December 11, 1997 in Nation/World

The Kiss Of Death Playboy Terrorist, Now Pudgy And Balding, Stands Trial In Paris.

Ray Moseley Chicago Tribune

He was once the world’s most-feared terrorist, No. 1 on the wanted list of every Western intelligence agency.

But Carlos the Jackal, who goes on trial for murder in a Paris court Friday, was a drunken has-been when French commandos seized him in Sudan three years ago and flew him to imprisonment in Paris.

The French media have paid scant attention to him as the trial approaches. Two decades ago, he was front-page news around the world.

Carlos, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, is a professional Venezuelan terrorist who murdered two French secret service agents and a Lebanese informer in 1975 and then escaped into the shadowy world of Middle East terrorism.

His most famous exploit occurred just before Christmas in 1975, when he and five comrades stormed the Vienna headquarters of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, killed three people, kidnapped the 11 OPEC oil ministers and 19 aides and then flew them to Libya and finally Algeria before releasing them.

He once fired shoulder-launched missiles at an El Al airline jet at Paris’ Orly Airport. He set off bombs at various targets, and he might have killed as many as 83 people in a career that has captured the public imagination as no other terrorist’s has. He has had links with groups ranging from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to the Baader Meinhof gang in Germany.

The trial, expected to last just a week, will place Carlos in public view for the first time since his capture in August 1994.

The trial, which is expected to end in a life sentence, will be brief because it will focus only on the crimes for which Carlos was principally noted in France.

In June 1975, three unarmed agents of the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire, the French secret service agency, were led to a Latin Quarter apartment in Paris by a Lebanese informer and surprised Carlos and his friends at a party.

The French agents were unarmed because they had no idea how dangerous Carlos was. He was slightly drunk, and they agreed to his request to use the bathroom. He came out firing, killing two of them and the Lebanese. The third agent survived a bullet through the neck but died several years later.

Carlos escaped from France, possibly with the help of the Cuban Embassy in Paris, and remained on the run until the French finally caught up with him.

He went into a Khartoum hospital for a minor operation in 1994, and the Islamic government there made a deal with the French to hand him over. His hosts took him drugged, bound and gagged to the French, who immediately put him aboard a plane and flew him to Paris.

Carlos, now 48 and pudgy with a receding hairline, has always loved the limelight and is likely to take full advantage of it in court. He is sometimes heard screaming through the grill on his prison door: “It’s me, Carlos.”

He is a voracious reader, subscribing to about 30 publications, and frequently writes to newspapers to “correct” reports about him. He has objected, for example, to having the term Jackal applied to him. It was invented by a writer for The Guardian newspaper in London, who likened him to the killer in Frederick Forsyth’s novel “The Day of the Jackal.”

Carlos is the son of a Venezuelan millionaire and revolutionary, Jose Altagracia Ramirez Navas. A seminarian in his youth, the father left the church to become a fervent Communist.

After his parents separated, Carlos moved to London with his mother and then studied at Patrice Lumumba People’s Friendship University in Moscow.

From Moscow he went to East Berlin and then to Jordan in time to fight alongside Palestinian guerrillas against the government of King Hussein in what became known as Black September. It was in Jordan that he was given his nom de guerre of Carlos.

Afterward he returned to London and built up his cover as a womanizing playboy. He was popular with young women and sometimes used their flats to hide weapons or to hide out himself.

He moved to Paris in 1973 as chief European terrorist for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine but came back to London to carry out two operations.

The French examining magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, has chosen to limit Carlos’ trial to the 1975 killings of the French secret service agents. A French secret service report describes Carlos as having “a personality characterized by a feeling of superiority and a high opinion of himself. He displays unpredictable reactions and behavior in certain situations. Unable to accept being contradicted, he cannot control himself, and reactions of pride and revenge should not be excluded.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email