'Carlos' Arrest: Book closes on a chapter that ended 20 years ago

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The Independent Online
THE capture of the world's most hunted terrorist closes a book whose final chapter concluded nearly 20 years ago. In their aims and methods the practitioners of political violence are a generation away from Carlos's spectacular operations of the 1970s. Anti-terrorist agents throughout the world have to cope with different targets, employing quite different organisational tactics, often waging a war under the banner of Islam.

That Carlos was finally apprehended in the Sudanese capital Khartoum says how much the waging of political violence has changed. Sudan is said to harbour international terrorists, and not to co-operate with the police forces of the world in putting the cuffs on them.

That was the pretext for the US Secretary of State placing Sudan on the list of state sponsors of terrorism in August last year. Sudan, the State Department proclaimed, 'maintained a disturbing relationship with a wide range of Islamic extremists'. These are said to include the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Members of the extremist Palestinian group, the Abu Nidal Organisation, have also been monitored coming and going from Sudan.

The Islamic government in Sudan has always denied the charges. It retorts it does not have Iranian revolutionary guards training in camps in Sudan. The last attack by Abu Nidal in Khartoum, when a family of British aid workers were killed, took place not under the present Islamic government of General Beshir but during the prime ministership of the supposedly liberal Sadiq al-Mahdi.

Sudan appears less to sponsor terrorism or acquiesce in it than fail to have rigid controls at borders to prevent assassins entering the country. The most recent known act of state state-sponsored political violence was a botched attempt by Saudi agents to kill Osama bin Laden, a Saudi who helped Arabs fighting with the Afghan mujahedin. Since he took up residence in Khartoum, he has been accused by Egypt of sponsoring insurgents there.

Sudan would have no interest in protecting Carlos. The National Islamic Front, headed by Hassan al-Turabi, believes in furthering the cause of Islam, not helping outdated left-wing revolutionaries.

But then, Carlos was always ideologically out of fashion. He took up arms for Palestine when those whose cause he supported had renounced the kinds of spectacular terrorist methods he relished, such as plane hijackings and killings. He joined a splinter group of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the PFLP Special Operations Group.

Carlos's organisational methods have long since been superseded. All the old revolutionary groups were ideologically motivated and bureaucratic in structure. So too were the intelligence agencies in the Arab states - Libya, Iraq, Syria above all - which sponsored them.

The new groups operate differently, and therefore pose greater problems for counter-intelligence operates trying to penetrate them. Most of them are inspired not by secular Palestinian nationalism, but their own much broader vision of a militant, revolutionary Islam. The ties that bind individuals within a group are far looser, often based on family or clan, and on working clandestinely.

Commands are issued not by phone or radio, which can be monitored, but by personal contact. Such methods are a feature of two of the most impenetrable states in the region, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Hence the difficulties the authorities have in determining how the bombs were placed in Buenos Aires and London, and who by.