Revolutionary Cells (German group)

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Revolutionary Cells
Dates of operation1973–1995
Active regionsWest Germany
West Berlin
AlliesPopular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Uganda Uganda (1976)
East Germany East Germany
OpponentsWest Germany West Germany
Battles and warsNumerous bombings and one hijacking

The Revolutionary Cells (German: Revolutionäre Zellen, abbreviated RZ) were a self-described "urban guerrilla" organisation that was active between 1973 and 1995.[1] The West German Interior Ministry described it as one of West Germany's most dangerous leftist terrorist groups in the early 1980s.[2] According to the office of the German Federal Prosecutor, the Revolutionary Cells claimed responsibility for 186 attacks,[3] of which 40 were committed in West Berlin.[citation needed]

The Revolutionary Cells are known for the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight in cooperation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Operations (PFLP-EO) and diverting it to Uganda's Entebbe Airport, where the participating members were granted temporary asylum until they were killed by commandos of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during Operation Entebbe, a hostage rescue mission carried out at Entebbe Airport.[4][5]



Formed in the early 1970s from networks of independent militant groups in West Germany, such as the Autonomen movement and the feminist Rote Zora, the Revolutionary Cells became known to the general public in the wake of the hijacking of an Air France airliner to Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.

The Air France hijacking ended with Operation Entebbe, the Israeli rescue raid and the killing of two of Revolutionary Cells' founding members, Wilfried Böse (known as Boni), and Brigitte Kuhlmann. Böse's friend Johannes Weinrich, another Revolutionary Cells founder, left the group to work for Ilich Ramírez Sánchez – better known as Carlos the Jackal – together with his girlfriend Magdalena Kopp, later Carlos' wife.[citation needed]

Prior to the Air France hijacking, members of the later Revolutionary Cells took part in bombings of the premises of ITT in Berlin and Nuremberg, and the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in Karlsruhe. Revolutionary Cells member Hans-Joachim Klein took part in the December 1975 raid on the Vienna OPEC conference, together with Carlos and Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann of J2M.[6]

In June 1981, the Revolutionary Cells bombed the U.S. Army V Corps headquarters in Frankfurt and of officer clubs in Gelnhausen, Bamberg and Hanau. When US President Reagan visited Germany in 1982, the Revolutionary Cells claimed responsibility for many bombs detonated shortly before he arrived. Federal prosecutor Kurt Rebmann said in early December 2008 that the Revolutionary Cells were responsible for about 30 attacks that year.[7][8]


The group is thought to have lost much of its remaining covert support amongst the radical left in the wake of German reunification and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union. In a pamphlet published in December 1991, the Revolutionary Cells attempted a critical review of their anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist campaign during the 1970s and 1980s, with particular emphasis on the ill-fated Air France hijacking and its much publicised segregation of Jewish and non-Jewish passengers.[9][circular reference]

The antisemitism evident in the Entebbe hijacking had become the focus of long-running internal arguments during which one of the Revolutionary Cells members, Hans-Joachim Klein, eventually left the movement. Klein had sent a letter and his gun to Der Spiegel in 1977, announcing his resignation.[10] In an interview with Jean-Marcel Bougereau,

Klein expressed the view that the two German political militants who had participated in the Entebbe operation were more antisemitic than Wadie Haddad, leader of the PFLP operational division, for planning to assassinate the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Even the notorious political militant Carlos opposed this operation on the grounds that Wiesenthal was an anti-Nazi.[11][12]

According to Wiesenthal (quoting Klein's Libération interview), the plot was first proposed by Böse.[13]

Klein also announced that the Revolutionary Cells planned to assassinate the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Heinz Galinski. The Revolutionary Cells responded to Klein's allegations with a letter of their own:

instead of reflecting on Galinski's role in the crimes of Zionism, for the cruelties of Israel's imperialistic army, you don't reflect on the propaganda work and material support of this guy, you don't see him as anything other than "a leader of the Jewish community", and: you don't reflect about what to do against this fact, and what could be done in a country like ours ... You avoid this political discussion and get excited about the maintained (anti-semitism?) fascism of the Revolutionary Cells and the men behind them.[14]

Klein hid in Normandy, France, to where he was traced in 1998. One of the witnesses at his trial was his former friend, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. In some accounts, Fischer's break with the far-left was due to the Entebbe affair.[15][16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ DW staff (emw) (5 February 2007). "Terrorist Suspects Surrender After 19 Years". Deutsche Welle.
  2. ^ Newspaper reports from the early 80s mentioning the views of the West German Interior Ministry:
  3. ^ Keesing's Record of World Events. Longman. 2004.
  4. ^ The New York Times, "HOSTAGES FREED AS ISRAELIS RAID UGANDA AIRPORT; Commandos in 3 Planes Rescue 105",
  5. ^ Blumenau, Bernhard (2014). The United Nations and Terrorism. Germany, Multilateralism, and Antiterrorism Efforts in the 1970s. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 59–64. ISBN 978-1-137-39196-4.
  6. ^ Blumenau, Bernhard (2014). The United Nations and Terrorism. Germany, Multilateralism, and Antiterrorism Efforts in the 1970s. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 52–58. ISBN 978-1-137-39196-4.
  7. ^ Amador, Brian S. (December 2003). "The Federal Republic of Germany and left wing terrorism". Monterey, California: US Naval Postgraduate School. p. 23 (PDF 23). Archived from the original on 8 April 2013.
  8. ^ "German Officials List 285 Terrorist Attacks". Palm Beach Post. 8 December 1982.
  9. ^ Operation Entebbe#Separation of the hostages into two groups
  10. ^ "Klein's letter to Der Spiegel" (in German). May 1977.
  11. ^ Karmon, Eli (2005). Coalitions between terrorist organizations: revolutionaries, nationalists, and Islamists. Martinus Nijhoff. p. 94. ISBN 9789004143586.
  12. ^ Klein, Hans-Joachim (1981). The German guerrilla: terror, reaction, and resistance. Translated by Bougereau, Jean Marcel (illustrated ed.). Cienfuegos Press. ISBN 0904564363.[page needed]
  13. ^ Simon Wiesenthal, Justice not Vengeance, 1989 page 402
  14. ^ "The Revolutionary Cells' response to Joachim Klein". Archived from the original on 21 November 2004. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  15. ^ Hari, Johann (27 November 2005). "Review of 'Power and the Idealists' (2001)". New York Times.
  16. ^ Kelly, Michael (14 February 2003). "Who is Joschka Fischer?". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 25 May 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blumenau, Bernhard. The United Nations and Terrorism. Germany, Multilateralism, and Antiterrorism Efforts in the 1970s. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 26-28. ISBN 978-1-137-39196-4

External links[edit]

Media related to Revolutionäre Zellen at Wikimedia Commons