Real-life 'Jackal' dies in exile

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PARIS - Georges Watin, whose attempt to assassinate President Charles de Gaulle was portrayed in the novel and film The Day of the Jackal, has died at his home in Paraguay. He was 71.

Watin, condemned to death in absentia in 1963 but pardoned by an amnesty law in 1968, died of a heart attack on Saturday at his house outside the capital, Asuncion, according to a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman yesterday.

The Algerian-born Watin fought against the Algerians' war for independence and opposed de Gaulle's decision in July 1962 to grant sovereignty to the country.

Watin was head of 'Mission Three', a branch of the Secret Army Organisation, or OAS, and was among nine assassins organised to attack de Gaulle. On 22 August 1962 bullets shattered the windows of de Gaulle's limousine as it drove through the Paris suburb of Petit Clamart, but the President was unscathed. The attempt was the basis for Frederick Forsythe's 1971 novel.

In a 1990 interview, Watin said the initial plan was to 'kidnap him, bring him to justice before a military court-martial, and only then execute him' for supporting Algeria's independence.

The plotters expected de Gaulle's drive through Petit Clamart would be at sunset, according to an almanac. But it was still daylight when the President arrived, prompting the decision to shoot him on the spot, Watin told the Spanish daily El Pais.

Watin fled to Switzerland, where he was arrested, but the Swiss refused to extradite him and instead expelled him. He went to Spain, then South America, where he settled in Paraguay in 1965.

In his last years, he lived on an allowance from the French consulate. He suffered from arthritis and was bedridden since undergoing surgery last year.

Watin was the son of an Algerian colonel and became an agronomy engineer and ran a farm. Accused of bombing attacks, he was expelled from Algeria in December 1960.