Berlin police order evacuation of Red Army Faction fugitive’s apartment block

<span>Residents were told to leave their homes as the police and fire brigade helped clear nearby buildings.</span><span>Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA</span>
Residents were told to leave their homes as the police and fire brigade helped clear nearby buildings.Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Police in Berlin have ordered the evacuation of the apartment block in which a fugitive from the Red Army Faction (RAF) was arrested on Monday, telling the residents they had found suspected explosives in the building.

Already reeling from the arrest of Daniela Klette, the last living female member of the RAF, neighbours at the property in Berlin were told to leave their homes on Wednesday as police and fire brigade reinforcements were drafted in to help clear nearby buildings.

“We are in a state of shock,” said Lutz Nietet, 67, who had lived above Klette. “They say they’ve found explosives. We had to get out pretty quickly.”

Explosive-ordnance disposal officers were seen carrying an unidentified munition approximately 30cm (12in) in length. There was speculation that it was a round for the bazooka that Klette and her two accomplices carried during the robbery of a cash-in-transit truck in Cremlingen, Lower Saxony, in 2019. The trio were also armed with a bazooka and a Kalashnikov during an attempted robbery of a supermarket in Stuhr, Lower Saxony, in 2015.

In a statement late on Wednesday, police said: “Our specialists have so far removed one grenade from the flat on Sebastianstrasse in Kreuzberg and defused it in a safe place. Other objects are still being examined.”

The RAF, an urban guerrilla outfit often referred to as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, named after its founding members, wreaked havoc across Germany with its bombings, kidnappings, murders and armed robberies in the 1970s and 1980s.

Related: Neal Ascherson on how terrorist collective Baader-Meinhof terrorised West Germany in the Seventies

The group officially disbanded in 1998, and Klette, along with accomplices Ernst-Volker Staub and Burkhard Garweg, who belonged to the RAF’s so-called third generation, went underground to avoid detection.

They are believed to have financed their lives on the run through a series of at least 10 armed robberies of money transporters, banks and supermarket cash raids, from the 1990s to 2016. The heists are believed to have made about €2m (£1.7m) for the trio.

Klette, 65, did not resist arrest when police knocked on the door of her fifth-floor apartment in Kreuzberg on Monday evening during a routine inquiry, investigators said.

Staub and Garweg are still unaccounted for though police suggested they might be closing in on the men and vowed to intensify their search after Monday’s arrest.

A man detained hours after Klette on Monday, initially thought to be one of the fugitives, was released by police on Tuesday.

“We have no doubt that he is not one of the two still-fugitive criminals,” authorities said.

A third suspect was arrested in Berlin on Wednesday, but police refused to comment on reports that he may be one of the two wanted men.

Klette’s arrest is believed to have followed a tipoff after a recent crime investigation programme on German television which focused on the trio. The police received 250 pieces of information.

The mugshots released at that time have been even more intensively shared on television and social media since Klette’s arrest, leading to further tipoffs from the public about their possible whereabouts since Monday, police said.

They urged the public to continue to contact them with any information. A €150,000 reward has been offered for information leading to their arrests.

Police identified Klette from her fingerprints, having previously collected them and her DNA from the site of a 2016 armed robbery in which she was alleged to have been involved, along with Staub and Garweg.

She had been living under the identity of Claudia Ivone, an Italian, and had an Italian passport, Der Spiegel reported.

Her Facebook page showed pictures of her taken from behind, during excursions to Berlin’s lakes, as well as a range of publicity material for capoiera, an African-Brazilian dance she was involved in at a Brazilian culture club in Berlin.

Police published the first photo of her to be seen by the public in almost 30 years, taken from a capoiera event, showing her smiling with grey-streaked hair.

A 2023 podcast, Legion: Most Wanted, which had tried to track her down after a man claimed to have met her at a party in Cologne, captured the recent renewed public interest in the RAF, and revealed hitherto unknown details about her life, but failed to find her.

The RAF, which emerged from the 1960s protest movement, was a radical anti-capitalist response to postwar Germany’s tortured relationship with its past, with members often driven by their perception of their parents’ and grandparents’ apparent complicity with the Nazis.

Between 1970 and the early 1990s, 34 people were murdered by the group, including police officers, as well as high-ranking representatives from business and politics.