Carlos the Jackal in new French trial
He was the son of a millionaire lawyer who became one of the world’s most wanted men: a globe-trotting criminal mastermind and self-styled professional revolutionary said to have been responsible for bombings, hijackings and shootings across the world. They called him Carlos the Jackal.
Now, some three decades after he spread terror across the globe, the Jackal, whose real name is Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, is set to face trial in Paris in a case that could decide whether he ever steps outside a prison again.
A resident of a Paris jail since his capture in Sudan in 1994, Ramírez is already serving a life sentence for the killings of two French policemen and a suspected informant in 1975.
His latest trial starts on Monday,and will examine his alleged involvement in four bombings in France which left 11 dead and dozens wounded during the early 1980s. It is likely to determine whether he will ever set foot in his native Venezuela again.
In an interview with the Guardian, Ramírez’s 53-year-old brother, Vladimir Ramírez Sánchez, was adamant that Ramírez, once described as the most dangerous man alive, was innocent of murder.
“I am not willing to declare him guilty of something that is considered a heroic act when committed by powerful nations. While these double moral standards continue to exist, I will not accept that my brother is guilty of anything other than opposing the hegemony,” said Valdimir, a militant member of the Venezuelan Communist party who described himself as a part-time engineer and full-time defender of his brother.
Ilich was born in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, in 1949. He was one of three sons of a wealthy Marxist lawyer, Jose Altagracia Ramírez Navas, and each was given a revolutionary name: Ilich, Lenin and Vladimir.
“We were raised to cherish the family above all, and because Ilich was the eldest he was always my guide, a figure to admire — He was the one who enrolled me in school or told me off, not for smoking, but for doing so without knowing how to,” said Vladimir, who recalls an unconventional and sheltered upbringing.
“My brothers, who were only a year apart, had been home-schooled by communist tutors. We had a pool table at home and were allowed to play only games that encouraged discipline and precision. Playing outside with balls was considered to be a total waste of our time,” Vladimir said.
In the 1960s, the family moved to London. “Our father’s plan was that we’d spend nine years in Europe, divided between England, France and Germany, acquiring linguistic and cultural tools that would give us a more comprehensive view of the world and enable us to best contribute to the revolutionary processes of the time.”
Ilich’s transformation into an international terrorist began at Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University, named after the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was assassinated in 1961.
Famed as a training ground for leftist revolutionaries and guerillas from across Latin America, Asia and Africa, the university was apparently not radical enough for Ilich. He was expelled in 1970.
“He would talk to students from Cuba and Chile and Vietnam and compare their conflicts,” Vladimir said. “He decided that the best way to defeat imperialism was to take up arms and the best place to do it was the Middle East, so he became part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.”
Ilich moved to Lebanon and adopted Carlos as his nom de guerre. He became increasingly involved with a patchwork of global terrorist organisations including West Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang or Red Army Faction.
Then, in 1975, his reputation as a poster-boy for the revolutionary left was cemented when 11 oil ministers were taken hostage during a meeting of the Opec oil cartel in Vienna. He was said to have helped plan the attack from Beirut.
Among the other crimes to which Ilich has been linked is the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight from Israel to Paris.
“I’m a professional revolutionary,” Ilich told a Paris court during his last trial, in 1997, when he was sentenced to life for killing two French policemen and their Lebanese informant. “The world is my domain.”
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Ilich found friendly safe havens harder to come by. He took refuge in Sudan and was finally captured there in 1994 by French secret agents. The agents reputedly spirited him out of the country hidden in a sack on board a private jet.
For Vladimir, his brother’s capture has always been a bitter pill to swallow.
“The circumstance of his kidnapping alone should render the whole process unconstitutional,” he said.
And that bitterness has been heightened by the apparent lack of support from Venezuela’s leftist government.
Where once President Hugo Chávez described Ilich as a freedom fighter, Vladimir says the administration has ignored his pleas for legal help.
Ilich’s latest trial is expected to last at least six weeks. In a recent interview with French radio, he vowed to fight the charges with his customary revolutionary vigour. “I’m still in a combative state of mind,” he told Europe 1 radio. “The first thing I’ll do, if I get out by the grace of God — I’ll start with my honeymoon. It’s more than a decade late.”
Vladimir insisted his brother’s revolutionary side was still alive and kicking.
“His time in jail has only served to deepen my brother’s beliefs. His condemnation of the enemy strengthens every time he sees the grip of imperialism tighten, like we’ve just seen in Libya. I will not rest in my defence until I see justice served.”
Long before the world had heard of Osama bin Laden, Carlos the Jackal was considered the world’s most wanted terrorist. He once claimed in an interview to have been responsible for killing more than 1 500 people in the name of Palestinian liberation.
Born in Caracas in 1949, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez was partly raised in London. He later moved to Lebanon, where he joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Ramírez took the name Carlos because of his South American background. “The Jackal” was added by the British press, after one journalist spotted a copy of Frederick Forsyth’s book The Day of the Jackal at his London flat.
Ramírez converted to Islam while in prison, where he is said to spend his time writing love poems to his lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, whom he married in 2001.