Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (Carlos the Jackal) 1949-

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Until the events of September 11th, Carlos the Jackal was without doubt the most famous international Terrorist in the world. A skilful, intelligent terrorist for hire, he was one of the most wanted men in the world for several decades and he epitomised the western idea of a terrorist. Born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez in the state of Táchira, Venezuela, on October 12, 1949, Carlos was the son of a successful Marxist lawyer, and had a wealthy upbringing with a father keen to feed his sons' Marxist ideology and a traditionally catholic mother. It was only natural for the young Ramirez to become interested in Communism and the South American communist heroes of the day such as Che Guevara.

By the time he was 17 Carlos was already involved with his country's revolutionary groups and showed considerable potential. Due to this and his father's influence he was soon being trained in the Cuban camp Mantanzas studying Guerrilla warfare and sabotage techniques as well as bomb and weapon skills thanks to his KGB trainers.

When his parents divorced he moved to London with his mother and brothers and took up a playboy life style, mixing at embassy parties and making contacts which would serve him well in his future career, and learning how to mix in the upper part of society. Years later many of his friends from this period would be shocked to learn that the dashing young play boy with a taste for the ladies was really a killer. His father's influence continued to aid Carlos and his brothers, as they were able to get places at Moscow's Patrice Lumumba University. Here he continued his student life style of wine, women and song while most likely being recruited by the KGB.

In 1969 he was expelled from the Venezuelan Communist party after supporting a rebel group which had fallen out of favour. 1970 saw Carlos expelled from university after he joined a faction of Arab students protesting in the street, a protest that was seen as anti-soviet. This was the beginning of his long involvement with Arab terrorism. While still at the university he had met a number of Palestinian students who were determined to gain an independent state even if that meant international terrorism. After being expelled he joined the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) a group known for a series of airline hijackings. By July 1970 Ramirez was at a training camp in Jordan and after a meeting with Abu-Sharif the PFLP's recruiting officer he became known as Carlos the Jackal. The PFLP gained strength and started to form alliances with other terrorist groups such as the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Italian Red Brigade. Carlos' reputation within the organisation grew after "Black September" where he fought against the Jordanian army trying to purge their country of terrorists.

1971 saw Carlos back in London once again mixing with high society while secretly gathering information on people worth assassinating or kidnapping. 1972 saw the attack on the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and although Carlos wasn't involved, the aftermath was to put him on the map. In retaliation the Israeli secret service killed a high-ranking member of the PFLP so Carlos was ordered to strike back at a respected member of the Jewish community in London, Edward Sieff the president of Marks & Spencer. In December 1973 Carlos went to Sieffs house and shot him, luckily not fatally. Carlos had preceded this by a hand grenade attack on the London headquarters of an Israeli bank and a car bomb in Paris in 1972, which injured 63 people. His international reputation was born.

Carlos followed this up by moving his base of operations to Paris where he carried out three car bomb attacks against pro-Israeli newspapers and a trademark grenade attack on the Deux Magots restaurant killing 2 and injuring 34. This technique of walking in, throwing a grenade and walking out demonstrated Carlos' bravery and a particular cool blooded ruthlessness. His most famous attack came in Austria in December 1975. Here Carlos and a small band stormed an OPEC meeting killing the security detail and taking 70 people hostage. Shocked the Austrian authorities negotiated and after broadcasting a political message and getting massive world media attention Carlos and his gang left on a plane releasing the hostages in Algeria when they landed. The PFLP were angry that Carlos hadn't killed the hostages and with his celebrity status and expelled him, but it is rumoured that Carlos picked up $1 million from Libyan President Col Qadhafi for the OPEC assault. In 1976 he was involved in a skyjacking of an Air France jet to Uganda, lead to the famous raid on Entebbe by Israeli Special Forces and the take over of the French embassy in The Hague, which resulted in two deaths (for which eventually Carlos was brought to trial). Carlos was renown as a master of disguise, using fake passports and credit cards he frequently slipped through the net of capture and avoided assassination attempts. During this period many attacks, hijacking and bombings were blamed on him or linked to him with little real evidence.

Carlos now became a freelance terrorist, gathering terrorists from various European and Arab countries to his Organization of Arab Armed Struggle. 1979 saw Carlos get married to the German terrorist Magdalena Kopp. The honeymoon period didn't last long as 1982 saw the couple trying to blow up a French nuclear plant with RPG-7 grenades. The attack failed and not long after Kopp and another terrorist were arrested. Determined to free his wife Carlos carried out several attacks against French assets around the world but failed to win his wife her freedom.

The net was now closing in on Carlos as the French secret service and the CIA were determined to capture him. As the Cold War came to an end his old backers in the Soviet block were no longer willing to help him and 1985 saw him in hiding in Syria. He was now too famous for anyone to hire. By the 90s Carlos was constantly on the move and was finally captured on August 14th 1994 in the Sudan, aged 45, still up to his old hobbies of drinking and womanising.

During his career Carlos the Jackal was the template for the western idea of an international terrorist - daring, ruthless, able to mix in society at all levels and with a gift for languages. We should not forget that he was responsible for the deaths of over 80 people. He was tried for the murder of two French agents and a Lebanese police informant who he had killed in 1975 when they tried to capture him. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1997. Since the 1970s he has been a constant thorn in side of French and Western authorities and an inspiration to two generations of would-be terrorists. To some he was a freedom fighter, to others a ruthless murderer and mercenary. Certainly Carlos was no mad dog killer as the release of the OPEC hostages shows, but he was also not adverse to killing civilians. Heavily motivated by ideology from an early age and with a good background and education he had no need to turn to terrorism but choose to. Enjoying his play boy life style and image he liked to see himself as the alternative James bond and many suspect that Frederick Forsyth's novel, The Day of the Jackal, is based on the famous terrorist as are the two films based on the book. For those studying counter terrorism Carlos illustrates what damage one well-educated and motivated man can do, a lesson bitterly reinforced by Bin Laden and the events of September 11th. Speaking from his prison cell in France Carlos has named Bin Laden as his natural successor to continue the fight against western imperialism

Jackal, John Follain, Orion, 2004, 416 pages. A fascinating study into the world famous Carlos the Jackal the worlds most wanted before Bin Laden. This account of his career details the complex web of intelligence services and world leaders out to get the Jackal or employ him. Some recent books on the Jackal have proved to be anti Arab but this book comes recommended by such experts as Oleg Gordievsky and Paul Wilkinson. Offers a real insight into the world of international terrorism during the Cold War. cover cover cover

Tracking the Jackal: The Search for Carlos, the World's Most Wanted Man, David A. Yallop, Random House, 1993, 629 pages. This book looks at the author's hunt for the world’s most famous terrorist. It was to be a hunt spanning many countries and taking ten years. This is an interesting book as it looks at the counter terrorism side and how difficult it can be to track one man. cover cover
How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (27 August 2003), Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (Carlos the Jackal) 1949-, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_jackel.html

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