'Carlos the Jackal' faces new trial over terrorist attacks in France

Already serving life for murder, the Venezuelan-born 'revolutionary' will face court over the 1980s killings

John Lichfield
Monday 07 November 2011 01:00

The "celebrity terrorist" Ilich Ramirez Sanchez – known as "Carlos the Jackal" – will go on trial for terrorist activities for the first time in Paris today.

The Venezuelan-born Sanchez, 62, who became a symbol of the "cruel but cool" international terrorism of the 1970s, is already serving life sentences in France for murdering two policemen and an informer.

Now, for six weeks from today, he will be tried for his alleged role in organising four terror attacks in France in 1982 and 1983, including an explosion aboard an express train in which five people died. It will be the first time that Sanchez, a self-styled "professional international revolutionary", has been tried for terror activities in an alleged 20-year career that began with the wounding of the Marks & Spencer boss, Joseph Sieff, in London in December 1973.

Sanchez was kidnapped from Sudan in 1994 by French intelligence agents and jailed for life in 1997 for three murders committed in Paris in 1975. The trial beginning today is the result of a ponderous investigation by French anti-terrorism magistrates, which included getting hard-won access to the archives of former Soviet bloc intelligence agencies.

A special assize court in Paris, with seven judges sitting instead of a jury, will hear evidence that Sanchez planned four terrorist attacks on French soil in 1982-83 in which 11 people were killed.

Prosecutors will say that Sanchez masterminded the four attacks as part of an attempt to blackmail France into releasing his German wife, Magdalena Kopp, and a Swiss associate, Bruno Bréguet, who were arrested in Paris in 1982 for possessing weapons and explosives. The hearings are expected to reveal publicly for the first time evidence of links between Sanchez and Soviet bloc intelligence.

The round face and the Che Guevara beret of Carlos the Jackal became the symbol of a kind of rootless, international terrorism linked to the Palestinian cause from the mid-1970s. On 21 December, 1975, he led the attack on a meeting in Vienna of the oil producing cartel Opec in which 70 senior politicians and officials were taken hostage. This operation is now believed to have been sponsored by the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. An attempt by Austria to extradite Sanchez from France to face charges for the Opec attack was refused by a French court of appeal in 1999.

The true motivation and ideology of "Carlos" has always been open to doubt – a confusion encouraged by Sanchez himself. Leaders of the radical Palestinian cause are reported to have lost patience with his jet-set lifestyle in the late 1980s. He spent some years in the eastern bloc before taking refuge in Syria and then Sudan.

Even from prison in France over the past 17 years, he has managed to keep alive his image as an enigmatic charmer. In 2001 he "married" his lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, 58, in an Islamic ceremony which has no status under French law. Ms Coutant-Peyre will be one of two defence lawyers at his trial. His lawyers are expected to argue that evidence of his involvement in the French attacks is sparse and based on "unreliable" archives of Soviet intelligence.

Sanchez: his crimes

1970 Takes up the Palestinian cause and joins the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He is suspected in several attacks in the early 1970s, including an attempt on the life of Joseph Sieff, the Jewish chairman of Marks & Spencer in London.

June 1975 Guns down two French investigators and his former partner – whom he suspects of being a turncoat – when his Paris apartment is raided. Flees the scene. He is convicted of the murders in 1997.

December 1975 He leads the six-strong team that storms an Opec conference in Vienna, taking about 70 hostages and killing three people.

1982 An attack on a train travelling from Toulouse to Paris, killing five people, is followed by a car bombing outside the Paris offices of an Arab newspaper, Al-Watan al-Arabi.

1983 Two bomb attacks shake France on New Year's Eve. The first, on a high-speed train in eastern France, kills three people. Another, in Marseille, kills two.

1994 Ramirez is captured in Sudan by French agents who spirit him back to Paris in a sack, an episode he refers to as his "kidnapping".

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