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Friday, December 12, 1997 Published at 12:28 GMT


The Jackal has his day - in court
image: [ Carlos the Jackal brought to a Paris court in 1994 ]
Carlos the Jackal brought to a Paris court in 1994

Hugh Schofield in Paris on the career of Carlos the Jackal
Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal, is going on trial in Paris for the murder of two French intelligence agents sent to arrest him in 1975 and for the shooting of an informer. The BBC's Paris Correspondent, Kevin Connolly, reports for News Online.

From his cell inside the maximum-security prison in the forbidding suburb of Fresnes outside Paris, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez has tried to maintain the air of dangerous glamour he enjoyed in the 1970s and 1980s as "Carlos", the world's most-wanted terrorist.

He has refused to answer the questions of the examining magistrate preparing the case against him on the grounds that the bombings and killings of which he stands accused were part of an international anti-imperialist struggle.

[ image: Carlos: refusing to answer magistrate's questions]
Carlos: refusing to answer magistrate's questions
And when he was first moved to the jail from another prison, he took care to notify the subscription department of "Cigar Lover" magazine so that deliveries of his favourite magazine would not be interrupted.

But, in truth, the web of myths and rumours, which once built up a certain mystique around the Venezuelan-born killer, began to unravel on the August day in 1994 when French counter-intelligence officers arrested him in Khartoum and spirited him back to Paris.

A fugitive's plight

He had been living in the Sudanese capital for a year after spending a decade in exile in Damascus. He was a man on the run taking refuge in the dwindling number of countries still prepared to shelter a terrorist wanted for a series of bloody attacks all over Europe.

In this murky world where espionage, terrorism and international politics meet, little is ever known for certain.

But, it is probable that Syria forced him out because it could not reconcile its role as a haven for terrorists with its desire to build on its growing, but still uneasy relationships with the United States and other Western powers.

Sudan, which had just been added to the United States' list of countries which sponsor terrorism, almost certainly saw Carlos as a bargaining chip to improve its own relationship with the West.

France, often suspected by its allies of being ready to strike secret deals to advance its own interests in such areas, is thought to have provided the hardline regime in Khartoum with satellite photographs to help it in its struggle against anti-government rebels in the South. France of course, fiercely denies this.

Western intelligence sources say that, by the time of his arrest, Carlos had become a faded, rather pathetic figure, a heavy drinker who had flourished during the Cold War when superpower rivalry encouraged Communist governments in Eastern Europe to provide him with boltholes, after terrorist attacks in England and France.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and its Eastern European satellite states began to open up to the West, he became an embarrassment to them, and even an embarrassment to the Middle Eastern states on behalf of whose people he had once claimed to be fighting.

The makings of Carlos

Carlos was born in Venezuela in 1949, one of the children of a millionaire Marxist lawyer, who demonstrated the depth of his communist convictions by dividing the name of the leader of the Russian revolution between his three sons and calling them Vladimir Ilich and Lenin.

In the mid-1960s, he moved with his family to London and began to polish the linguistic skills which would one day allow him to pose as a language teacher - a cover for his terrorist career.

It was at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, where the Soviet Union recruited and educated foreign communists, that he is thought to have joined forces with the extremist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

In 1973, acting in its name, he began a series of attacks, including the shooting and wounding of Edward Sieff, the president of Marks and Spencer, at his home in London, a grenade attack on the English headquarters of an Israeli bank and a series of bombings in Paris.

The attack which sealed his reputation was the seizure of 70 hostages at a meeting in Vienna of ministers from OPEC - the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Three people were killed as he and the terrorists he led stormed in firing machine guns and demanded that a political statement they had prepared be read on radio stations all over the Middle East.

The Austrian government agreed to negotiate and eventually allowed the terrorists to leave with their hostages, including ministers from 11 OPEC states. All were eventually released unharmed in Algeria, although at least one recalled how Carlos had courteously explained that it might become "necessary" to kill him.

Television pictures of Carlos embracing the negotiator with whom he had been dealing and then taking charge of the loading of hostages into a plane at Vienna airport were shown all over the world and confirmed his reputation as a kind of super-terrorist.

In truth, terrorist attacks were simply easier in those days when security at events like the OPEC meeting was not nearly as strict as it is now and when the resolve of Western governments not to negotiate with hostage-takers was likelier to waver.

Precisely because he was a shadowy figure about whom little was known, almost any terrorist attack committed anywhere was attributed to Carlos, further fuelling his legend.

He himself, in an interview with an Arabic newspaper in Paris in 1979, claimed to have killed 83 people....although he now says the interview was a forgery.

In France, the authorities believe he was behind between 14 and 20 murders, many of them in a series of attacks on trains and railway stations in the early 1980s designed to force the government to free his girlfriend who faced terrorist charges.

The government refused, and she was jailed.

When Carlos goes on trial, it will be for the murder of two French intelligence agents sent to arrest him at a flat in Paris in 1975 and for the shooting of an informer he blamed for betraying him.

He has already been tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in his absence.

Western intelligence sources now say Carlos probably did not commit most of the attacks once attributed to him, and bungled some of those he did attempt...undermining the myth of the ice-cool killer whose crimes once horrified and fascinated the world.

When he was arrested, he was living in a dreary flat in Khartoum - a fugitive whose capture had become inevitable because he could not adapt to the changing world around him.

Hugh Schofield in Paris on the career of Carlos the Jackal

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