Action directe (armed group)

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Action directe
Dates of operation1979–1987
Motives"Proletarian revolution"
Active regionsFrance
Notable attacksAssassinations of René Audran and Georges Besse
1979 Attack on the HQ of Conseil national du patronat français
1986 Paris police station attack
Size180-200 "militants and [close] sympathizers" during its existence[2]
Annual revenueN/A
Means of revenueRobbery

Action directe ([ak.sjɔ̃ di.ʁɛkt]; AD, "direct action") was a French far-left terrorist group which committed a series of assassinations and violent attacks in France between 1979 and 1987. Members of Action directe considered themselves libertarian communists who had formed an "urban guerrilla organization". The French government banned the group. During its existence, AD's members murdered 12 people, and wounded a further 26. It associated at various times with the Red Brigades (Italy), Red Army Faction (West Germany), Prima Linea (Italy), Armed Nuclei for Popular Autonomy (France), Communist Combatant Cells, Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions, Irish National Liberation Army[3] et cetera.

The leader of Action directe was Jean-Marc Rouillan, who was arrested in 1974 then again in 1979 for conspiracy in attacks against the Spanish because he opposed all efforts by other countries to help Spain at that time. According to sources, Rouillan was captured again in 1980 but was believed to have successors.

Action directe was set up in 1977 by two other groups, GARI (Groupes d'Action Révolutionnaire Internationalistes, Revolutionary Internationalist Action Groups), and NAPAP (Noyaux Armés pour l'Autonomie Populaire, Armed Core Groups for Popular Autonomy), as the "military-political co-ordination of the autonomous movement". In 1979, it was transformed into an "urban guerrilla organisation" and carried out violent attacks under the banner of "anti-imperialism" and "proletarian defence". The group was banned by the French government in 1984. In August 1985, Action directe allied itself with the German Red Army Faction.


Action directe carried out some 50 attacks, including a machine gun assault on the employers' union headquarters on 1 May 1979, as well as attacks on French government buildings, property management agencies, French army buildings, companies in the military-industrial complex, and the state of Israel.

They carried out robberies or "proletarian expropriation" actions, and assassinations, killing Engineer General René Audran, the manager of French arms sales, in 1985. Action directe were also accused of Georges Besse's 1986 killing, a murder allegedly justified because at the time he was the head of French automaker Renault and had laid-off 21,000 workers. However, they denied it during their trial. Besse was also former president of Eurodif nuclear company, in which Iran had a 10% share. The group also claimed joint responsibility for the 1985 bomb attack carried out by the Red Army Faction at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, which killed two people.


In December 1981 an AD member Lahouari Benchellal, called "Farid", was arrested for forging traveler's cheques, which were an important income source for the organization, in Helsinki, Finland. He hanged himself while in the custody of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service in January 1982. Action directe did not believe Benchellal killed himself, and they named a direct action group after him.[4]

On 21 February 1987, the main Action directe members, Jean-Marc Rouillan, Nathalie Ménigon, Joëlle Aubron, and Georges Cipriani, were arrested. They were later sentenced to life imprisonment. Régis Schleicher had already been arrested in 1984. Joëlle Aubron was released in June 2004 for health reasons and died from a cancer that had metastasized to her brain on 1 March 2006.

There is an ongoing campaign by some sections of the French far-left that the Action directe members still imprisoned, who consider themselves political prisoners, should be paroled. In December 2007, Rouillan was allowed a state of "semi-liberty", able to leave prison for extended periods. In September 2008, a Parisian court called for the revoking of this status after he declared in an interview with L'Express that "I remain convinced that armed struggle is necessary at certain moments of the revolutionary process".[5][6]

In popular culture[edit]

The British TV mini-series Red Fox, made in 1991 and starring John Hurt, Jane Birkin and Brian Cox, was set in France and tells of a British businessman kidnapped by a member of Action directe. (The original novel by Gerald Seymour was set in Italy and involved the Red Brigades.)

Ralph Fiennes' character in the 2006 film Land of the Blind mentions Action directe as an example for a terrorist group whose names sound like rock bands', along with The Weathermen, Black September, and the Red Army Faction. In Tom Clancy's book Patriot Games protagonist Jack Ryan identifies a training camp used by the group which is later raided by French special forces. It is also briefly mentioned by Harrison Ford's character in the 1992 film of the same name.

The group did end up publishing a book, a political manifesto rather, entitled Pour un Projet communiste in 1982, which resembled the 1848 Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx.[clarification needed]

In another book by Tom Clancy, entitled Rainbow Six, members of Action directe assault a fictionalized Euro Disney called Worldpark.

Wolfgang Güllich named a climbing route Action Directe in Frankenjura, Germany, which was recognized as the first route in the XI grade (or 9a) in the world, and is still one of the hardest climbing routes in the world. Apparently the inspiration for the name came during training for the route, as it appeared to him that the training was an act of terror against his fingers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (fr)Serge Cosseron, Dictionnaire de l'extrême gauche, Larousse, collection À présent, 2007 (ISBN 978-2-03-582620-6) p. 61
  2. ^ ↑ Selon la police en 1989 in (en) Michael Dartnell, Action directe: ultra-left terrorism in France, 1979-1987, Paris, 1995, 224 p. (ISBN 0714645664, lire en ligne archive), p. 173
  3. ^ Jack Holland & Henry McDonald, INLA – Deadly Divisions, 1994, p.146-7, p.214-15
  4. ^ Simola, Matti (2009). Ratakatu 12 – Suojelupoliisi 1949–2009. Helsinki: WSOY. pp. 123–127. ISBN 9789510352434./
  5. ^ "Le parquet demande la révocation de la semi-liberté de Rouillan", Liberation, 1 October 2008.
    The full quote is: "Il faut clarifier les choses: le processus de lutte armée tel qu’il est né dans l’après-68, dans ce formidable élan d’émancipation, n’existe plus (...) Mais, en tant que communiste, je reste convaincu que la lutte armée est nécessaire à un moment du processus révolutionnaire."
  6. ^ Samuel, Henry (2008-10-01). "Terrorist group Action Directe founder 'does not regret murders'". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-02-08.


External links[edit]

Terrorist Incidents attributed to the [Action Directe] in the Global Terrorism Database