'Carlos the Jackal' stands trial for 1980s bombings

4 min

Venezuelan-born militant Carlos the Jackal is back in the dock in Paris on Monday over his alleged role in masterminding four bombing attacks in France in the early 1980s which left 11 people dead. He denies all the charges.


The notorious Venezuelan-born militant Carlos the Jackal, one of the world’s most feared terror masterminds, goes on trial in Paris on Monday for deadly attacks carried out in France nearly three decades ago.

Carlos, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, has spent the last 17 years at the La Sante prison in southern Paris after he was sentenced to life in 1997 for the killing of two French security officers and an alleged Lebanese informant in 1975.

On Monday, 62-year-old Sanchez, once a figure of the far left, appears before special anti-terrorism magistrates at the Justice Palace in the French capital in connection with deadly bombings in 1982 and 1983, in which at least 11 people were killed and another 150 injured.

French prosecutors say the attacks were part of a private terror campaign waged by Carlos against France to secure the release of his jailed comrade Bruno Breguet and then-girlfriend Magdalena Kopp, who were arrested in Paris driving a car carrying explosives in February 1982.

The first explosion hit the express train Le Capitole running from Paris to the southern city of Toulouse in March 1982, in which five people were killed and dozens wounded. This attack was claimed by the "International Terrorist Friends of Carlos"

The bombing was followed by a second explosion in April 1982 outside the Paris offices of anti-Syrian newspaper Al-Watan Al-Arabi on the same day as Breguet and Kopp were convicted in a French court. One person was killed and scores were injured.

On New Year’s Eve 1983, two bombs exploded, one in a high-speed TGV train travelling from the southern French city of Marseille to Paris, killing three people, and the another at the Marseille train station, killing a further two passengers. The attacks were claimed by a group calling itself the “Organisation for the Arab Armed Struggle”.

Evidence from the East

French prosecutors say recently revealed evidence from East Germany, Romania and Hungary proves Carlos’s involvement in the attacks. They also allege that he wrote two letters in which he claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Three of his alleged accomplices - Palestinian Kamal al-Issawi, and the German nationals Christa-Margot Froehlich and Johannes Weinrich - will be tried in absentia.

Carlos denies the charges. His lawyer and third wife, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, whom he married in prison ten years ago, insists that the evidence from the former communist countries is unreliable.

Pro-Palestinian militant

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez was born in Caracas on October 12, 1949, the son of a wealthy Venezuelan lawyer, who was also a staunch Marxist.

After a spell in a Cuban guerrilla training camp, Carlos went on to study in London and at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow.

He began to support the Palestinian cause and by 1973 he joined the ranks of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical movement founded by George Habbash and Wadie Haddad that included many western (and particularly German) adherents.

He was given the code name “Carlos” by his PFLP recruiter because of his Venezuelan roots, and received training at various camps in Jordan and Iraq.

His moniker “The Jackal” first appeared in the Guardian newspaper in 1975 after one of its journalists reported seeing Frederick Forsyth's novel “The Day of the Jackal” among his belongings in his early London safehouses.

Carlos rose to prominence in December 1975 when his commando group burst into the conference room in Vienna where ministers from the powerful OPEC oil cartel were meeting, taking 11 of them hostage.

Brought to France in a sack

In June 1975, Carlos's PFLP contact, Lebanon-born Michel Moukharbal, was detained and interrogated by the French domestic intelligence agency. When Carlos was approached by three unarmed French intelligence agents at a house in Paris , he shot the three agents, killing two.

He also shot and killed Moukharbal, fearing he was a turncoat. Carlos fled the scene, and managed to escape via Brussels to Beirut.

In later years, Carlos lived variously in East Germany, Hungary and Syria, where he was reunited with and married Magdalena Kopp after her release from prison in 1985.

In 1991 he was expelled from Syria and moved to Sudan, where he was captured by French secret services in 1994 and brought back to France in a sack.

Carlos and his lawyers maintain that he was kidnapped illegally from Sudan. Some 20 witnesses are expected to give evidence at the trial which begins on Monday. These include family members, terrorism experts and even his former comrades Hans-Joachim Klein and Kopp.

Carlos, who went on a 10-day hunger strike after he was put in solitary confinement for speaking to the French press before the trial, could be given another life sentence.

The trial is set to last until December 16.

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