Photo by digital cat (Flickr CC)
File number: EXB007-Gladio-neo-Nazi-terror
THE FACTS: On September 26, 1980 a bomb at Munich’s famous Oktoberfest killed 13 people and injured 200, making the incident – known as the Oktoberfestattentat – the worst act of terrorism in post-war Germany. The bomber, who died in the blast, was identified as Gundolf Köhler, a 21-year-old geology student and previous member in the neo-Nazi paramilitary organization Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann. According to the official investigation by Bavarian police, Köhler was a mentally disturbed, sexually frustrated man who acted alone out of hatred towards society.
THE THEORY: Independent researchers and journalists linked the attack to a Europe-wide far-right terror campaign, which included a massive bomb in Bologna train station a few weeks before. WSG Hoffmann and other neo-Nazi groups Köhler was involved with may have been part of Gladio, a well documented network of secret ‘stay-behind armies’ which was set up and funded by NATO and, later, Germany’s intelligence agency, the BND. These paramilitary groups were intended to fight behind enemy lines in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Hence, German security services may have been somehow involved in the Oktoberfest bomb attack, which could be seen as a way to scare the German public into voting for a more authoritarian government in the general election that took place nine days later. The right’s candidate, Bavarian premier Franz-Josef Strauss of the CSU, immediately blamed the bomb on leftist terrorists. Strauss was known to have sent money to farright groups in Italy, Spain and South America and pandered to groups such as the WSG Hoffmann at home.
ANALYSIS: It’s unlikely the bomber acted alone. He was seen talking to men in green parkas before the explosion. A key eyewitness died of a heart attack at age 38 not long after the attack. Heinz Lembke, a prominent neo-Nazi who had secret weapons stores in northern Germany that could have been part of Gladio, was arrested in connection with the bombing but committed suicide in jail before he could be interrogated. And when lawyers representing the victims’ families tried to reopen the trial 25 years later, the police said they had destroyed all evidence, including unidentified body parts and pieces of the bomb, in 1997. New light has been shed on the case by Tobias von Heymann’s book Die Oktoberfest-Bombe, based on thousands of East German Stasi files on the Gladio stay-behind armies and the West German far right. The Stasi documents show that undercover German agents monitored the WSG Hoffmann just 22 hours before the bomb. Later, an undercover agent who had infiltrated the neo-Nazi scene was overheard saying “that was us ourselves” while discussing the bomb in a hotel in Syria with WSG Hoffmann founder Karl-Heinz Hoffmann.
That a cover-up of some kind took place seems plausible, considering the links between the bomber and neo- Nazis, and perhaps to Gladio and state intelligence services. In 2009 The Greens presented the government with 150 questions about the case in parliament, but most remained unanswered. With the CSU in the government coalition, it might be a while before more light is shed.
BELIEVABILITY (out of ten): X X X X X X X X