x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Carlos the Jackal on trial again in France for murder

Fourteen years after a French court jailed him for life, Carlos the Jackal is again on trial in Paris, this time for four bomb attacks in France in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 people and injured almost 200.

A court sketch made on Tuesday in Paris shows Carlos the Jackal in a Paris courtroom during his trial. Accused of killing 11 people in four bombings in 1980s in France, the 62-year-old has made no secret of his past as the leader of a gang that carried out attacks on behalf of Warsaw Pact intelligence agencies and pro-Palestinian causes, but denied the latest French charges.
A court sketch made on Tuesday in Paris shows Carlos the Jackal in a Paris courtroom during his trial. Accused of killing 11 people in four bombings in 1980s in France, the 62-year-old has made no secret of his past as the leader of a gang that carried out attacks on behalf of Warsaw Pact intelligence agencies and pro-Palestinian causes, but denied the latest French charges.

Long before the world became aware of Osama bin Laden, there was another global militant whose nickname was enough to spread fear throughout the many countries where he operated.

As Ilitch Ramirez Sanchez, son of a rich Marxist Venezuelan lawyer, he was relatively little known.

As Carlos the Jackal, he built a reputation for unbounded ruthlessness, a man willing to seize hostages, kill investigators, hijack planes, bomb bars, sabotage trains and blow up radio, newspaper and tourism offices in pursuit of causes ranging from Palestine to Cold War score-settling.

Now, 14 years after a French court jailed him for life for some of his crimes, Ramirez is once again on trial in Paris for murder.

This time, he faces further life sentences for four bomb attacks in France in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 people and injured almost 200.

With his trademark defiance, Ramirez, now 62, declared at the opening of his trial in the courtroom beside the Seine: "I am a professional revolutionary by profession … of the Leninist tradition."

Ramirez - the codename Carlos was given to him Bassam Abu Sharif, the Yasser Arafat aide who recruited him to the militant Palestinian cause - was originally tried in France in 1997 for killing two French intelligence officers and a Lebanese informer in 1975.

He denied involvement and blamed it on the Israeli secret service, Mossad, but was convicted.

That trial was possible because Ramirez's years on the run, and his long career, had ended in Khartoum in 1994 when Franco-Sudanese collaboration led to an elaborate ploy to smuggle him to France.

Supporters insist his capture in Sudan, where he thought himself safe, was kidnapping.

Among Ramirez's champions is Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, who not only acts as his lawyer in the new trial but, in 2001, went through a Muslim marriage with him after he converted to Islam in jail. The union is invalid in France because both were married to other people at the time.

She said outside the court, where Palestinians also demonstrated support for him, there was no justification for trying him for events of almost three decades ago.

French prosecutors, she said when the trial began last week, were acting for "propaganda or some other interests rather than those of justice".

Ramirez denies ordering or masterminding the atrocities, although prosecutors are expected to make much - as they did in 1997 - of the various admissions attributed to him over the years.

In one of the bombings, five people died on a Paris-Toulouse high-speed train in March 1982. The attack occurred a few days after the deadline for the release of two members of Ramirez's revolutionary group. A letter demanding their freedom was sent to the French embassy in the Netherlands and allegedly contained his fingerprints.

At his previous trial, Ramirez said: "When one wages war for 30 years, there is a lot of blood spilled, mine and others. We never killed anyone for money, but for a cause, the liberation of Palestine."

Precisely how many crimes he has committed is the subject of much speculation.

The most spectacular act laid at his door is the one he cannot deny, since he personally led the operation. This was the seizure of 63 hostages, including oil ministers, at the Vienna headquarters of Opec in December 1975.

Three people - an Iraqi employee, a Libyan delegate and an Austrian police officer - were killed and Ramirez was suspected of planning to murder two of the seized ministers, Ahmed Zaki Yamani of Saudi Arabia and Iran's Jamshid Amuzegar.

Ramirez was also accused of involvement in the hijacking in 1976 of a French aircraft which ended when Israeli commandoes led by Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of the Israeli prime minister, stormed the terminal where the hostages were being held at Entebbe, Uganda.

Some months after Entebbe, Ramirez settled in what was then the socialist state of South Yemen. But his interests were to extend beyond the Palestinian cause; he found kindred spirits within the Stasi, communist East Germany's secret police.

A British newspaper The Independent reported last year that among Stasi files studied by German officials was evidence Ramirez was set up in East Berlin with his own offices and allowed to carry an automatic pistol.

He is suspected of having used this base to plan several attacks on European targets, including bombing Radio Free Europe's Munich offices in 1981 and a French cultural centre in West Berlin two years later.

The opening days of the trial have added new pieces to the Ramirez jigsaw. He told the court he had four children, not one as was believed, all with different mothers.

After fighting with the PFLP in the north of Jordan during the Black September conflict of 1970, he added, he conducted hundreds of operations between 1971 and 1976, though he would not say what these were. And he then created the Organisation of International Revolutionaries whose members would meet at the café at the Sorbonne for discussion and to smoke hashish. As a fugitive he had used hundreds of fake passports.

The trial is expected to continue until December 16.

foreign.des@thenational.ae