The events of 1977 that would come to be known as the “German Autumn” actually came at the end of a Red Army Faction offensive that had begun on April 7 of that year with the assassination of Attorney General Siegfried Buback, widely considered to be the state figure primarily responsible for the torture and murder of revolutionary prisoners.
The state’s initial suspects in this killing – Christian Klar, Knut Folkerts and Günter Sonnenberg – would all be arrested over the following years, and in each case would end up serving lengthy sentences: Sonnenberg, who suffered brain damage as a result of being shot in the head at the time of his capture, remained in prison for 15 years; Folkerts spent 18 years behind bars; and Klar was only released in 2008 after 28 years in prison.
In 2007, the thirtieth anniversary of the German Autumn, claims by two former RAF members – Verena Becker and Peter-Jürgen Boock – led to the Buback case being re-opened. Boock had surrendered in 1981, and has spent the subsequent years playing the part of the “repentant terrorist,” always available to publicly condemn his former comrades, providing testimony (and dubious allegations) against them at the courts’ and cops’ behest. For her part, Becker was arrested along with Günter Sonnenberg following a shootout with police on December 28, 1977. Unbeknownst to most, including many who continued to provide support to her as a RAF political prisoner, by 1981 she was cooperating with the German secret police – the Verfassungsschutz or “guardians of the constitution.” (In fact, Becker being an informant was only publicly disclosed in 2009.)
It has recently come to light that Becker informed her handlers in the spring of 1981 that Knut Folkerts had not been involved in the Buback shooting (on the day in question he was traveling to a RAF safehouse in Amsterdam with a new RAF recruit). Of course, this made no difference to the state’s ongoing case against him, as a result of which he would spend years behind bars in connection with the assassination.
Becker would eventually point the finger at Stefan Wisniewski, a former RAF member who was already serving a life sentence on separate charges, as the Buback shooter. She further identified Günter Sonneneberg as the driver of the motorcycle from which the deadly shots were fired and Christian Klar as the driver of the getaway car. Wisniewski, who never cooperated with the police, and who had never been charged with the killing, now faced the threat of new, serious charges.
On March 30, 2007, in a more than two-and-a-half hour telephone conversation with Michael Buback, the former Attorney General’s son, Peter-Jürgen Boock repeated these accusations. In light of these public allegations, in April 2007, current Attorney General Monika Harms filed to re-open the case. In 2008, former RAF member Brigitte Mohnhaupt along with Folkerts and Klar were all threatened with coercive detention if they did not provide information about the assassination – despite this, they all refused.
Nevertheless, a number of people, including Michael Buback himself, have expressed skepticism about Becker’s claims. Indeed, soon enough it became clear that much of the evidence pointed to Becker herself being the shooter: eyewitnesses described a small, agile person, probably a woman, firing the deadly shots; at the time of her arrest Becker was in possession of the submachine gun used in the shooting and a screwdriver from the motorcycle’s set; and it was Becker’s DNA that was found on the communiqué claiming responsibility for the assassination.
Matters went from bad to worse for Becker when police searched her home in August 2009 and found notes apparently ruminating on the Buback assassination. One read, “How am I to mourn for Herr Buback?” – a perhaps understandable sentiment that the BAW (the Federal Prosecutors Office) chose to interpret as an outright confession. Becker was arrested and held in remand until December 2009, when she was released on bail as a low flight risk (she has been living in her sister’s home in Berlin for twenty years, has no foreign contacts and requires a regular regime of medication).
In April 2010, twenty three years after the fact, Becker was charged as an accessory to the murder of Attorney General Siegfried Buback. Meanwhile, other former RAF members remain under investigation.
Shortly after these charges were laid, some former RAF members released the following document addressing these developments. The English translation was produced by the comrades in question. It provides an important counterpoint from some former guerillas speaking for themselves to the state’s ongoing uses and abuses of the “RAF boogeyman.”