A member of the Venezuelan Communist Party from his mid- teens, Carlos had his first guerrilla training near Havana in 1966. He turned up in Moscow at the Patrice Lumumba University, a campus created for students from the developing world, two years later. It was a time when he was to make his first friendships with Arabs, particularly Palestinians.
Carlos's stay in the Soviet Union was to be short. Known as a rowdy, carousing drinker with little interest in his science studies, he was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1970 for 'anti-Soviet provocations'. Some researchers have suggested that the expulsion was a cover to give him anti-Soviet credentials when moving around the West. This falling out with Moscow did not stop him co-operating with the secret services of Soviet satellite regimes until the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s.
The 1970s, the decade of urban guerrilla struggles in Germany and Italy, and Palestinian actions all over the world, were when Carlos came into his own. Made head of the PFLP's European operations section in 1973, he kicked off with a failed attempt to kill Joseph Edward Sieff, the chairman of Marks & Spencer in London on 30 December that year.
France became a favourite target. In August 1974, he carried out the bombings of the offices of two right-wing newspapers and of the Jewish monthly L'Arche. He was credited with organising a 101- hour hostage-taking at the French embassy in The Hague by the Japanese Red Army to gain - successfully - the release of a Japanese terrorist in jail in Paris.
A month later, Carlos walked into the Drugstore on Paris's Boulevard Saint Germain, where he threw a bomb which killed two customers. It was on 27 June 1975 that Carlos started the vendetta with the French DST counter-espionage service which led to his downfall. Three DST agents, investigating a series of terrorist attacks, one at Orly airport, went to a flat on Paris's rue Toullier with Michel Moukarbal, a Lebanese associate of Carlos who had cracked under questioning.
Astonishingly for French officers, the DST men were unarmed. When one of them asked Carlos to go with them for questioning, he asked to use the bathroom, pulled a gun and killed Moukarbal and two of the DST officers; the third was wounded.
Escaping from Paris, Carlos re- surfaced on Sunday 21 December that same year. A group of young people wandered into the Opec headquarters in Vienna. Opening fire outside the conference hall, they killed two Austrian security officers and the Iraqi oil minister's bodyguard. Hans-Joachim Klein, a West German member of the Red Army Faction, and a member of the Carlos commando, was badly wounded.
With the ministers of 11 countries - the best known was Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani of Saudi Arabia - in their hands, the terrorists issued an eight-point statement insisting on no negotiation with Israel and nationalisation of Third World oil wealth. The Austrians agreed to provide an airliner and, early the next morning, an Austrian Airlines DC-9 took off for an unknown destination.
The first stop was Algiers, where the world got the first glimpse of the new-look Carlos. Gone were the chubby cheeks and dark glasses on the early 'Wanted' posters. Cosmetic surgeons had slimmed down the jowls. Carlos came out of the plane several times to negotiate with the Algerians. That afternoon, the DC-9, with some of the ministers released, set off for Tripoli. Overnight it was back in Algiers after other Arab capitals had refused landing permission.
At around 7am, people came off the plane. About 20 minutes later, I and a French radio correspondent - we were the only journalists at Algiers airport - stood at the exit to the VIP lounge trying to glean what was happening. 'It's over,' said an Algerian policeman. Another told us to stay where we were. An official black car drove up and stopped about six feet from where we were standing.
In the front passenger seat was Carlos, apparently relaxed and obviously not under arrest. Clean- shaven for the end of his hostage- taking operation, he stared straight at us for about a minute before his Algerian chauffeur drove him into town. This silent exchange had clearly been stage- managed.
Shortly after, I called the Algerian Foreign Ministry to ask what was happening. 'Is he under interrogation?' I asked. 'No doubt', was the reply. In fact, Algeria's co- operation with Carlos was total and the likelihood is that he left the country a free man soon after.
Then followed years in which any manner of speculation surfaced. Carlos was in Damascus, in Tripoli, in East European countries, in Lebanon, in PFLP camps passing on his expertise. These stories may have been true. One version had him executed for angering Muammar Gaddafi and lying in a sandy grave near Tripoli.
The 1980s started, however, with new operations carrying Carlos's signature although some terrorism experts speculated that these were phoney. In France again, he was credited with a bomb attack on the Le Capitole train between Paris and Toulouse in March 1982. Five people were killed; the bomb had been detonated by a seat reserved for Jacques Chirac, the head of the Gaullist RPR party and a former and future prime minister.
Part of the aim of the new attacks was to obtain the release of Magdalena Kopp of the Red Army Faction, according to a report by the Hungarian authorities. Kopp was freed from a French jail in 1985, but only after another seven people were killed in France. She then married Carlos.
With the fall of Communism, confirmation that Carlos was alive well into the 1980s came from Hungarian and Czechoslovak security services, with photographs as proof. Last month, the French weekly Le Point reported that French secret services believed they had located Carlos. It said he had tried to obtain safe haven in Libya but had been refused. The DST, Le Point said, believed Carlos had set up in a new home. Only yesterday, with the news of his extradition to France, did it become clear that this was in Sudan.
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