TERRORISMIs Left-Wing Terrorism Making a Comeback in Germany? Analyzing the “Engel – Guntermann Network”

By Christian Jokinen

Published 30 January 2024

For Germany, the reemergence of more violence orientated left-wing extremist actors has diversified the threat posed by non-state actors even further. Violent left-wing extremism is also of growing concern across Europe. While left-wing violent extremism does not currently represent as acute a threat as currently manifested by jihadist and right-wing terrorist attacks, the recent concerning trend among German left-wing extremists is toward greater violence and transnationalism.

On May 31, 2023, the State-level Higher Regional Court in Dresden sentenced four individuals, including Lina Engel,a a female university student and leader of the violent left-wing extremist group, to prison sentences for politically motivated assaults.1 Their prosecution underlined how some members of this milieu were escalating their violent activities away from violent riots and arson attacks to targeted assaults that in at least one case was so violent that authorities saw the group as willing to accept that their target might die. This revived bad memories in Germany, with the interior minister of the State of Saxony, Armin Schuster, seeing parallels with the notorious terrorist group Red Army Factionb that terrorized the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.2

This article begins by describing the attacks on right-wing extremists that Engel’s group was found guilty of committing, based on information from court hearings.3 Next, based on the testimony of a former member of Engel’s group, the nature and structure of the group is studied. This is followed by a description of its two leadership figures, Lina Engel, who, as noted above, was convicted, and Johann Guntermann, who remains on the run from justice. The article then outlines the resilience and commitment of the group. Finally, the article studies the “internationalization” of the group’s “anti-fascist” attacks, as evident in its continued assaults on right-wing extremists in Germany and abroad.

The criminal investigation; the court hearings, including the testimony of a former member of the group; and in-depth, open-source analysis provide an exceptionally detailed and rich picture of an active violent left-wing extremist group.

The Attacks
According to the president of Germany’s internal intelligence service (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV), Thomas Haldenwang, small clandestine groups have emerged within the violence-orientated left-wing extremist milieu that are conducting “very sophisticated, professional attacks against their political enemies … While the threshold to terrorism has not yet been crossed, with the current radicalization trend continuing, the moment for this crossing over is closer.”4