The Terrorist Mind Correspondence with "The Jackal"
Carlos, the world's most notorious terrorist, born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez in Venezuela in 1949, and also known?rather to his annoyance?as "Carlos the Jackal," was captured after 20 years on the run on Aug. 14, 1994. He was handed over to French agents from a hospital bed in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. Characteristic of the rumor and grotesquerie Carlos always generated, a gleeful early press report claimed that the dandified assassin had been undergoing liposuction. Actually, he had been having a minor operation on a testicle.
Raised in a wealthy and yet devoutly Marxist family (Ilich was Lenin's middle name) and trained in terrorism as a young man in Cuba and Moscow, Carlos is thought to have worked for the Palestinians, Qaddafi, Castro, the Red Brigade and other revolutionary organizations through the 1970s and 80s. He is believed responsible for numerous assassinations, kidnappings and hijackings, including the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, hijackings of Air France and El Al flights, taking a group of OPEC ministers hostage during a meeting in Vienna and assorted car-bombings. His actions are thought to have caused more than 80 deaths and hundreds of maimings. His first known assassination attempt was in London?the botched shooting of Joseph Sieff, the boss of Marks & Spencer, in St. John's Wood on Dec. 30, 1973. It was France who pursued Carlos the most keenly down the years, ever since he coolly gunned down two police officers and a formerly pro-Palestinian Lebanese informer in an apartment at 9 Rue Toullier in the Latin Quarter in 1975. After his 1994 arrest, Carlos was flown to Paris and journalists were allowed to look over his Khartoum apartment, where his bedside reading had included Dangerous Liaison by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn and a book called Aalam Al-Mashaheer?The World of the Famous?though that had possibly been the choice of his Palestinian wife, Lana Jarrar.
His trial took place in December 1997, presided over by another flamboyant figure, Judge Bruguiere, sometimes referred to in the press as "The Cowboy." Carlos was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. He has been in physical isolation in a Paris prison, La Sante, ever since.
This has by no means prevented Carlos from venting his rage verbally. He tried to sue one of his biographers, Parisian Bernard Violet, for putting his photograph on the book cover and for alluding to the above-mentioned testicle. Carlos contended that both his "Droit d'Image" and "Droit de Vie Prive" had been invaded. He lost?a rare such loss in France these days.
He has written answers to questions from an Arab paper. The magazine VSD published a purported "interview," although according to Carlos the magazine actually "quoted from my report to the FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), and from my answers to the FIDH questionnaire." He has also begun writing a column for a Venezuelan weekly, La Razón. He uses these venues to restate his implacable positions and to protest the conditions of his detention. He has fired off letters of correction to the press?complaining about being called The Jackal, denying he has ever owned a reputed red Ferrari?but such minutiae aside, there has been no breath of the personal in his communiques. Ever.
The time seemed ripe for an approach. Fluid changes in the politics of the Arab world and Israel have, for one thing, turned the Venezuelan and his fellows still at large into an inconvenience for most of their former employers. Also, a pressure group, the Latin American Forum, is demanding that Carlos be treated as a political prisoner. Carlos Moreno, a New York lawyer who represents the group, is moving to secure Carlos a new trial, or at least to better his conditions. Both he and Carlos' Paris lawyers allege torture.
Carlos' homeland is also getting into the act. On March 3 Venezuela's radical, loquacious and limelight-loving president, Hugo Chavez, sent a letter to "Citizen Ilich Ramirez Sanchez." In Carlos' translation it begins:
Distinguished Fellow-countryman, Swimming in the depths of your solidarious letter, I could sound thoughts and feelings a little. Everything has its timing: to pile the stones, or to throw them?to give warmth to the revolution or to ignore it ? time of opportunity, of fine scent and instinct in ambush, to read the propitious psychological moment when Ariadne, invested by law. Spins the thread to allow the exit from the labyrinth?
And so on.
