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Dissidence and Terrorist Activity in
Opposition to the West German government has existed since its inception
in 1949, and, in keeping with German tradition, radical students have
sometimes been in the front ranks of those protesting various policies
and situations: the use of nuclear power and the presence of atomic weapons;
the government's policy toward the universities; and United States involvement
in Vietnam and in the Persian Gulf War. Violence and injuries to both
sides were common in confrontations between protesters and police. By
the 1960s, individuals on the fringes of mainstream student organizations
dropped out to form extremist groups. A lethal succession of terrorist
activities followed, continuing throughout the 1970s and at a somewhat
reduced level in the 1980s.
The left-wing Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion--RAF) became internationally
known through its bloody exploits in West Germany and through its contacts
with terrorist groups in other countries. The RAF was an outgrowth of
the Baader-Meinhof Gang, which held up banks, bombed police stations,
and attacked United States army bases in the 1970s. By 1975 some ninety
members of the gang were in custody. In the middle of her trial in 1976,
Ulrike Meinhof, one of the RAF ringleaders, committed suicide in prison.
Another member, Andreas Baader, was sentenced to life imprisonment, but
in 1977 he too took his own life in prison.
By the early 1980s, the original leaders of the RAF had been succeeded
by a new and equally violent group that was Marxist-Leninist in orientation
and saw itself as part of an international movement to topple the power
structures of the capitalist world. A core group of twenty to thirty terrorists
carried out the most deadly operations of the RAF. Periodic attacks were
mounted against United States and NATO military leaders and bases and
against prominent German officials and businesspeople. Demonstrations
were held throughout the country to support a hunger strike by RAF prisoners
and to protest the introduction of intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
RAF violence had declined somewhat by 1990, although the RAF and other
left-wing radical groups like the Revolutionary Cells carried out attacks
against United States government and business targets. In November 1989,
the chief executive of the Deutsche Bank, Alfred Herrhausen, was assassinated.
In April 1991, Detlev Rohwedder, the director of the Treuhandanstalt (Trust
Agency), the mammoth agency charged with privatizing East German state
enterprises, was murdered by terrorists with connections to the Stasi.
In August 1992, the RAF published a lengthy statement admitting past errors
and announcing a decision to suspend the strategy of violence in carrying
on its struggle.
By the early 1990s, attention had shifted to violence by neo-Nazi and
other right-wing fringe groups. The fanaticism of the xenophobic rightists
was fueled by the presence of large numbers of foreign workers and by
the increasing number of aliens seeking political asylum in the country.
Legal but extreme right-wing parties such as the German People's Union
(Deutsche Volksunion--DVP) and the Republikaner (Die Republikaner--REP)
maintained their legal status by avoiding Nazi symbols and propaganda
and keeping their distance from smaller neo-Nazi groups. With members
numbering mostly in the low hundreds, the latter tended to be splintered
and indistinct, which helped them evade bans and government surveillance.
Right-wing extremism found new supporters in the wake of the unemployment
and turmoil that accompanied German unification. In both the eastern and
western parts of Germany, outbreaks of violence were sparked by the growth
of racial and ethnic intolerance. The federal police reported 2,285 acts
of rightist violence in 1992, a sevenfold increase over the number reported
in 1990. Seventeen deaths resulted. The greatest number of perpetrators
were youths under the age of twenty. The police count of known right-wing
extremists, estimated at some 40,000 in the early 1990s, slightly exceeded
the estimated number of left-wing extremists. Some 6,400 of these extreme
right-wingers were considered prone to violence. Their attacks were directed
against asylum-seekers, migrants from Eastern Europe, nonwhites, and in
some cases homosexuals, prostitutes, and members of the former Soviet
armed forces. Some of the most serious outrages, such as street assaults
and firebombings of hostels for foreigners, occurred in gritty eastern
industrial centers--Rostock, Chemnitz, Cottbus, and Leipzig. The west,
however, was not immune to such violence, and deaths occurred in bombing
incidents in Moelln in late 1992 and in Solingen in mid-1993.
The police were accused of responding slowly when hostel residents were
threatened and of treating neo-Nazis too gently, often releasing without
charge those allegedly involved in terrorizing hostel-dwellers. Courts
handed down mild sentences, in most cases probation or brief jail terms.
Western police units had to be deployed to the eastern region to help
control the violence. Under pressure to act more forcefully, the federal
police raided premises occupied by the neo-Nazis to gain evidence to suppress
them. In December 1992, the federal Ministry of Interior banned four small
neo-Nazi groups and also placed the Republikaner under observation to
determine whether the organization could be banned as undemocratic under
the constitution. A new federal police division to monitor and repress
rightist violence was also announced at that time.
These actions soon bore fruit, and in 1993 the number of deaths caused
by right-wing violence fell to eight and declined still further in 1994.
Tough sentences on right-wing extremists acted as a deterrent to violence,
and a tightening of the country's liberal asylum law in May 1993 reduced
social tensions about the large number of foreigners living in Germany.
International terrorist organizations are represented among several of
the colonies of workers and asylum-seekers in Germany. Although more than
2 million Muslims from Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa live
in the cities of western Germany, only a tiny minority can be considered
political extremists. In the 1980s, members of the Palestinian groups
Hizballah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General
Command had been involved in airline hijackings and attacks on United
States service members. During the same decade, members of the Kurdish
Workers' Party bombed and staged violent protests at the offices of the
Turkish government in Germany, and the Provisional Irish Republican Army
carried out several attacks against British military targets in Germany.
The number of incidents of international terrorism abated during the late
1980s and the first half of the 1990s, however, in part because of more
determined investigation and prosecution of international terrorism by
the German police and judiciary authorities.
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and Terrorist Activity
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