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The brutal and charismatic terrorist once known all over the world as Carlos the Jackal, already serving a life sentence pronounced in 1997 in France for the murder of two policemen and an informant in 1975, went on trial again this week in France – this time for terrorism charges, for which he faces another life sentence.
Describing himself to the court as “a professional revolutionary,” the 62-year-old Carlos launched into diatribes against “racist” Israel and “Zionist exploiters,” drawing applause from supporters in the packed courthouse, to whom he blew kisses. He denied involvement in the crimes in question, from 1982-3 in France; but in an interview the day before, he boasted that the operations he plotted in his career resulted in 2000 deaths. As for the innocent victims, Carlos justified their Marxist-inspired murders this way: “There were very few. I calculated that they were fewer than 10 percent. So out of 1,500 to 2,000 killed, there were not more than 200 civilian victims.” One of his defense attorneys asked the court instead to spare a thought for “victims” of Western-backed wars in Libya and Afghanistan.
Born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez in Venezuela, Carlos was named after Vladimir Ilich Lenin, whom Carlos’ rabidly Marxist father called “the biggest man in all humanity” (Carlos’ younger brothers were named Vladimir and Lenin). “Humanity before the bomb is divided into two periods,” his father said, “before and after Lenin, not Christ who was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill man.”
The successful lawyer spoonfed ideology to his child with an almost religious devotion, setting the boy on a path of ideological hatred and terrorist violence early on. “Revolution is my supreme euphoria,” Carlos claimed. He joined the Venezuelan Communist Youth at 15, where he organized anti-government street marches and learned how to make Molotov cocktails and set cars on fire.
He was then supposedly sent to Cuba at the age of 17 to complete his education in a political indoctrination camp which also ran courses in sabotage techniques, run by Castro’s secret service and a local KGB boss. There he was trained in small arms, explosives, cryptography, falsification of documents, and other revolutionary skills.
Sent to London to study, he joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1970 at the age of 21, after further Marxist student activism and training in guerrilla warfare. An affluent young Latin playboy who enjoyed living large while plotting to rid the world of capitalist oppression, Carlos, whose motto was “life, duty, revolution,” idolized another murderer, Ché Guevara. He fumbled his way through an assassination attempt, then botched (but deadly nonetheless) grenade and bomb attacks in Paris, and two failed RPG attacks at Paris airports, before shooting dead two French detectives and fleeing to Beirut.
The unrepentant killer led a bold assault on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna in 1975 (for which he donned a beret in the style of Ché), a hostage-taking operation that catapulted him to international fame and earned him upwards of $20 million in ransom payout. But his failure to follow orders and to execute specific hostages cost him his membership in the PFLP.
Thereafter and throughout the ‘80s, Carlos connected with a variety of terrorist partners, including Saddam Hussein, to continue his reign of terror. He even spearheaded a plot to assassinate Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, only to have the Muslim Brotherhood beat him to it.
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