The day of my meeting with Carlos' lawyer coincided both with the imprisoned terrorist's hunger strike?which reporters were not taking seriously?and with the release of some portions of a will, which he had entitled En Cas de Mon Deces?In the Event of My Death. Francis Vuillemin, the lawyer with whom I dealt (Carlos has a team of three, based in Paris), is tall and thin, with a serious demeanor. He sighed when I mentioned the will. "C'est un peu terroriste, comme pratique," he said. He opened a file, as delicately as a young woman slipping off a stocking. "I show it to you without showing it to you," he said. "Ses dernieres volontes." His last wishes. "C'est tres violent." In fact, it calls for the "execution" of one American or Zionist for every day Carlos has been in jail. That was four and a half years at the time of his writing it, so call it a round 1600.
As a precondition to my interviewing Carlos in writing, the terrorist stipulated that this newspaper had to first publish an interview with Vuillemin, so that Carlos could see that no editorial distortion would take place. I did that interview, transcribed the tape and faxed them the text. It was returned, annotated in small precise handwriting I first took to be the lawyer's, but later discovered to be that of Carlos himself. The interview with Vuillemin was published in NYPress earlier this year to Carlos' satisfaction, and our correspondence began.
It proved a curious experience. Spies, gangsters, traffickers (even legal) in military material, government agents?they're all as in love with their images and legends as the most credulous consumers of paperback myth. "They know me. Tell them I am the famous Carlos," Carlos once boasted to an Iraqi, who didn't know him from Adam, after he had taken those OPEC ministers hostage in Vienna. Yet in his correspondence with me Carlos turned out to be punctilious, unromantic and mostly businesslike. He proved capable of irony, but also of terrifying banalities, though there were indications of rages that flared up like a match.
He could also be downright peculiar. "Carlos often uses words that do not exist," said Vuillemin, with a discreet legal chuckle. "Like unipolar. And he does not speak of Americans, but of Etats-Uniens"?United Staters. "It is a word of his." The word "griming" is such a neologism. I should add that Carlos was a superior copyreader, alert to small errors like a missing umlaut.
What newspapers and magazines do you read regularly? Can you read what you want? How about television?
Le Figaro, Le Monde and Liberation daily, and most French national weeklies; Realites of Tunis; The Economist, Time and Newsweek; Le Monde Diplomatique, Bolletino d'Informazione Anti-Imperialista of Rome; a dozen other odd periodicals from different countries.
The French Minister of the Interior keeps a public list of banned books and publications. Some publications are arbitrarily banned by prison authorities, like the non-conformist Franco-Portuguese literary magazine, Albatroz.
Small tv sets are available for a weekly fee of 65 francs. It carries cable (three channels) and a prison information channel.
Your first action was the attempt on the life of Joseph Sieff. Was this a test of your nerve?
Since joining the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1970, I have taken part in many military operations. My "nerves" were operationally tested during Black September 1970. At a later stage of commando training, live ammunition is fired above the heads and to the ground besides the trainees in movement. It can be a taxing experience. Anyone who panics risks being inadvertently shot.
You have denied that the list of 500 prominent Britons found by the British police in your London apartment was a hit list. It attracted attention because it included not merely politicians, like Tony Benn, but some seemingly random celebrities like the playwright John Osborne, the singer Vera Lynn and the musician Yehudi Menuhin.
I know of this "hit list" only from press reports. I have not read it.
Your most publicized operation was the kidnapping of 11 OPEC ministers in December 1975. I understand you obtained a substantial ransom?
Saudi sources affirm that 50 million U.S. dollars were paid by Crown Prince (now King) Fahd in the name of himself and the Shah of Iran for the release of the ministers Jamshid Amouzegar and Ahmed Zaki Al Yamani. They also state that the Shah later refused to honour his 25 million contribution advanced by Fahd.
According to Tried By Fire, the book by Bassam Abu-Sharif and Uzi Mahnaimi, the strategy of hijacking as a way of attracting media attention was conceived by Dr. Wadih Haddad in 1967. The 1968 hijack of an El Al flight followed. The writers say: "As he (Haddad) had predicted, the world's media came down on us like wasps on to jam...the years of hijack had begun."
After Bassam Abu-Sharif was ignominiously expelled from the PFLP, Arafat tried in vain to have his organization Al Fateh admit him as a member, so he named him personal adviser to the President of the PLO Executive Committee?a nonexistent position! In fact, the man is a British agent.
Airplane hijacking is a form of armed propaganda. The Palestinian resistance was very successful in this field.
