A committed Marxist-Leninist ideologue, Ramírez Sánchez is widely regarded as one of the most famous political terrorists of his era. When he joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1970, recruiting officer Bassam Abu Sharif gave him the code name "Carlos" due to his South American roots. After several bungled bombings, Ramírez Sánchez achieved notoriety for a 1975 raid on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna, which killed three people. This was followed by a string of attacks against Western targets. For many years he was among the most wanted international fugitives. Carlos was dubbed "The Jackal" by The Guardian after one of its correspondents reportedly spotted Frederick Forsyth's 1971 novel The Day of the Jackal near some of the fugitive's belongings.
Arrested in Sudan in 1994 and flown to France, Ramírez Sánchez is now serving a life sentence in the Clairvaux Prison for the murder of two French agents of the DST (counter-intelligence) and an informant for the French government.
For his part, Ramírez Sánchez denied the 1975 killings, saying they were orchestrated by Mossad, the Israeli secret service, and condemning Israel as a terrorist nation. During his trial in France in 1997, he said, "When one wages war for 30 years, there is a lot of blood spilled—mine and others. But we never killed anyone for money, but for a cause—the liberation of Palestine."
Ramírez Sánchez — son of José Altagarcia Ramírez-Navas, a Marxist lawyer, and Elba Maria Sánchez — was born in the state of Táchira, Venezuela. Despite his mother's pleas to give their firstborn child a Christian first name, José called him Ilich, after V.I. Lenin. Two younger siblings were named "Lenin" (born 1951) and "Vladimir" (born 1958). Ilich attended a school in Caracas and joined the youth movement of the national communist party in 1959. After attending the Third Tricontinental Conference in January 1966 with his father, Ilich reportedly spent the summer at Camp Matanzas, a guerrilla warfare school run by the Cuban DGI near Havana. Later that year, his parents divorced.
His mother took the children to London, where she studied at Stafford House College in Kensington and the London School of Economics. In 1968, José tried to enroll Ilich and his brother at the Sorbonne in Paris, but eventually opted for the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. According to the BBC, it was "a notorious hotbed for recruiting foreign communists to the Soviet Union" (see active measures). He was expelled from the university in 1970.
From Moscow Ramírez Sánchez travelled to Beirut, Lebanon, where he volunteered for the PFLP in July 1970. He was sent to a training camp for foreign volunteers of the PFLP on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan. On graduating, he studied at a finishing school, code-named H4 and staffed by Iraqi military, near the Syria-Iraq border.
In 1973, Carlos was associated with the PFLP, which had conducted a failed assassination attempt on Joseph Sieff, a Jewish businessman and vice president of the British Zionist Federation. The attack was announced as retaliation for Mossad's assassination in Paris of Mohamed Boudia, a PFLP leader.
Carlos admits responsibility for a failed bomb attack on the Bank Hapoalim in London and car bomb attacks on three French newspapers accused of pro-Israeli leanings. He claimed to be the grenade thrower at a Parisian restaurant in an attack that killed two and injured 30. He later participated in two failed rocket propelled grenade attacks on El Al airplanes at Orly Airport near Paris, on January 13 and 17, 1975.
On June 27, 1975, Carlos's PFLP contact, Lebanon-born Michel Moukharbal, who later turned out to be an agent for the Mossad, was captured and interrogated by the French domestic intelligence agency, the DST. When three unarmed agents of the DST tried to interview Carlos at a house in Paris in the middle of a party, he shot the three agents, killing two, and also shot and killed Moukharbal. Carlos fled the scene, and managed to escape via Brussels to Beirut.
OPEC raid and expulsion from PFLP
From Beirut, Carlos participated in the planning for the attack on the headquarters of OPEC in Vienna. On December 21, 1975, he led the six-person team (which included Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann) that attacked the meeting of OPEC leaders; they took more than 60 hostages and killed three: an Austrian policeman, an Iraqi OPEC employee and a member of the Libyan delegation. Carlos demanded that the Austrian authorities read a communiqué about the Palestinian cause on Austrian radio and television networks every two hours. To avoid the threatened execution of a hostage every 15 minutes, the Austrian government agreed and the communiqué was broadcast as requested.
On December 22, the government provided the PFLP and 42 hostages an airplane and flew them to Algiers, as demanded for the hostages' release. Ex-Royal Navy pilot Neville Atkinson, at that time the personal pilot for Libya's leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, flew Carlos and a number of others, including Hans-Joachim Klein, a supporter of the imprisoned Baader-Meinhof group and a member of the Revolutionary Cells, and Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann, from Algiers. Atkinson flew the DC-9 to Tripoli, where more hostages were freed, before he returned to Algiers. The last hostages were freed there and some of the terrorists were granted asylum.
In the years following the OPEC raid, Bassam Abu Sharif, another PLFP agent, and Klein claimed that Carlos had received a large sum of money for the safe release of the Arab hostages and had kept it for his personal use. Claims are that the amount was between US$20 million and US$50 million. The source of the money is also uncertain but, according to Klein, it was from "an Arab president". Carlos later told his lawyers that the money was paid by the Saudis on behalf of the Iranians and was "diverted en route and lost by the Revolution."
Carlos left Algeria for Libya and then Aden, where he attended a meeting of senior PFLP officials to justify his failure to execute two senior OPEC hostages – the finance minister of Iran, Jamshid Amuzgar, and the oil minister of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Zaki Yamani. His trainer and PFLP-EO leader Wadie Haddad expelled Carlos for not shooting hostages when PFLP demands were not met, thus failing his mission.
