Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Bonnie and Clyde of Terror: Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof (2)

Here's the second and concluding part of my article on The Baader-Meinhof gang from The Daily Express. You can read Part One here.

Above you can watch a trailer for Uli Edel's new film 'Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex', which is currently on general release.

Though the violence shocked most Germans, a 1971 opinion poll found one in five under the age of 30 expressed a “certain sympathy” for the gang’s members, while one in ten Northern Germans said they would willingly shelter Red Army Faction members for a night.

By now the authorities were desperate to break up the gang. In June 1972, German police burst into the apartment of a young Scottish businessman and shot him dead, even though no evidence could be later produced to link him to the gang. It was in the same month, however, that Baader was arrested after a lengthy shoot-out in Frankfurt along with Meinhof who was betrayed to the police by Fritz Rodewald, a teacher in whose house she had been staying.

In 1974 Meinhof was given an eight-year jail sentence. Eighteen months later, aged 41, she was found dead, hanging from a rope made from a towel in her prison cell. The official version was suicide: Meinhof was depressed after not hearing from her children on Mother’s Day. Yet her supporters maintain she was killed by the authorities. More than 4,000 people attended her funeral. A neurologist who conducted the autopsy on Meinhof noticed changes to her brain caused by an earlier operation for a brain tumour-leading to claims that her transformation from aspiring writer to terrorist may have been caused by a mental illness.

Gang members, trying to force the authorities to release Andreas Baader from jail kidnapped German industrialist Hanns-Martin Scheyler, a former SS officer. At the same time in October 1977, a Palestinian group with links to Baader-Meinhof hijacked a Lufthansa plane and its 91 passengers, demanding the release of Baader- and 10 other gang members. After a six-day siege, German special forces boarded the plane and killed the hijackers.

Seeing his chance of freedom gone, Baader, now 34, and two associates took part in a suicide pact. Again, that is the official version: surviving gang member Irmgard Moller claimed that, like Meinhof, Baader and his colleagues were victims of ‘extra-judicial killings‘.

Even with two of its key members dead, the Red Army Faction was still far from finished. The gang reacted to the death of their founder, by murdering their hostage on the same day. "After 43 days, we have ended Hanns-Martin Schleyer's miserable and corrupt existence. The fight has only just begun.” a letter from the gang to a French newspaper announced.

Over the next thirteen years, the Red Army Faction continued their campaign of violence- targeting businessmen, bankers, US military figures and politicians.
Then in April 1998, after five years without carrying out any operations, the gang officially announced their dissolution. In an official letter the group announced:

"Almost 28 years ago, on 14 May 1970, the RAF arose in a campaign of liberation. Today we end this project. The urban guerrilla in the shape of the RAF is now history."

A decade later though, with the release of the new film, Germany’s most notorious- and controversial terror group- and its two charismatic founders- is once again in the limelight.

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