Later in that same book Dr. Haddad is said to have decided that you had become too much the star.
Dr. Wadih Haddad is the historical initiator of armed revolutionary operations across borders. Bassam Abu Sharif betrays the ideals of our martyr "Abu Hani" and has thus forfeited the right to mention his name which is cherished by the Arab peoples and by revolutionary militants the world over.
The authors also write that Haddad was angered that you did not follow his orders and kill the oil ministers, one by one. True?
Why on earth should Wadih Haddad have wanted the ministers killed?
Sharif claims (a) that Dr. Haddad's orders were that the ministers be executed one at a time until PFLP demands were met in full. And (b) that your "star" quality led to a rupture between yourself and the PFLP. True?
Bassam Abu Sharif lies: (a) Wadih Haddad planned only the execution of the Saudi Oil Minister (Yamani), because Saudi Arabia was not paying the revolutionary tax. (b) My "star" quality brought a fortune to the PFLP (for example: more than $4 million U.S. between 1st January and 15th May 1975), and opened many doors. Abu Hani wept when I gave him my letter of resignation.
The British writer, Alistair Horne, has suggested that the humiliation of Sheikh Yamani actually did more than Henry Kissinger to force OPEC to moderation. Can terrorism be self-defeating?
The fact is that immediately after the assassination of his protector, King Faisal, Sheikh Yamani reversed petroleum policy and used the oil weapon instead against Saudi Arabia's OPEC partners.
Sheikh Yamani has been dismissive of you?he said you bored him with stories of your love life.
There are marked contradictions between Sheikh Yamani's declarations at the time and those he made after 1994.
Another British writer, David Leitch, described the terrorist complex, in which you were the best-known figure, as functioning like a "multi-national conglomerate." Is this too romantic a view?
The Organization of Internationalist Revolutionaries does function like a "multi-national conglomerate," which is a rather non-romantic view.
I am curious about how you managed to survive for so many years while traveling so frequently. One journalist described you as "a master of disguise, changing his weight, his hair and his eye coloring repeatedly." True? Markus Wolf, the East German spymaster, complained you made an open target of yourself in East Berlin.
My lifestyle has remained basically the same since I was a teenager. The changes lay in the increasing level of my responsibilities, the consequent widening scope of my relations, and the security measures taken, having been targeted repeatedly by many powerful intelligence services.
I am not a disguise freak. I have taken just the necessary concealment measures, with the strict minimum of "postiches" (hair pieces) and garment changes. I have never lived in East Berlin. I just visited for short periods.
You say your life changed little since you were a teenager, aside from security precautions. Many must wish they could say the same. To what extent could you live freely? How did you move through Paris or Budapest, say, when your face was as well-known as any pop singer? Were you ever able to tell your intimates?women friends, for instance?your real profession? If not, what did you say?
Living conditions change from country to country, but usually one feels safe in a friendly country with a good security environment. My demeanour does not fit the "terrorist" image. I have gone undisguised through passport controls, facing WANTED posters with my picture. There is no need to advertise clandestine work. Close friends are usually comrades and sympathizers. For others, there are cover stories.
You clearly enjoy the good things of life?good clothes, cigars, the company of women. Markus Wolf criticized you on those grounds. (Wolf described Carlos as "a big mouth who spent his nights at the bar, drinking like a fish, surrounded by women, with a pistol in his belt.") How could you avoid attracting unwelcome attention?
General Markus Wolf widely publicises his own penchant for "the good things in life." The aim of revolution is to bring a good life to all. Professional revolutionaries lead a life of hardship and material uncertainty, facing imminent death. Therefore they try to enjoy life when possible. Hiding or attracting attention are determined by objective needs.
It has been estimated that 83 individuals lost their lives during your various actions. Is it possible to be so accurate?
Ghoulish accounting is a perverse exercise.
When did you become aware that both President Ford and Giscard d'Estaing had aborted assassination attempts against you? The French scenario was supposedly to use agents disguised as cyclists.
I am not aware!
