Today in terrorism: 18 October 1977, Assassination of Hanns Martin Schleyer

On this day in 1977, German businessman Hanns Martin Schleyer was killed by the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction).

On this day in 1977, German businessman Hanns Martin Schleyer was killed by the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction). Do the sins of Mr. Schleyer somehow justify his death?

Do you believe in karma? Is there such a thing as a cosmic balance where good and evil eventually even out? Are we punished at some point for the bad things we do to others? Does the use of evil to remove evil make sense or is it acceptable?

On this day in 1977 a German businessman named Hanns Martin Schleyer was killed by the Rote Armee Fraktion (or Red Army Faction in English), a far-left terrorist group usually better known as the Baader-Meinhof Group after its two main members. That attack was part of what became known as the ‘German Autumn‘, a campaign of violence for the organisation which hung around until 1998. In all, the RAF killed 34 people over almost a quarter century.

Mr. Schleyer had been kidnapped by the group on September 5. The German government of Helmut Schmidt refused to entertain the RAF’s demands for Mr. Schleyer’s safety: the release of 11 of the group’s incarcerated members. The German capitalist was killed, execution-style.


For the RAF, Schleyer was the poster child of a despicable capitalist state. He served as president of major industrial associations, and in light of having been a member of the SS during the Second World War he was seen as a symbol of the continued presence of Nazis in the West German establishment.

While in college he was allegedly known for his highly antagonistic attitude towards any fellow student reluctant to discriminate against Jews and, when captured by Allied forces and imprisoned in 1945, he got off lightly by understating his role in the SS. The German government labelled him a ‘level three security threat’ in 1975, noting that ‘an assault cannot be excluded’. How accurate this was to be.


So do the sins of Mr. Schleyer somehow justify his death (his driver and three accompanying police officers were also killed when his car was ambushed – did they deserve to die?)? Do we want to go down that road? If so, who decides? Courts? The ‘court of the people’? Terrorist groups? Vigilantes?

We all want to see good triumph over evil but there has to be a systematic way to determine who is indeed responsible for evil acts and a way to punish them, up to the imposition of death sentences. While I am not personally in favour of the death penalty I also do not pretend to be in a position to tell others, or other states, what to think in this regard. Hence my views on so-called ‘foreign fighters’ in Iraq and Syria who joined Islamic State. Those still alive must be brought to justice and the best place for that is where their crimes against humanity were committed and where the evidence lies (i.e. not by repatriating them to their home countries). If the local courts implement capital punishment that is their prerogative.

Looking back, the RAF was a terrorist organisation of the left, a group that lashed out at capitalism. In this era of widening economic disparity and perceived capitalist hegemony is it not possible that similar gangs will arise and see violence as a necessary evil?

You bet your life it is.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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