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.
Eventually, Carlos went into hiding, faded into impotence, and was snatched from the Sudan in 1994 by French agents who brought him back for trial. He never became the celebrated pop icon that the Ché is, but in his time Carlos was almost as much a household name as Osama bin Laden is today, and he reveled in his fame. He was the subject of a five-and-a-half hour miniseries a year ago which romanticized him to some extent but did not rationalize or soften the edges of his misogyny, selfishness, and utter indifference to the victims of his class war.
Convinced that fundamentalist Islam is the new wave of anti-imperialism, the imprisoned Carlos became a Muslim and wrote a book about “revolutionary Islam,” which he says “attacks the ruling classes in order to achieve a more equitable redistribution of wealth.” As far back as 1995 he realized that “a new kind of militant, the Islamic revolutionist,” had joined the revolution of which he had become the spearhead. Quoted in Jackal: The Complete Story of the Legendary Terrorist Carlos the Jackal by John Follain, Carlos says that “true Islamic revolutionaries… form the vanguard of the struggle against imperialism and Zionism.”
In a 2003 article entitled “The Axis of Terror,” Paris-based Iranian journalist Amir Taheri offers up a summary of the contents of Carlos’ book. In it, the “professional revolutionary” praises bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks, and claims that only a coalition of Islamic and Marxist revolutionaries can bring down America the imperialist oppressor, a pursuit Carlos describes as “the highest goal of humanity.”
And he has been embraced in turn by the jihadists. The publisher of a weekly al Qaeda bulletin from a Turkish terrorist organization said in an interview, “bin Laden, like our commander [Salih] Mirzabeyoglu and our soul-mate Carlos the Jackal,is one of the architects of the new world that will be built following the triumph of Islam.”
Unsurprisingly, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez too calls Carlos a friend. “They accuse him of being a terrorist, but Carlos really was a revolutionary fighter,” Chavez said during a televised speech to socialist politicians from various countries, who applauded.
But in the courtroom this week, lawyers for his victims asserted that “Carlos is going to have to realise that he’s not here to conduct a revolution but to answer for his acts,” and that the trial will mark “the end of the culture of impunity” for terrorists.