I know that President Ford issued an executive order forbidding assassinations by U.S. personnel. Nevertheless U.S. funded mercenaries (not civil servants) were later used against me. I know that President Giscard d'Estaing stopped the assassination of my father. Instead, the frustrated French assassins inoculated my brother Vladimir with a hepatitis virus which almost killed him. French agents excelled in gesticulations and acrobatics.
I have been reading through the enormous file of press concerning your 20 years underground. One story holds you responsible for the assassination of Olof Palme in Stockholm. In another, you were undergoing liposuction surgery when you were kidnapped in Khartoum. In many you are described as an alcoholic. What is your reaction when you read these stories?
The regretted Olof Palme was on our side! The enemy has tried to pin this heinous crime on me.
I was abducted with my Palestinian wife, Lana Jarrar, by order of Dr. Hassan El Tourabi, having undergone minor surgery (a varicocele). I am no alcoholic, drug-addict, whore-monger or mercenary. All sorts of fabricated stories are regularly published about me. Most I do not care about, but the more far-fetched ones can provoke in me laughter or indignation.
You used to be treated like a prince in certain Arab countries. Do you think you have been treated ungratefully?
Ingratitude is a human flaw. Revolutionaries are usually treated with ruthlessness by their avowed enemies and by repentant ex-revolutionaries.
Do you have any comment on Colonel Qaddafi? Or the Lockerbie affair?
Libya is involved in no way whatsoever with the Lockerbie affair. The United States knows this only too well.
Can you say more about Lockerbie?
I am no "snitch," though the enemy knows about the Lockerbie affair and the true culprits.
Who betrayed your presence in Khartoum to the French? Were Arab leaders involved?
The CIA and several satellite services were informed in advance about my traveling to Khartoum. Sympathizers in the Sudanese regime had informed us that a U.S. satellite was visually tracking my movements and that a French tracking device had been installed by the Sudanese General Security in my car. The Egyptian mukhabarat (secret police) made an open diplomatic approach to me and offered their assistance out of the Khartoum trap. The only Arab leader to openly betray me was Hassan El Tourabi. Several others also made a profit.
You were aware of the surveillance in Khartoum. Why stay there?
I had prepared an escape route for September 1994.
There was a press report that your pursuer, Colonel Philippe Rondot, secretly photographed you.
He photographed us in a quite open manner, under Sudanese police protection. On several occasions we sat at neighbouring tables in public places.
You were the hunted, for a change. In many of the surveillance pictures, you are smiling.
Hunters-hunted, it is like a merry-go-round, in which it was usually the enemy the one on edge. Rondot is well-known in Greater Syrian circles. Though he is a griming adept, his movements went seldom unobserved. I am a good-natured, jolly and smiling type of person?furthermore smiling discountenances the enemy. I am a sociable person and I naturally tend to surround myself with a pleasant social environment.
Magdalena Kopp [Carlos, a Muslin, has married twice, without the necessity of divorce. Magdalena is his first wife] has said you are not "the monster portrayed by the media."
Magdalena has been quoted giving conflicting statements. I gave her love, respect, security and a beautiful new family. She can certainly not call me a "monster." Military operations are not led by emotions. Revolutionary fighters, though, are not devoid of feelings.
What reflections do you have on your treatment in prison?
Hassan El Tourabi sold to Saudi Arabia a "retired alcoholic mercenary, spending wild nights of sex and drugs with Negro prostitutes, ready to co-operate with his captors." The French police were delivered a betrayed militant with pristine credentials, in top fighting form. Since then I have been isolated, and under permanent harassment.
Can you be specific? We have read that the former mercenary Bob Denard would harass you?pretending he didn't know who you were when you tried to make yourself heard to other inmates.
Before the illegal grilles on the inside of the ceiling-high pivoting windows in the Isolation Quarter of La Sante prison were removed?following my vivid and official protests?communication with the "special" quarters, two floors above, was quite impossible. The barber remains the only prisoner I can meet.
What Denard writes is just what he heard of my first attempt to establish contact with them up there. He never harassed me.
The magazine Jeune Afrique has described you and Osama bin Laden as "living myths of international terrorism."
The "Carlos myth" is a media fabrication. It had an unexpected side-effect in that I could manipulate my newly acquired fame to further the aims of the struggle for the liberation of Palestine and for world revolution.
