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Ilich Ramirez Sanchez: Carlos The Jackal

Crime Files
Ilich Ramirez Sanchez: Carlos The Jackal

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, who went on to become “Carlos” and later, “Carlos The Jackal”, was born in Caracas, Venezuela on 12th October 1949, named after his Marxist father’s hero, Lenin, over his mother’s strenuous Catholic objections. A passionate Communist, Ilich’s wealthy father had a successful legal practice that enabled him to hire private tutors to indoctrinate his eldest son with Communist doctrine, which the young boy took to heart. His parent’s turbulent marriage, caused by his father’s philandering, resulted in separation in 1958, which saw mother and children travelling to Jamaica and Mexico for two years, before she finally returned to Venezuela, where they were eventually divorced. During these travels Ilich discovered a flair for foreign languages and a love of different cultures. In January 1964, Ilich joined the Venezuelan Communist Youth, becoming involved in various subversive activities against the ruling government, before travelling to the UK in August 1966 with his mother, where he attended a Tutorial College in Kensington. He also enjoyed a tour of embassy cocktail parties and developed a taste for the playboy lifestyle that was to become his signature, in later years. This glamorous life was short-lived, however, and his father insisted that he would receive a more “appropriate” education in Moscow, sending his sons to attend Patrice Lumumba University there, which specialised in preparing Communists for leadership roles in Third World countries. Ilich rebelled against the harsh discipline he encountered there, and a generous allowance, courtesy of his father, enabled him to recreate his playboy lifestyle. This rebellion finally cost him his membership of the Venezuelan Communist Party in 1969, which had sponsored his Moscow studies. His expulsion from University in 1970 resulted from his participation in an Arab student demonstration, and he then travelled to Palestine to train with the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” (PFLP), a terrorist group with tacit KGB support, whose mission was to undermine the state of Israel by violent action. He underwent extensive weapons training in a terrorist camp in Jordan, and it was at this time that he became known as “Carlos”.


Born 12 October 1949Arrested 14 August 1994Trial 12 December 1997Convicted 23 December 1997Second life prison sentence 19 December 2011

The Aftermath

Carlos was held in solitary confinement from the time of his arrest in 1994, until 2002.In November 1998 Carlos went on a three-week hunger strike to protest against conditions on the prison.On 23 June 1999 the French court of appeal turned down Carlos’ petition against his life sentence.In October 2001 he announced his engagement to his lawyer, Isabelle Coutante-Peyre. They were married under Islamic rights shortly after.In June 2003 he released a book praising Osama bin Laden, and the 9/11 attacks. He also claimed to have completed his memoirs, which are to be published after his death.As of January 2006, he continues to pursue a case against the French government, in the European Court of Human Rights, claiming an infringement of his human rights, for the eight years he was held in solitary confinement. A lower court has already ruled that his human rights were not infringed.In December 2011 a French court sentenced the self-styled revolutionary to life imprisonment once again after convicting him of masterminding four separate bomb attacks in the 1980s. He reportedly intends to appeal and has demanded to be extradited to Venezuela.

