The release of former German terrorist Eva Haule from prison on Monday draws attention to an earlier era of terrorism – and underscores how the threat has shifted and evolved over the past 20 years.
Ms. Haule had been sentenced to life in prison for, among other things, the murder of a US soldier in 1985 and the bombing of the US Rhein-Main air base. She belonged to the Red Army Faction, a radical leftist group that carried out a number of bombings and assassinations and was one of the most feared terrorist groups in Europe in the 1970s and '80s. The ideology of the group – one of the first "celebrity terrorist" organizations – was still largely rooted in the cold-war battle between capitalism and communism. Its cellular structure established a model that Al Qaeda would later follow.
At the peak of her involvement with RAF (also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang), Haule rose to become the highest-ranking female in the organization and one of the group's most-wanted members. She was also involved in an attempted bomb attack on a NATO facility in Bavaria and a raid on an arms dealer. At the time of her arrest, authorities found her with blueprints of a government building, leading investigators to believe she had designs to blow it up.
But 21 years in prison has apparently taken away Haule's radical edge, reports Deutsche Welle.
In recent years, Haule spoke through her representatives from prison of her "extremely heavy guilt" in regard to her terrorist past. Her behavior behind bars over the years also led to a downgrading of her security status; Haule was moved from the women's prison at Frankfurt Preungesheim to the women's custody institution in Berlin-Neukölln.
There, as an open prisoner, Haule studied social educational theory and took a training course in photography. In March 2005, an exhibition of portraits of fellow inmates was held in a parliamentary building in Berlin, which caused outrage among liberal and conservative politicians at the time. Her photos have since appeared in a number of publications and books.
Haule is the second RAF terrorist to be released early from a German prison recently, reports the Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
She is the second former terrorist to be released this year. In March, Brigitte Mohnhaupt was freed after serving a 24-year sentence for her role in a series of murders of prominent officials in 1977 aimed at securing the release of Baader and fellow terrorists Jan-Carl Raspe and Gudrun Ensslin.
In May, German President Horst Koehler rejected an appeal for clemency from another member of the group, Christian Klar. Klar was arrested in 1982 and must remain in prison until 2009.
Today, there are relatively few people actively working to carry out the RAF's vision of violence in the service of class struggle. The British Broadcasting Corp. reports that this past February, two unnamed individuals voluntarily surrendered to German police. They were part of the Revolutionary Cells (RZ), which gave birth to RAF.
Confirming the report, federal prosecutors said they were not being detained, but were expected to stand trial.
The RZ is said to have carried out some 186 attacks, mostly aimed at causing material damage, before disbanding after the fall of the Berlin Wall. RZ members were also linked to the 1975 hostage-taking at the Opec conference in Vienna and the hijacking of the Air France plane stormed by Israeli troops in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.
For its part, the RAF sprang to life between 1970 and 1971, a product of the anti-Vietnam War movement and the anarchist-leftist subculture. Claiming that it was launching a "revolutionary war against the 'fascist' West German state," the group carried out a wave of bank robberies, murders, and bombings. The First Post, an independent online news magazine, reports that the group became the "first celebrity terrorists."
The involvement of privileged middle-class youth in terrorist violence fascinated and appalled German society, and converted the group into the media's first celebrity terrorists. In 1971, millions of wanted posters bearing the moody, truculent faces of Baader, Meinhof and other 'anarchist violent criminals' appeared across the country and the group became the subject of regular columns in Der Spiegel.
The gang's reputation spread beyond West Germany, as Western 'terrorism experts' depicted the group as part of a Soviet- backed 'international terrorism' intended to destabilise Western democracy.
This notoriety tended to give the RAF more power than it actually possessed. Right-wing politicians and the sensationalist Springer press routinely exaggerated the group's capabilities and presented a dark picture of a German society riddled with 'terrorist subcultures' and their 'intellectual sympathisers'.
The group disbanded in 1988, and even during the peak of its operations, it attracted something of a cult following. In an interview with 3AM Magazine, Richard Huffman, author of a book and website about the RAF, argues that the "hip" group helped to popularize the BMW during the 1970s. When a number of anniversaries marked the group's various doings, Mr. Huffman says there was a "wave of nostalgia."
All of these [anniversaries] demonstrated pretty clearly that the era was over. That's when a lot of the pop culture references began to crop up. In many ways I find them extremely sick. I think of the four-year old American boy who watched as authorities piled up parts of his dad's body into pillowcases at the Heidelberg Army base where the Baader-Meinhof Gang had set off two car bombs. I've spoken with family members of victims and it is hard for me to put that out of my mind when presented with a hip Baader-Meinhof reference.
Still during their prime, terrorist groups like the RZ and the RAF represented Al Qaeda-sized threats to Europe. The RAF even had ambitions to carry out a major chemical or biological attack. In 1984, authorities in Paris, France allegedly found an RAF safe house complete with an improvised laboratory with flasks of the lethal botulism toxin, reports Eye Spy Magazine, a British-based intelligence-themed periodical.
At the height of its notoriety in the 1970s, the Red Army Faction was seen as Europe's most deadly urban terror group. Its small and disciplined cells made it a streamlined and effective organization. It attacked not just Germany's rich and powerful, but also U.S. military installations which current left-wing ideology saw as emblems of American imperialism.