iOS app Android app More

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, Carlos The Jackal, On Trial In France

PIERRE-ANTOINE SOUCHARD   11/ 7/11 08:59 PM ET   AP

PARIS — A defiant and smiling Carlos the Jackal, one of the most dreaded terror masterminds of the Cold War, has gone on trial again – this time over four deadly attacks in France nearly three decades ago.

The 62-year-old Venezuelan, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, went before a special Paris court on terrorism-linked charges Monday. He is already serving a life sentence handed down for a triple murder in 1975.

Ramirez, who sowed fear across Western European and Middle Eastern capitals during the Cold War, is charged with instigating four attacks in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 people and injured more than 140 others in France.

He has denied any role in the attacks. The trial is expected to last six weeks, and if convicted, Ramirez could face a second life sentence – the top penalty in France, which does not have the death penalty.

Wearing a blue jacket, graying beard and wavy hair brushed back, Ramirez smiled as he entered and then identified himself to the court as "a professional revolutionary" – striking a combative pose from the outset.

With three gendarmes at his side and dark sunglasses in his hands, Ramirez variously raised a fist in defiance, weaved in anti-Zionist rhetoric into his diatribes and smiled to the gallery that included controversial French comic Dieudonne.

"He's in a fighting mood as always," Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, Ramirez's lawyer and amorous partner, told reporters outside the courtroom before the trial began. She said there was "no reason" for the trial nearly 30 years after the events, and accused French prosecutors of putting him on trial for "propaganda or some other interests rather than the ones of justice."

But Francis Szpiner, the lawyer for some civil parties to the case, countered that the trial was important to show that terrorists will always be pursued and to mark "the end of the culture of impunity" for them.

The trial centers on four bombings: Two against French trains, another at a Paris office of an Arabic-language newspaper and yet another at a French cultural center in then-West Berlin.

Those bombings came at least seven years after what French investigators consider was Ramirez's first heyday – eight attacks over two years starting in December 1973.

Ramirez is serving a life sentence for the 1975 murders of two French secret agents and an alleged informer. He was also the chief suspect in the 1975 hostage-taking of OPEC oil ministers that left three people dead.

French prosecutors claim two attacks in 1982 were carried out to pressure the government to free his girlfriend Magdalena Kopp – with whom he later married and had a daughter – and comrade Bruno Breguet.

Five people were killed in the March 1982 bombing of a Toulouse-Paris train – four five days after a deadline for the release of Kopp and Breguet sent in a letter to France's Embassy in the Netherlands. The letter allegedly contained two fingerprints of Ramirez.

Scores were injured and a young girl was killed the next month in a bombing outside the newspaper office – the day Kopp and Breguet went on trial in another case. Both were convicted.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez said Monday that his government will insist that Ramirez's rights be respected during his trial in France.

Chavez has previously praised Ramirez as a "revolutionary fighter" and has said he doesn't view him as a terrorist.

"We cannot allow any Venezuelan, accused of anything, to be abused in any part of the world," Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace. "We have a responsibility and we are obliged to uphold it."

Chavez said he has instructed Venezuela's foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, to contact Ramirez and his lawyers to discuss the case.

Chavez spoke shortly after dozens of Ramirez's supporters protested in a Caracas plaza, chanting: "He's not a terrorist! He's a communist!"

The demonstrators, including Venezuelan Communist Party activists, held signs reading "Freedom for Carlos" and "Repatriation for Carlos."

Ramirez's younger brother Vladimir Ramirez led the protest, saying he doesn't expect a fair trial. He urged Chavez's government to intervene and demand that Ramirez's rights be respected.

"A trial isn't beginning today," he told the crowd. "It's simply an official ceremony to finally slap Ilich with 30 more years of prison ... and condemn him to die imprisoned."

Ramirez allegedly took hijackings, bombings and killings in mercenary style, with links for years to causes like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and in far-left European terror groups during the latter post-World War II years of political, military and economic tensions between the communist and Western worlds.

Safe havens grew scarce and allies turned dubious for Ramirez once the world was upended by the fall of communism in 1989. French secret agents snatched him from his refuge in Khartoum, Sudan, on Aug. 14, 1994, and spirited him to Paris in a sack.

He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison three years later.

Ramirez's detention has been anything but ordinary. While in prison in 2001, he married Coutant-Peyre in an Islamic ceremony. He was also placed in solitary confinement last month after conducting an unauthorized interview with two French news outlets.

His lawyers claim he was denied access to materials needed to prepare for the trial, including two DVDS containing 100,000 pages.

To make its case, the prosecution dug deep into the secret service archives of former communist countries where Carlos enjoyed safe havens during the Cold War, notably East Germany and Hungary.

Along with Ramirez, three alleged accomplices were being tried in absentia: Palestinian Kamal Al-Issawi and Germans Christa-Margot Frohlich and Johannes Weinrich, said to head the European operations of Ramirez and a former member of Germany's violent far-left Red Army Faction.

Weinrich is behind bars in Germany, Frohlich remains at large, and Al-Issawi's whereabouts are unknown to French authorities, who say he dropped off their radar in 2001.

Ramirez, who suffers from Type 2 diabetes, told Europe-1 radio that he misses the family life he said he sacrificed during his years globe-hopping as a freelance terrorist in Middle Eastern and European capitals.

Some allies and ideological brothers met their demise this year. Years ago, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi funded militant movements like that of Carlos The Jackal – in an interview published last month in France's Liberation newspaper, Ramirez praised Osama Bin Laden as a martyr who served as an "example ... for authentic resisters against imperialism."

___

Eds: Catherine Gaschka and Ingrid Rousseau, and Associated Press writers Christopher Toothaker and Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.

FOLLOW HUFFPOST WORLD

Filed by Eline Gordts  |