The Crimes

His first taste of battle occurred during “Black September” in 1970, when King Hussein of Jordan, initially sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, became increasingly politically isolated following numerous airline hijackings by the PFLP, and drove the Palestinians out of Jordan. By all accounts Carlos acquitted himself well, earning a reputation for courage under fire during the long battle, and he was rewarded by his appointment as the PFLP’s representative, which saw his return to London after the conflict, in February 1971. His covert mission was to draw up a list of high profile kidnap targets with pro-Israel sympathies; overtly, he enrolled at the University of London and happily resumed his playboy lifestyle.During his time in London he set up a network of safe houses, and came under police suspicion briefly as a result, but no charges were filed against him. He also claimed to have been involved in a number of daring raids, including the hijacking of a Lufthansa jet in February 1972, and the attack on the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics by the militant group “Black September”, in September 1972, but there was no proof of his participation in these acts of terrorism.His first solo mission occurred on 30th December 1973, and involved an attack on Josef Sieff, vice-president of the British Zionist Federation, which raised money for Israeli charities. Having gained access to his London home, Carlos shot Sieff, but failed to kill him, as his gun jammed after the first shot. Carlos managed to escape unharmed.This was followed a month later with an abortive bomb attack on a London-based Israeli bank, then three car-bomb attacks on pro-Israeli French newspapers, which caused massive damage, but no human casualties. He was directly involved in an attack on the French Embassy in Holland by the Japanese Red Army, placing pressure on the French government to accede to the terrorists’ demands by bombing a shopping centre in France that killed two people, and injured thirty four more.This bombing saw his promotion to the big leagues, but his next high-profile missions failed: two bazooka attacks carried out on El Al aircraft at Orly Airport in Paris, on two separate days in January 1975, neither of which caused any casualties.An arrest of a close terrorist colleague, Michel Moukharbal, almost led to Carlos’s own capture in Paris, but he managed to escape a trap set for him, by killing Moukharbal and the police officers with him, initiating a huge countrywide man-hunt in France that forced him to flee to Beirut, where the PFLP welcomed him as a conquering hero.From Beirut he masterminded the attack that would bring him to the attention of the world media: the assault on the Viennese headquarters of OPEC, the Middle Eastern oil cartel.On Sunday, 21st December 1975, Carlos and five other gunmen entered the OPEC headquarters, taking forty two hostages, including many senior OPEC representatives, amidst gunfire that claimed multiple victims, including both civilians and police personnel.Carlos then dictated a letter of demands via a secretary, to the Austrian government, which included a bus to take all the hostages to the nearest airport, where an aircraft would be on standby to fly the group wherever they demanded. Authorities were also instructed to publicly broadcast a pro-Palestine communiqué, again dictated by Carlos, every two hours.With so many hostages’ lives at stake, the Austrian authorities had no choice but to negotiate: the propaganda was broadcast, and a plane was provided the next day, which flew to Algiers, where Carlos agreed to free thirty non-Arab hostages, in exchange for a refuelling of the jet, which then flew on to Tripoli.The reception in Tripoli was hostile, and the Libyans refused to provide Carlos with a larger plane with a greater range capacity. Eventually, in exchange for the release of the Libyan hostages, and five other delegates, the plane was again refuelled and returned to Algiers, where Carlos agreed to release the rest of the hostages in exchange for political asylum, and a large undisclosed sum of money, which was provided either by the Saudis or the Iranians.The leader of the PFLP regarded the OPEC operation as a failure, as Carlos had released, rather than killed, the Saudi oil ministers, the primary targets in the raid. When it was discovered that Carlos had also appropriated some of the ransom funds for his own use, he was expelled from the party, although this was not publicised by the PFLP at the time.Unaware of this, media speculation claimed that Carlos was the mastermind behind the June 1976 hijacking of an Air France jet in Entebbe, Uganda, which made world headlines, but this assumption proved to be false. Carlos settled in Aden, South Yemen, courtesy of Libya’s Colonel Qadaffi, who was rumoured to have funded the OPEC attack, where he trained terrorists in guerrilla warfare techniques for a number of years.When the leader of the PFLP died suddenly in March 1978, Carlos recruited the best agents from within the leaderless group, as well as other nationals, to form his own group of terrorist mercenaries, named the Organisation of Arab Armed Struggle. The group established relations with East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, as well as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The agents included German divorcee Magdalena Kopp, who went on to become Carlos’ wife in January 1979.In January 1982, a failed attack by Carlos’ new group, on a French nuclear reactor, led to his wife’s arrest in Paris in February. Carlos demanded her release and, when the French failed to comply, he bombed the French Cultural Centre in Beirut on 15th March, then a French train, on 29th March 1982, which was supposed to have been carrying former French President Jacques Chirac. The premier had not been on board but five passengers were killed, and thirty more injured.Numerous other attacks against French targets continued over the next year, but the French refused to release Kopp, who was given a four-year sentence for her part in the failed reactor attack. These attacks succeeded in placing extreme political pressure on those governments previously sympathetic to Carlos, as the body count mounted, and the French increased the resources available to capture Carlos.Two more French trains were bombed on 31st December 1983, killing four passengers, and injuring dozens more, which Carlos claimed responsibility for, claiming that they were retaliation for French air strikes on Lebanese terrorist training camps. In France, and throughout Europe, Carlos was Public Enemy No. 1.

The Arrest

On 4th May 1985, Magdalena Kopp was released from French prison, having earned early release for good behaviour. She joined Carlos in Hungary, but political pressure soon saw them forced to seek refuge in Syria, one of the few countries willing to offer Carlos a base. On 17th August, Kopp gave birth to their first child, named Elba Rosa. In return for sanctuary, Syria insisted that Carlos remain inactive and, with few other options, he was forced into retirement, where he remained in relative obscurity, until Western intelligence agencies received information that Carlos was about to head Saddam Hussein’s terror campaign in his attack on Kuwait, in August 1990.There followed an all-out campaign to capture him, which saw Carlos and his family expelled from Syria, and he was forced to settle in Jordan by October 1991. He then left Kopp for a young Jordanian woman, whom he took as his second wife. Kopp left Jordan for Venezuela with their daughter, moving in with Carlos’ mother. Carlos was forced again to leave Jordan, settling finally in Khartoum, in the Sudan.His drinking and womanising did not endear him to the Muslim authorities there and, amidst intense political pressure from the French government, the Sudanese authorities gave him up for extradition on 14th August 1994. He was immediately flown to France, and charged with the 1975 murders of the two policemen, as well as Michel Moukharbal. He was held in the maximum-security prison, La Sante, pending trial.

The Trial

The trial began at the Palais de Justice in Paris on 12th December 1997. Carlos’ claim, that he had been arrested illegally, was ignored, and the prosecution proceeded to present incontrovertible evidence linking Carlos to the crimes committed. Halfway through the proceedings, Carlos dismissed his legal counsel, and took up his own defence, claiming his acts had been crimes of war, with himself a revolutionary.On 23rd December 1997, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts, sentencing him to life imprisonment.  Carlos was returned to La Sante prison, where he remains incarcerated.