Carlos the Jackal Goes on Trial

Carlos the Jackal was active during the 1970s and 1980s. I dimly remember him from that era, but had either forgotten or never knew most of the details of his terrorist career. That era is being recalled, as Carlos went on trial today in Paris for four bombings in the 1980s that killed eleven people.

Carlos, if like me you don’t remember much about him, is a Venezuelan whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez. Now 62, he is a lifelong Communist who embarked on his career of terrorism at an early age. He was kicked out of Moscow University at age 21, whereupon he joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and was sent to a training camp run by the Iraqi military. (By that time he had already been trained in guerrilla warfare by the Cuban General Intelligence Directorate.) He conducted terrorist attacks across Europe, including England, France, Austria and West Berlin. He collaborated with East Germany’s Stasi and hid out in Beirut. He was finally captured in Sudan in 1994, tried and imprisoned for life. No doubt there is a good reason why he is only now facing the current charges, but I haven’t seen an explanation.

Carlos, then and now:

It is interesting how much of the current generation of terrorism was anticipated by Carlos’s career. His techniques were mostly similar–car bombings, assassinations, bombs on trains, hostage-taking. Like many of today’s terrorists, he seamlessly fused the apparently incompatible doctrines of Marxism and radical Islam. Carlos converted to Islam in 1975. He enthusiastically supported Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. While his main theater of operations was Europe, he identified the U.S. and Israel as his “main imperialist enemies.” His line of BS is interchangeable with what we hear from today’s terrorists:

Supporting her husband before the trial, Ms Coutant-Peyre said: “He is not a criminal but a politician, like Nelson Mandela. He is a freedom fighter – a revolutionary.”

When it was pointed out that Carlos had admitted killing hundreds during his career as a “super terrorist,” Ms Coutant-Peyre said: “It’s very unfortunate for the victims, but there’s always a reason in international politics.”

The current trial is something of a spectacle. Security is tight; the dock where Carlos sits is fronted with bulletproof glass and topped with a cage ceiling:

Not that Carlos apparently has much to fear from the packed gallery, much of which shares his wife’s assessment of his career:

Speaking to confirm his real name – Ilich Ramirez Sanchez – Carlos looked relaxed and calm in jeans, sweatshirt, and a blue casual jacket as he smiled and raised his arm in a clenched-fist salute.

During a number of interventions, Carlos was cheered from the public gallery as he blamed “Imperialists” for waging war on Muslims, and attacked the “racist Zionists of Israel.” …

Supporters attending the court included a number of Venezuelans who view Carlos as a political prisoner. As their applause intensified, judges called for order, saying that a courtroom was not a place to hold a political demonstration.

In general, Carlos seems to have made a success of his career as a terrorist. Currently on a hunger strike–that’s the report, anyway; he looks well-fed–Carlos apparently has not been made to experience any particular discomfort, despite admitting to hundreds of murders. He has been married three times, most recently to a lawyer, the woman quoted above, who is participating in his defense: “the notorious womanizer married [her] in prison a decade ago.”

Is the era of the celebrity terrorist over, or will Khalid Sheik Mohammed someday be cheered by adoring crowds who accept that he, too, is “a politician, like Nelson Mandela”?

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