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Carlos with fiancée Isabelle Coutant-Peyre
Carlos with fiancée Isabelle Coutant-Peyre

Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (born October 12, 1949) was a militant, mercenary, "professional revolutionary", and playboy; he is better known by the nom de guerre Carlos the Jackal, which may have been given to him by the press after a copy of the Frederick Forsyth novel The Day of the Jackal was found in his hotel room after a police raid. Best-known for a daring 1975 raid on the OPEC headquarters, for many years he was among the most wanted international fugitives.



Ramírez Sánchez was born in Caracas, Venezuela. His father, a Marxist lawyer, gave him the forename Ilich, after Lenin. He was educated at a local school in Caracas and joined the youth movement of the national communist party in 1959. Apart from his native Spanish, he reportedly speaks Arabic and Russian, as well as some English and French. In 1966, after the divorce of his parents, his mother took him and his brother to London to continue their studies in Stafford House Tutorial College in Kensington. In 1968 his father tried to take him and his brother Lenin to Sorbonne University but eventually opted for Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. He was expelled from the university in 1970.

Apparently he traveled from there to a guerrilla training camp run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Amman, Jordan. It was there that he gained the pseudonym Carlos. He claimed to have fought along side the PFLP members as they resisted the Jordanian government's efforts to expel them in 1970. When he did leave Jordan it was for London where he attended courses at the London School of Economics and apparently worked for the PFLP.

Terrorist career

In 1973 Carlos performed his first terrorist act for the PFLP, a failed assassination attempt on Jewish businessman Joseph Sieff prompted by the Mossad murder of Mohamed Boudia, a theatre director accused of being a PFLP leader, in Paris. Ramírez Sánchez also admits responsibility for a failed bomb attack on the Hapoalim Bank in London and car bomb attacks on three French newspapers who were accused of pro-Israeli leanings. He claimed to be the grenade thrower at a Parisian restaurant, an attack that killed two and injured thirty. He later participated in two failed rocket propelled grenade attacks on El Al airliners at Orly Airport near Paris, France on January 13 and 17, 1975.

On June 27 1975 Ramírez Sánchez's PFLP contact Lebanon-born Michel Moukharbal was captured and successfully interrogated. When three policemen tried to apprehend him at a house in Paris in the middle of a party, he shot two detectives and Moukharbal, fled the scene, and managed to escape through Brussels to Beirut. It was later revealed that Michel Moukharbal had been secretly working for the Mossad.

From Beirut Carlos participated in the planning for the attack on the headquarters of OPEC in Vienna. In December 1975 he led the six-person team that assaulted the meeting of OPEC leaders and took over sixty hostages. On December 22 the terrorists and forty-two hostages were given an airliner and flown to Algiers, where thirty hostages were freed, the DC-9 was then flown on to Tripoli where more hostages were freed before flying back to Algiers where the remaining hostages were freed and the terrorists were granted asylum. Ramírez Sánchez soon left Algeria for Libya and then Aden where he attended a meeting of senior PFLP officials to justify his failure to execute two senior OPEC hostages, oil ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran. He might have also embezzled some of the ransom money. PFLP leader Wadi Haddad expelled him.

In September 1976 Ramírez Sánchez was briefly arrested in Yugoslavia and then flown to Baghdad. From there he chose to settle more permanently in Aden, where he set about forming his own group, the Organisation of Arab Armed Struggle, of Syrian, Lebanese and German terrorists. He also formed a contact with East Germany's Stasi. At one stage, Romanian Securitate hired him to assassinate Romanian dissidents in France and destroy Radio Free Europe offices in Munich. With conditional support from the Iraqi regime and the death of Haddad, Carlos offered the services of his group to the PFLP and other groups.

The group did not perform its first terrorist acts until early in 1982, with a failed attack on a nuclear power station. When two of the group, including Magdalena Kopp, Carlos's wife, were arrested in Paris the group set off a number of bombs in retaliation against French targets. Operations in 1983 included attacks on the "Maison de France" in Berlin in August and two bombs on TGV services in December. These attacks led to pressure on European states that tolerated Ramírez Sánchez. He was expelled from Hungary in late 1985 and was refused aid in Iraq, Libya and Cuba before he found limited support in Syria. He settled in Damascus with Kopp and their daughter Elba Rosa.

The Syrian government forced Ramírez Sánchez to remain inactive and he was soon no longer seen as a threat but rather a pathetic figure. However in 1990 the Iraqi government approached him and in September 1991 he was expelled from Syria and eventually found a temporary home in Jordan. He found better protection in Sudan and moved to Khartoum.

Arrest and trial

The French and U.S. intelligence agencies offered a number of deals to the Sudanese authorities. The deal may have come through because the Islamic fundamentalists in Sudan were angered by Carlos's playboy attitude. On August 14, 1994 he was handed over to French agents and they flew him to Paris. He was charged with the Paris murders of the two policemen and PFLP guerrilla-turned-Israeli spy Michel Moukharbal in 1975 and sent to La Santé de Paris prison to await trial. The trial began on December 12, 1997 and on December 23 he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He is also known to have had a sporadic correspondence with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías from his prison cell. Chávez, rather than having denied or tried to conceal this fact, has shown it on a few occasions on his show "¡Haló, Presidente!" (Hello, Mr. President!).

During his career, most of it during the Cold War, western accounts persistently claimed he was a KGB agent but the link is tenuous at best. He did not take part in the Munich Massacre (the attack on Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972) or the 1976 hijacking of Air France Flight 193 to Entebbe. Some terrorist attacks may have been attached to him for lack of anyone else to claim the credit. His own boasts about probably nonexistent "missions" confuse the matter even more.

In June 2003, Ramírez Sánchez published a collection of writings from his jail cell. The book, whose title translates to Revolutionary Islam, seeks to explain and defend terrorism in terms of class conflict. In the book, he voices support for Osama bin Laden and his attacks on the United States.

Ramírez Sánchez is, as of 2004, engaged to his lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre.

Carlos in Fiction

(The movies based on these books make no mention of Carlos.)


External links

de:Ilich Ramirez Sanchez he: איליץ' רמירז סנשז


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