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No news from the RAF

May 14, 2012

Many people had hoped for revelations, but after 35 years, the testimony of ex-RAF terrorist Verena Becker did not shed more light on the murder of former federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback. .

The scene of the killing in 1977 - the bodies of Buback and his driver lie near their car.
Image: dapd

Verena Becker had been silent for a long time. The trial of the former German terrorist had been going on for 18 months when she suddenly announced that she was prepared to talk about the murder of Siegfried Buback, a German federal prosecutor who was shot and killed at close range by two people on a motorcycle on April 7, 1977, in Karlsruhe.

A joint plaintiff in the case, Buback's son, Michael, had hoped for details at the Stuttgart trial to give him some kind of closure after so many years.

But Becker on Monday told the court "I wasn't there" and that she was "never involved in the concrete planning." She was convicted of the attempted murder of a policeman in another case in 1977 and sentenced to life in prison. She was granted a pardon by then-German President Richard von Weizsäcker after serving 12 years in jail.

Her new trial began in September 2010. Federal prosecutors have again accused Becker of participating in the planning, preparation and execution of the Buback murder. Police found traces of her DNA on a letter claiming responsibility.

History won't be rewrittenDW spoke with Butz Peters, a lawyer and expert in the history of Germany's leftist Red Army Faction (RAF), and asked him about the significance of Becker's testimony.

Butz Peters
RAF expert Butz Peters says the new trial may reveal nothing newImage: picture-alliance/dpa

DW: Verena Becker testified that she did not shoot Siegfried Buback, was not involved in his murder and does not know who pulled the trigger. What effect have her comments had on the proceedings?

Butz Peters: The result is that the history of Germany's RAF terrorists will not have to be rewritten, at least, not due to the testimony of Verena Becker. Up to now, it was mostly assumed that - based on two court rulings from 1980 and 1985 - that three perpetrators were involved in the murder of Buback: Christian Klar, Knut Volkers and Günter Sonnenberg. Who fired the shots has never been determined.

The two courts assumed that two of the three men were on the motorcycle, that the one sitting behind the driver fired the shots, and that the third was waiting in a getaway car.

This theory is based on two suppositions: one, that before the crime all three were seen in the vicinity. And two, that other members of the group had not replaced them.

This has been the decisive issue and is part of RAF history: Could it possibly be that the two courts were wrong and could their suppositions be disproved? The answer now is: no. Even if some people may have expected it, the theories were not refuted, and that means the history remains as it was.

Does the testimony of the accused - independent of the judicial impact - alter anything with regard to understanding the murder or the person of Verena Becker?

Verena Becker in court
Verena Becker denied involvement in the murderImage: dapd

It changes nothing about the role of Verena Becker, who was initially with the June 2nd Movement in Berlin before switching to the RAF. There is still the big chapter with regards to "what she told the German domestic intelligence services." This is mostly in the dark. But, basically, a few new facts will have to become known in order to convict her in her new trial.

Hard to prove

Public interest in the Becker case is substantial. There was great interest when she said she would testify. It was hoped that some new spectacular details would become known.

The great interest has been around since the beginning and this is downright surprising. Although the trial has been going on for a year and a half, very few concrete details have emerged that would prove that Verena Becker had something to do with the crime. There was an exhaustive investigation with former witnesses, but nothing was found. Of course, Becker has two experienced defense attorneys and one defense strategy is to wait and see what comes up on the table. But there was nothing. The murder took place in April 1977 and Verena Becker could add a final touch to her argument by saying that before she was arrested in May of 1977 she had never been in Karlsruhe. I think the prosecutors are going to have a very difficult time trying to prove the theory that she helped plan and carry out the murder of Buback.

Does this mean that the RAF story is still an open wound, which calls for not leaving out even the smallest clarifying detail?

You have to realize that for the plaintiffs - that is, the federal prosecutors - the whole affair is a thorn in their side. Siegfried Buback was a federal prosecutor murdered by the RAF. Then, his son, Michael, published a series of newspaper articles as well as a book alleging that the case had not been sufficiently investigated. So, naturally, there was an interest to leave no stone unturned. It is also not surprising that after 35 years, memories fade, that possible evidence is no longer available, so that there are not enough leads remaining to round out the picture.

Michael Buback's motives are all too understandable - that he wants to clear up the circumstances of his father's death. But aren't federal prosecutors running the risk of an embarrassing end to the trial, if they know from the start that nothing new will come of it?

Yes, but perhaps this also speaks for the federal prosecutor's office. Those who were involved in the case in 1977 are no longer there. So today they are saying all the theories proposed at the time will be examined again, all those accused and convicted. Everything is being put to the test one more time.

Author: Günter Birkenstock /gb
Editor: Michael Lawton