The RAF Chronicle

(In collaboration with Martin Jander, Karin König, and Thomas Skelton-Robinson)

Neither the founding nor the historical course of the left-wing terrorist group Rote Armee Fraktion [Red Army Faction, RAF] can be understood as a purely West German phenomenon. On one hand, the group emerged in the context of the disintegrating protest movement of the 1960s that was part of a wider international political movement. On the other hand, there were numerous organizational and ideological parallels between the RAF and other groups like the Red Brigades in Italy, the Weathermen in the United States, and the Red Army in Japan. The conspicuousness with which all these groups went underground at almost the same time during 1970 was a first indication of a possible network of relations.

But it was probably particularly crucial that Palestinian groups like Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), as highly armed organizations, offered at exactly that time to provide long-term assistance in the form of training, weapons, and logistics. This resulted in a collaborative and functioning relationship that persisted for many years, which for German groups in particular―the RAF as well as the Revolutionäre Zellen [Revolutionary Cells, RZ] and the Bewegung 2. Juni [June 2nd Movement]―was crucially important. Without previous training in Palestinian training camps, these groups would have been for the most part unable to take any action. At the height of the RAF’s activities, the so-called Deutsche Herbst [German Autumn], PFLP support went so far that one of its commandos hijacked a Lufthansa passenger aircraft in October 1977 in order to exert more pressure on the German government to release the RAF leadership incarcerated in the Stammheim high-security prison. The price for such “assistance” was that West German terrorists had to repeatedly become involved in anti-Israeli activities. Without perhaps having completely comprehended the implications, the activists of the 1968 movement thus became embroiled in the Middle East conflict, which was in turn to a certain extent an element of the East-West conflict.

Thus, a chronology of left-wing terrorism cannot be limited solely to the Federal Republic of Germany but must take the international setting into account. In addition to recapitulating individual terrorist acts, the project fills previous gaps in historical literature with a detailed description of governments’ responses and the coverage of these events in print media and on radio and television.

(Last modified October 2014)