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Saturday, July 17, 1999 Published at 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK

World: Americas

Carlos the columnist

By BBC Correspondent Peter Greste

To most of the Western world, Illich Ramirez Sanchez is Carlos the Jackal, the world's most notorious terrorist who masterminded a bloody catalogue of murders, kidnappings and hijackings throughout the 1970s.

But now he has begun writing a column for a weekly newspaper, La Razon, in Venezuela, his home country.

And he has become a leftist hero to thousands of Venezuelans.

From the solitary confines of his French prison cell, where he is serving a life sentence for murder, Mr Sanchez offers his revolutionary thoughts each week in a column called La Bastilla, Spanish for the Bastille.

According to the paper's chief of staff, Luis Delgado, the collaboration began when it published a series of features about Carlos.

After a surge in public support for the Venezuelan prisoner, the paper asked him to write the weekly column, using his famous pseudonym.

Losing touch with reality

By Mr Delgado's own admission, Carlos the Jackal's writings tend to be out of touch with the modern world.

He has been isolated for such a long time, the chief of staff told me, it all tends to be a little unrealistic.

But the paper argues that it is open to all opinions and the column has proved to be a big hit with readers.

In one article, Carlos launched a manifesto for "militant revolutionaries, communists, anarchists, anti-fascists and anti-imperialists held in prisons of the imperialist bourgeoisie".

He also criticised Nato's aggression against Yugoslavia and praised the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, as a modern incarnation of the country's founding father, General Tito.

In fact, apart from giving Carlos an outlet to vent his anger at Western imperialism, the column is also helping to rehabilitate the revolutionary's image in Venezuela.

There is a growing campaign, led by his 40-year old brother Vladimir, to bring him home.

A national hero

Among the Jackal's admirers is the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, who has admitted writing to him in prison.

President Chavez addressed Carlos as a distinguished compatriot and defended the letter by saying it showed human solidarity not political support.

A group of left-wing figures has also launched a solidarity committee as a rallying point for Carlos's supporters.

They are unlikely to succeed in securing his freedom, but his articles are winning him sympathy amongst his countrymen.

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