In September 1976, Carlos was arrested, detained in Yugoslavia, and flown to Baghdad. He chose to settle in Aden, where he tried to found his own Organization of Armed Struggle, composed of Syrian, Lebanese, and German rebels. He also connected with the Stasi, East Germany's secret police. They provided him with an office and safe houses in East Berlin, a support staff of 75, and a serviced car, and allowed him to carry a pistol while in public.
From here, Ramírez Sánchez is believed to have planned his attacks on several European targets, including that on the Radio Free Europe offices in Munich in February 1981. In August 1983, he attacked the Maison de France in West Berlin, killing one man and injuring twenty-two. On December 31, 1983, bombs were exploded on two French TGV trains, killing four passengers and injuring dozens more. Within days of the bombings, Ramírez Sánchez sent letters to three separate news agencies claiming responsibility for the bombings as revenge for a French air strike against a PFLP training camp in Lebanon the previous month.
Historians' examination of Stasi files, recently accessible after the German reunification, demonstrate a link between Ramírez Sánchez and the KGB, via the East German secret police. When Leonid Brezhnev visited West Germany in 1981, Ramírez Sánchez did not undertake any attacks, as the KGB had requested. Western intelligence had expected activity during this period. At one point, the Romanian Securitate hired Carlos to assassinate Romanian dissidents living in France.
With conditional support from the Iraqi regime and after the death of Haddad, Ramírez Sánchez offered the services of his group to the PFLP and other groups. His group's first attack may have been a failed rocket attack on the Superphénix French nuclear power station on January 18, 1982.
In February 1982, two of the group—Swiss terrorist Bruno Breguet and Ramírez Sánchez's wife Magdalena Kopp—were arrested in Paris, in a car containing explosives. After their arrest, the group detonated a number of bombs in retaliation against French targets while Ramírez Sánchez unsuccessfully lobbied the French for their release.
These attacks led to international pressure on East European states that harbored Ramírez Sánchez. For over two years, he lived in Hungary, in Budapest's second district known as the quarter of nobles. His main cut-out for some of his financial resources, such as Gaddafi or Dr. George Habash, was the friend of his sister, "Dietmar C", a known German terrorist and the leader of the Panther Brigade of the PFLP. Hungary expelled Ramírez Sánchez in late 1985, and he was refused sanctuary in Iraq, Libya and Cuba before he found limited support in Syria. He settled in Damascus with Kopp and their daughter, Elba Rosa.
The Syrian government forced Ramírez Sánchez to remain inactive, and he was subsequently seen as a neutralized threat. In 1990, the Iraqi government approached him for work, and, in September 1991, he was expelled from Syria. After a short stay in Jordan, he was accorded protection in Sudan where he lived in Khartoum.
Western accounts long claimed Ramírez Sánchez as a KGB agent. Some attacks may have been attributed to him for lack of anyone else to claim credit. His own boasts about probably nonexistent missions have further confused the issue.
Arrest and imprisonment
The French and US intelligence agencies offered a number of deals to the Sudanese authorities. In 1994, Carlos was scheduled to undergo a minor testicular operation in a hospital in Sudan. Two days after the operation, Sudanese officials told him that he needed to be moved to a villa for protection from an assassination attempt and would be given personal bodyguards. One night later, the bodyguards went into his room while he slept, tranquilized and tied him, and took him from the villa.
On August 14, 1994, Sudan transferred him to French agents of the DST, who flew him to Paris for trial. He was charged with the 1975 murders of the two Paris policemen and of Moukharbal and was sent to La Santé Prison to await trial. In 1996, a majority of the European Commission of Human Rights rejected his application related to the process of his capture.
The trial began on December 12, 1997 and ended on December 23, when he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was later moved from La Santé to the Clairvaux Prison.
In 2001, after converting to Islam, Ramírez Sánchez married his lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, in a Muslim ceremony, although he was still married to his second wife.
In June 2003, Carlos published a collection of writings from his jail cell. The book, whose title translates to Revolutionary Islam, seeks to explain and defend violence in terms of class conflict. In the book, he voices support for Osama bin Laden and his attacks on the United States.
In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights heard a complaint from Ramírez Sánchez that his long years of solitary confinement constitute "inhuman and degrading treatment". Although the court rejected this claim, it was on appeal as of early 2006.
In a 2009 speech, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez praised Ramírez Sánchez, saying he had been unfairly convicted and was not a terrorist but a "revolutionary fighter".
|Carlos (left) with his French lawyer, Isabelle-Peyre in Paris courtroom.|
In May 2007, anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguière ordered a new trial for Ramírez Sánchez on charges relating to "killings and destruction of property using explosive substances" in France in 1982 and 1983. The bombings killed eleven and injured more than 100 people. Ramírez Sánchez denied any connection to the events in his 2011 trial, staging a nine-day hunger strike to protest his imprisonment conditions. The trial, which had been expected to last six weeks, began on November 7, 2011, in Paris. Three other members of Ramírez Sánchez's organization will be tried in absentia at the same time: Johannes Weinrich, Christina Frohlich, and Ali Kamal Issawi. Germany has refused to extradite Weinrich and Frohlich, and Issawi, a Palestinian, "is reportedly on the run." Ramírez Sánchez continues to deny any involvement in the attacks. On December 15, 2011, Ramírez Sánchez, Weinrich and Issawi were convicted and sentenced to life in prison; Frohlich was acquitted.