An offshoot of the radical Baader-Meinhof Group (named for its founders, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Horst Mahler, and Ulrike Meinhof), the Red Army Faction (RAF) was a leftist terrorist organization operating in Germany from 1970 to 1998. Having roots in the German student movement, RAF was primarily comprised of young Germans who were angry and frustrated that the Communist Party was banned, while former Nazi members and sympathizers were given prominent positions in the German government. The RAF would go on to commit numerous acts of terrorism throughout its existence, including an attack on the German Embassy in Stockholm that left two German diplomats dead.
Despite causing public disturbances and violence, the Red Action Faction received support from West and East German citizens alike. Its last major public act took place in 1993, in which a newly built prison was attacked, causing 123 million Deutsch Marks in damage. On April 20, 1998, RAF publicly disbanded through a faxed letter to Reuters stating that “The urban guerrilla in the shape of the RAF is now history.”
William Bodde Jr. served as the Consul General in Frankfurt from 1984 to 1986, at the height of RAF activity. Bodde discusses the bombing of the residence (and the incompetent guard who shot himself in the foot) as well as the tight security that was installed after the attack. Bodde was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 1998.
You can also read about the series of terrorist attacks in Paris in the 1980s.
“The Red Army Faction firebombed our residence over the holidays”
BODDE: My tenure in Frankfurt was complicated by an increase in terrorist activity. In 1984 we had three major bombings in Frankfurt. A bomb went off at the airport and killed a couple of people. Another bomb killed a person at Rhine-Main Air Force Base, which is next to the airport, and a bomb went off by the non-commissioned officers club in the city by the PX (Post Exchange). In addition, terrorists firebombed the Consul General’s residence in Frankfurt.
The Red Army Faction was responsible. The Red Army Faction was the successor to the infamous Baader-Meinhof gang and they were much better organized. To my knowledge, the German intelligence services never penetrated the RAF and very few of them got arrested.
The Red Army Faction firebombed our residence over the holidays, right after our son Peter and his family had left. Peter was Consul in Hamburg at the time and they were down for the Christmas holidays.
That night after they left, the RAF threw a couple of Molotov cocktails at the house. The RAF waited until Peter, his wife and the kids had left because, for image reasons, they did not attack women and children….They were very professional. We had a TV camera at the front gate and before they threw the firebombs they taped over the lens while our guard was on his rounds. Later we had two guards so there was always one in the front and the back….
A tree next to the house caught fire. If it had burned a few feet higher our ancient roof would have caught fire and we would have had serious damage. So we were lucky. Clearly they had the house under surveillance for some time.
After the bombing we upgraded the security at the residence. They put in a guard booth, sensors, more TV cameras, and better lighting. Before the bombing we employed a German guard service at night that was barely competent.
We really beefed up the guard service when our Marine gunnery sergeant took his discharge in Frankfurt, found German financing, and put together a really good security firm. His firm also provided guards for the embassy and the consulates general throughout Germany. He introduced discipline into the guard service.
I’ll give you an example of how bad the German guards had been. One Saturday morning [his wife] Ingrid and I were having breakfast — we’d sent the help away on the weekend so we’d have some privacy — and we heard a bang. We went out, and the German guard had shot himself in the foot.
Yes, the old play-with-the-gun thing. Not that things didn’t happen after the new security people were in place. The shift supervisor, a former LA policeman, stopped to use the toilet we had installed in the garage. He had a heart attack and Ingrid tried to revive him with CPR but he was too far gone.
“I gave them a case of ammunition as a farewell present”
Not long after the firebombing, the German police raided an apartment in Frankfurt and discovered a treasure trove of RAF documents. Among the papers was a hit list with my name at the top. The Germans put a security detail with me 24 hours a day except when I stayed in the house.
I had three bodyguards and a follow-on car. One would ride in my car, and the other two would be in the follow-on car. They were exceptionally good people and part of a group of about 15 anti-terrorist state police who guarded VIP’s. They rotated and each week you’d get a different three. They took security very seriously. Two or three times they and the military intelligence people came to warn me of a possible attack. They would tell me that although they were not sure exactly what was going to happen, there was an increase in the activities of the terrorist underground. Therefore they would advise us to leave town for a few weeks.
The most effective way to disrupt the terrorists was for the target to leave and undo whatever work and preparations they had undertaken. Once we went back to the States and once we went to a friend’s house in Italy. We would just take off without telling anybody except the State Department and the embassy.
In Germany if I went to dinner, my bodyguards went with us. In fact they went everywhere with us. It was like the Secretary or the President’s Secret Service detail. I had dinner in Frankfurt with an old friend of mine, who was DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] in Lebanon. After dinner the two of us were sitting by the fireplace having a brandy and a cigar.
He asked me if I carried a weapon or kept a gun in the house. I told him I did not carry a weapon nor did I have any guns in the house because our grandchildren often visited us. He told me that was fine but at least I should know how to use the weapons of my security detail. (Photo of RAF attack; AP)
There have been situations where people have been attacked and their bodyguards killed or wounded and they were unable to defend themselves with their bodyguards’ weapons because they didn’t know how to use them. That made sense to me and I talked to my detail.
From then on, every month we’d go out to the police range and I would fire their different weapons and we would do practice drills together. They carried Sig Sauer handguns. It is an excellent nine-millimeter weapon. The Navy Seals use Sig Sauers because, like the old M-1 rifle, you can drop it in the mud and pick it up and it still will fire. They also had Uzis and an AK-47, Kalashnikov.
When I was leaving Frankfurt, I wanted to give them a thank-you gift. They told me they had problems getting ammunition for the AK-47. My security officer called his colleague in Lebanon where on the street you can buy anything you want. So at the farewell barbecue we hosted for them I gave them a case of ammunition as a farewell present. They were delighted and I thought it was a pretty unique farewell gift.
“She was one of the six or so top people in the Red Army Faction”
So the security situation was very serious in Frankfurt. I’m no more courageous than the next guy, but I didn’t stay up nights thinking about it. It didn’t raise my blood pressure or anything. I got used to the bodyguards and, in fact, I enjoyed their company. It was tougher on my wife and family.
They didn’t guard her because the Red Army Faction didn’t go after women and children because it was bad PR. So when I got out of the car, they stayed with me, and she was on her own. That wasn’t what bothered her. What bothered her was worrying about me.
I read about this situation once which is called “the copilot’s syndrome.” That is, those copilots who survive a crash are usually in worse shape than pilots who survive. This is because, unlike the pilot, they can’t do anything about the crash, which is out of their control, and yet they are a part of it. It was tough on her.
One time we went on vacation to Hawaii, and were walking along Waikiki. Suddenly she spots a brown paper bag lying in the sand. She tensed up and asked me to check it out. It was full of empty beer cans but you are conditioned to look for anything out of the usual and she took it seriously.
When we were firebombed she didn’t run to the window or go out in the yard to see what happened. We went into the safe-haven room and got a couple of buckets of water and waited for the police to come. She was calm and did the right thing. I have no doubt that her wartime experiences as a teenager in Germany prepared her to take on almost anything. Yet, it was tough on her. But that was a part of life in Germany in those years.
After the firebombing, Ingrid looked at mug shots of Red Army Faction people. She recognized one woman whom she had seen around the house before the incident.
Years later when the Wall came down, the Germans arrested the woman in East Germany. She was one of the six or so top people in the Red Army Faction….But terrorism was and is a part of Foreign Service life.