1998.

The Red Army Fraction (RAF) was founded in the spring of 1970 around Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin. Some media initially refer to the group as the Baader-Meinhof gang. The roots of the RAF go back to the student movement of the late 1960s, but their exact connection is controversial among historians. The name Red Army Fraction should be meant as a provocation. How much the group sees itself as an offshoot of the Soviet army remains open. It is clear that the name stands for strength and revolutionary potential.

The RAF uses "urban guerrilla" as a central term in its self-image. This brings it close to revolutionary associations in Latin America. Their common goal: to change the political system through a small group - also with violence.

First bank robberies and bombings by the RAF

It quickly becomes clear that the RAF also accepts the dead in order to achieve its goals. The first victim was the Hamburg civil investigator Norbert Schmid in 1971, followed by a police officer from Kaiserslautern and, in March 1972, the head of a special commission of the Hamburg police, Hans Eckhardt. After a series of robberies on banks, the RAF carried out the first bomb attack in May 1972: on the headquarters of the US Army in Frankfurt am Main. Shortly afterwards there were further attacks, including on the building of the Axel Springer publishing house in Hamburg and the European headquarters of the US Army in Heidelberg. The police set off a large manhunt and arrested numerous leading RAF terrorists within a few months, including the founding members Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin.

The Stammheim Trial

In 1975 her trial began in a specially built, highly secure courthouse in Stuttgart-Stammheim. Among other things, Otto Schily, who later became Federal Minister of the Interior, will take part in this as defense counsel for the defendants. In the courtroom he explains: "What is taking place here in these proceedings cannot be called anything other than the systematic destruction of all constitutional guarantees." He is alluding to the fact that the proceedings are accompanied by numerous irregularities: threatened witnesses, wiretapped conversations between defendants and defense lawyers and the defendants' hunger strike, which massively disrupted the process from the start.

RAF kidnappings in the "German Autumn"

Kidnapped by the RAF and later killed: Employer President Hanns Martin Schleyer.

The trial does not end the violence. Instead, the "second generation" of the RAF is carrying out increasingly brutal attacks and killing, among others, Federal Prosecutor Siegfried Buback and banker J├╝rgen Ponto. The terror reached its climax in 1977 during the so-called German Autumn, which began with the kidnapping of employer-president Hanns Martin Schleyer on September 5th. The terrorists kept the country in suspense for weeks. On October 13, the situation escalated when a terrorist squad kidnapped the Lufthansa "Landshut" jet to Mogadishu. With the action they want to press their like-minded friends in Stammheim out of custody. But the federal government under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (SPD) does not give in and lets the special unit GSG 9 storm the jet on October 18 - all 82 passengers survive. Only one day later, the kidnapped Hanns Martin Schleyer is found murdered. He is one of 34 dead attributable to the RAF.

In the high-security prison in Stammheim, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe learn that their planned liberation has failed. Only hours after the "Landhut" drama ends, they are found dead in their cells - while the trial is still ongoing. The circumstances surrounding her suicide remain controversial to this day and are also linked to the harsh conditions in which she was detained.

The killing never ends

A "third generation" changed its strategy in the early 1980s and wanted to internationalize the RAF. The killing continues. The most prominent victims are Deutsche Bank board spokesman Alfred Herrhausen (1989) and Karsten Rohwedder, chairman of the Treuhand (1991). He is considered the last murder victim of the RAF. In 1992, Justice Minister Klaus Kinkel (FDP) sets an example and declares that the state must reconcile with the RAF where appropriate. The terrorist group reacts in one of its ideological declarations with the words: "We, the revolutionary metropolitan front, have the power to keep the aggression of the imperialists starting from here in check."

The end of the RAF: Many questions remain unanswered

The Federal Criminal Police Office shows mug shots of suspected RAF terrorists on its website.

On April 20, 1998, the Reuters news agency received an eight-page letter in which the RAF declared: "Today we are finishing this project". The authors remain unknown, but investigators believe the paper is authentic. The RAF files, however, still concern state security officers. Many offenses could not be resolved, the Federal Criminal Police Office continues to search for alleged members of the group.

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Hamburg Journal | 07/29/2020 | 19:30 o'clock