How the world grew too small for Carlos: Robert Fisk talks in Beirut to a friend of the Jackal about the activist's motivation for his 'armed struggle' which cost the lives of 83 people

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The Independent Online
THE ARAB whom Carlos the Jackal asked to write his biography spoke for the first time yesterday about the 'good friend' who openly called himself an 'international terrorist' but who fell into regular depressions because he never trusted the governments he worked for. Carlos's friend - a leftist writer who pleaded not to be identified - was shot in the head at close range with a silenced pistol in Beirut in 1980 but says he later received a message from Carlos that he was not responsible for the attempted assassination.

The writer, whose identity and relationship to Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (Carlos) has been fully established by the Independent, spent almost a year with Carlos in 1976 and 1977, a relationship which prompted the Jackal to ask him to write a biography in which the world's most wanted man would explain the background and motivation for the kidnaps and assaults which would eventually cost the lives of 83 people.

In a long and sometimes emotional interview in a cramped Beirut apartment, the Arab writer also talked of Carlos's tempestuous love life - of the married Cuban girl with whom he fell in love at Lumumba University in Moscow, of the Arab woman whom he called La Petite Vache (the Little Cow) and the 'mistake' that Carlos made of marrying Magdalena Kopp, the German woman who left him, taking his daughter.

'There was a proud side to him but at the same time he was very depressed,' the friend recalled. 'Because despite all he was doing, the world was not changing the way he wanted it to. He had problems. Carlos would not trust the governments he worked with. He never trusted the people around him or with whom he had to co- operate - but he had to have relations with them because he needed them. This is why he had depressive moods - he was dealing with people he couldn't trust.'

Carlos told him of his sadness after murdering a Lebanese friend, Michel Moukharbel. 'I remember he was very sorry. He killed Moukharbel in Paris. But Moukharbel had betrayed him to the police. He came with the police to Carlos's flat. Carlos just said to me: 'I had to kill him'. '

But it was one of the very few times that Carlos was to express his regret. The Jackal that emerged in Beirut yesterday was a cold, frightening man whose utter conviction in the Marxist-revolutionary ideology he claimed to follow led him ever deeper into a war of terror and counter-terror between states. Salah Salah, a politburo member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine for which Carlos worked - and who says he met the Jackal in Damascus in 1990 - claimed in Beirut yesterday that Carlos had worked variously for Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

'It was a bloody war, this terrorism,' Carlos's biographer said. 'Carlos used the word - he called himself a terrorist. He talked about 'international revolution', 'international terrorism' and 'armed struggle'. He would say that, yes, he was sorry when people died in his operations but that this was a war and innocent people die in wars. When the Japanese Red Army took over the French embassy in the Hague (in 1974), they were demanding the release of one of their couriers in a French prison and a Boeing jet to fly them out of Holland. When the French refused, Carlos tossed a grenade into the Drugstore cafe at St Germain des Pres (killing two, wounding 30). Then the French sent the plane. That was the kind of war Carlos was fighting.' Even Carlos's sense of humour had its chilling side. 'One night in the late Seventies we had an argument over cards or something silly like that,' his friend recalled. 'He told me: 'If you talk to me like that again in front of other people, you'll see what will happen.' I left him at two or three in the morning. But at eight o'clock he was knocking on my door.

'Do you remember the movie where the cowboy says 'I kill you for money, I kill you for a woman and I kill you for nothing because you are my friend'? Well Carlos put a pistol to my head right there on the doorstep - a big Soviet pistol - and he said: 'I kill you for nothing because you are my friend.' Then he hugged me. It was a joke. He always carried the pistol with him, a big Russian Tokarev. He took it to bed when he went to sleep, to the toilet, anywhere he went. He never slept in the same place twice - he was real clever about the way he did that, a real jackal. '

Carlos spoke good English and Russian and passable Arabic, using a mixture of Arabic and English to communicate with his friend. 'He smoked from time to time, Cuban cigars, and drank whisky though not too much. He was a very elegant man, the way he dressed and behaved and he was a gentleman with women. There was a woman he had been in love with, a Cuban. I think when he fell in love that she was married. She was his greatest love and he recalled her from time to time.

'He said to me once: 'I love women but with them I control myself all the time. With this woman, I lost control.' I think they had a little girl together.

'By the time I knew him, there was another girl in his life, an Arab girl - no, not Lebanese - and I met her many times. Usually, when he met a woman, he would not let the relationship continue to the point where she possessed him. He would stop the relationship. And when he broke up with this Arab girl, she would come to me and cry, she was a little bit fat with big black eyes, black hair, very pale skin. As a joke, he would call her La Petite Vache. It was only a nickname, a joke.'

Carlos's bloody career in the Middle East eerily followed the pattern of his early life in Venezuela. 'He had the temperament of an artist but he started on his own path very early because he spent 14 or 15 years in the Communist party in Venezuela. He told me how the Communist party split into two at that time. Part of it was democratic, the other part became guerrillas. Carlos went with the guerrillas. He always was with the 'armed revolution' - not with the political side.' When the PFLP split apart in Beirut after its leader, George Habash, decided to end his 'exterior' department's policy of hijacking, Carlos moved to the movement's more radical faction.

'Carlos didn't think of failure in those days,' his friend said. 'And I didn't think he'd be a failure then. Even now that he's in prison, I doubt if he believes that anything has ended in failure. Because the world is not just a matter of governments, but of history and struggle and they have not ended yet. He wasn't afraid of what might happen to him. You know, he never had plastic surgery like they say - this was an exaggeration of the press. He used to say to me: 'They know my face.' At most, he would change his moustache, grow a beard, change his hair style, wear dark glasses. But plastic surgery - never.'

Carlos often left an Arab country in which he was living for unknown destinations in Europe, only to return as boastful as ever. 'Once I remember, when he had been away for a long time, I was worried about him because there was a small operation in Europe. When he returned, I said I'd been worried for his safety. He replied: 'Look, my friend, don't worry about me when you hear about a small operation - because it can't be me. Only if you hear of a big operation will it be me'. '

It was only when the writer knew he was leaving the country in which he had spent a year with Carlos - fear prevented him disclosing the name of the Arab state and it was certainly not Lebanon - that the Jackal suggested he write his biography. 'We spent nights together, talking, drinking whisky, smoking. We thought it would be a kind of documentary. I took many, many notes. He said he wanted his help for the book to be a gift from one friend to another - he said, 'Maybe this will be a gift for your children'. '

The only thing the writer was to receive after parting from Carlos was a bullet, fired into his head by a would-be assassin outside his Beirut home in 1980. 'They tried to make me believe it was Carlos that shot me,' he said yesterday. 'Plenty of people tried to say that. I don't believe it. I still respect him and still believe he is an old and good friend. About four years later, someone in Europe gave me a small message - a verbal message - from Carlos to tell me he had not helped the people to shoot me. The message was sent in 1982, two years after the shooting - and it took two years to reach me.'

So how had he felt when he heard of Carlos's capture? 'I was very sad when I heard he had been caught, especially when I saw the photo in the papers with his head down. You know, he could usually smell trouble before it came. He could feel danger coming. But this time, he didn't smell danger - it must have been a big operation to catch him. And times have changed. The world is small now for someone like Carlos. There is no Soviet Union, no Berlin, no Eastern Europe, no Aden, no Algiers to receive him. The world has grown small.'

(Photograph omitted)