Carlos the Jackal returns… to court

Carlos the Jackal returns… to court

Perhaps the most notorious terrorist of the pre-Osama era, a man whose mystique and dress-sense have inspired a cottage industry of films and books, Carlos the Jackal makes his reappearance in a Parisian courtroom this week. The charges, while serious, are almost thirty years old – and the terrorist himself is simply loving the media attention. By KEVIN BLOOM.

In the 2010 TV mini-series Carlos, the character of Illich Ramirez Sanchez, aka Carlos the Jackal, asks a colleague if he knows how he got his nom de guerre. “No, I don’t,” says the man. “For President Carlos Andres Perez,” comes the reply. “He nationalised the oil industry as well as the mines. He redistributed wealth to the needy. Considered education the third world’s main weapon. He’s a revolutionary.” Which may be fascinating and very much in keeping with the myth of the man, but is still a long way off the truth. 

Ramirez’s nom de guerre was originally Johnny, and after a public shootout with French authorities in 1975, all the police had to go on was one of several fake passports – they chose the one with the first name Carlos. As for “The Jackal,” the story has something to do with the boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend of Ramirez, who shortly after the shooting incident found in his London apartment a bag belonging to the terrorist. The boyfriend didn’t trust the police, so he called the Guardian instead, and a reporter by the name of Peter Niesewand showed up. When Niesewand saw on a bookshelf a copy of Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day Of The Jackal, he assumed Ramirez had been reading it before he fled the apartment. The next day the Guardian’s front-page splash presented to the world the name that would become legend.

Carlos the Jackal, who’s already serving a life sentence for triple murder in the abovementioned Parisian shootout, is now back in world headlines. On Monday he appeared in a French court on charges of instigating four attacks in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 people and injured more than 140 others. “Wearing a blue jacket, graying beard and wavy hair brushed back,” noted the Washington Post, “Ramirez smiled as he entered and then identified himself to the court as ‘a professional revolutionary’ – striking a combative pose from the outset… With three gendarmes at his side and dark sunglasses in his hands, Ramirez variously raised a fist in defiance, weaved in anti-Zionist rhetoric into his diatribes and smiled to the gallery that included controversial French comic Dieudonne.”

That would be the same Dieudonne who became politically active in the 1990s as a leftist and anti-racism activist, the friend of Holocaust deniers, and the man condemned in court several times for anti-Semitic remarks. The source of his sympathy and affection for Carlos the Jackal would no doubt have been their  shared opinions on the Palestinian cause, about which Dieudonne has been more than vocal over the years – in 2003, for instance, he appeared on French television disguised as an Israeli settler, and proceeded to give the Hitler salute.

Carlos, of course, did a lot more than that. According to French prosecutors, he masterminded the four bomb attacks across France in the early ‘80s so as to force the release of two members of his international revolutionary group, the Organisation of Armed Struggle – which was composed of rebels from Syria, Lebanon and Germany, and appears at one time to have been financed and protected by the East German government. Reportedly, the notorious terrorist planned a series of attacks on European targets from his safe houses in East Berlin, including one on Radio Free Europe’s Munich headquarters in 1981, a bombing that caused many injuries but no deaths (and was, as per Stasi files opened after 1989, paid for by Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania).

The Venezuelan-born Ramirez, who was granted Palestinian nationality by the late Yasser Arafat, was eventually kidnapped by French intelligence agents in 1994 and shipped to Paris. There, after a three-year trial, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing of two policemen and an informer in the abovementioned shootout.

True to the Hollywood myth – and perhaps as much shaped by it as he has instigated it – Carlos the Jackal remains as defiant as the day he was expelled from Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University, that “hotbed for recruiting foreign communists to the Soviet Union” (a BBC quote), in 1970. As the Guardian noted on Monday: “Even before the case opened, [Ramirez] had shown his defiance in an interview with the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional on Sunday in which he claimed he had killed up to 2,000 people in more than 100 attacks during his career as an international revolutionary. Until now, [he] had only ever admitted taking 70 people hostage during a meeting of the OPEC oil-producing countries in Austria in December 1975, which led to three deaths.”

Which would make sense – another life sentence makes no difference to him, all that seems to matter now is the mystique and the attention. DM

Read more:

  • “Carlos the Jackal shows he has not lost the ability to provoke at his Paris trial,” in the Guardian;
  • “Carlos the Jackal Goes on Trial for Bombings in France,” in NYTimes.

Photo: Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as “Carlos the Jackal” (R) sits next to his lawyer Francis Vuillemin (L) in court in Paris November 28, 2000 coinciding with a trial in Frankfurt of his former German accomplice Hans-Joachim Klein.


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