The persistently increasing campaign to undo the "Carlos myth"?we shall probably read even dirtier and more outlandish accusations in the mass-media against me?is a measurement of the magnitude of the Myth.
In the film The Assignment, "Carlos" is played by the American actor Aidan Quinn. In a British movie, Death has a Bad Reputation, Elizabeth Hurley plays a reporter "Carlos" seduces. Like Che Guevara, you have a place in folklore. Is there a positive aspect to this?
Why did you complain to the British paper The Guardian about being called "The Jackal"? Admittedly, the name is taken from a pulp novel?found by the British police in your London apartment?but you have been called that for years.
The Day of the Jackal is an excellent action novel. The Guardian had been my daily since 1966. It bothered me?its falling to the level of the gutter press in such a serious matter. Furthermore, "El Chacal de Guiria" was the nickname given to the notorious Pedro Estrada, late Director of the vicious Venezuelan "Seguridad Nacional" during the 1950s. Exiled in France, he tortured the three Venezuelan eye-witnesses of the "Rue Toullier" and several other Spanish-Americans who had been arrested. Otherwise jackals are cute fox-eared predators which hunt in large family groups. I have observed them in the wild.
Apparently you recognized that Judge Bruguiere was a "star" in his field, as you are in yours.
I recognized no such thing. I simply told the guards, mockingly, the first time an over-excited Judge Bruguiere (he is addicted to cocaine) fleetingly approached me in a corridor in front of "chosen" journalists, that he is a "vedette," which is a show-business expression. Chasing the limelight is demeaning to a magistrate. Charisma is an innate quality, alien to him.
In September 1976 an Egyptian paper, Al Akhbar, wrote that you had a small nuclear bomb in your possession. Was this correct?
It was then the start of the campaign by anti-imperialist regimes to develop nuclear weapons. Many revolutionary organisations, including ours, lent a helping hand to kick-start such efforts. At the time, nuclear bombs were not in the "market."
The American writer Ovid Demaris also wrote in a Nov. 1977 New York magazine article "Carlos: The Most Dangerous Man in the World" that you had the bomb. If you had possessed such a device, would it have been for threat or use?
Ovid Demaris' article is grossly inaccurate and ill-researched. Until the 14th August 1994 we did not possess a nuclear device, and I doubt that my comrades have acquired one since. The massive aggressions against Iraq and Yugoslavia would warrant a nuclear reply. The New World dis-Order, with its exacerbated brutality, has increased both the availability and the probability of the employment of weapons of mass destruction by the underdog.
When I asked earlier how you felt about ingratitude, you said that this is "a human flaw." So are greed, pride, etc. No revolution has ever eradicated such original sins. Does your revolution not risk lighting a brushfire that will consume not only your enemies but those you wish to help, and even your own families?
Revolution devours its own children; it is a price which true revolutionaries are ready to pay.
President Assad has spoken with cautious optimism of peace prospects, if the Golan situation is resolved.
President El Assad aims to ensure the survival of his regime, and the safety of his Alawite followers; he will sign a peace treaty with Israel if the Golan is returned, and he will use the prize money to alleviate the misery of the Syrians. Nonetheless the struggle for the liberation of Palestine will continue.
From the 70s through to the early 80s radical movements flourished worldwide. These?and I refer to secular political movements, not fundamentalist ones?have largely disappeared. Why do you think that this is so?
Revolutionary development?barometer of social injustice?is a permanent cycle which, having ebbed, has started moving towards high tide.
What political effects, if any, do you see as coming from the growing disparity between rich and poor worldwide?
The unipolar transition period dominated by an ever more ferocious United States, is parallel to the increasing economic disparities world-wide, bringing as a result a violently increasing revolutionary backlash.
In your "will," En Cas de Mon Deces, details of which were given to the press last November, you demanded that one American or Zionist be assassinated for every day you have spent in jail. Do you still abide by this? Or was it the product of temporary rage?
En Cas De Mon Deces is still valid.
It seems unlikely to you that you will ever see freedom, but odder things have happened. Suppose you are liberated, where will you go? Back to Latin America? To the Arab world? Would you remain in Europe?
I would return directly to Venezuela to help in the Bolivarian revolutionary process.