Sudan arrests, extradites fugitive terrorist 'Carlos'

August 16, 1994|By Alan Riding | Alan Riding,New York Times News Service f fTCDL: PARIS

PARIS -- The international terrorist known as Carlos, an almost-mythical figure blamed for a string of bombings and killings across Western Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, was arrested in Sudan and flown secretly to France yesterday.

France's interior minister, Charles Pasqua, said the 44-year-old extremist, a native of Venezuela whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, would go on trial here for crimes committed in France.

"He is one of the most well-known and most dangerous criminals in the world," Mr. Pasqua said with evident satisfaction.

Although Carlos was not believed to be currently engaged in terrorist activities, his arrest was a dramatic coup for the French security services, which along with intelligence agencies from several Western countries, have been on his trail for the past 20 years.

Carlos' most daring action involved the kidnapping of 11 oil ministers attending an OPEC meeting in Vienna in December 1975. Three people died in the incident, but Carlos and his group were flown to Algeria and released.

At different times, his name was linked to urban guerrilla bands in Japan, Germany, Spain and Ireland, but he was most closely associated with Arab terrorist groups. Until the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, he had also reportedly been protected at various times by East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Indeed, such was the mystery surrounding Carlos that he was often credited with terrorist actions that he did not commit, including the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Carlos himself, a master of disguise, seemed to take pride in the fact that he repeatedly outsmarted the West's police.

Most recently, though, he was said to have been living in semiretirement in Damascus, Syria, with his wife, Magdalena Kopp, a former member of the German Baader-Meinhoff gang who spent three years in prison in France in the early 1980s on charges of possessing explosives.

Mr. Pasqua said that French intelligence officers were tipped off early this year that Carlos had entered Sudan under a false name with a false diplomatic passport. Paris asked the Sudanese to arrest Carlos.

"Several times, we hoped Carlos would be handed over," he said. "Several times, we were disappointed. Yesterday morning, the Sudanese authorities told us that they had identified Carlos beyond all doubt and were ready to respond immediately to the arrest warrants issued by French judicial authorities."

Court appearance

Mr. Pasqua said that Carlos arrived at the Villacoublay military airport near Paris at 10 a.m. yesterday. He is expected to appear before France's main anti-terrorist investigating judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, today.

In Khartoum, Sudan's interior minister, Al-Tayeb Ibrahim Mohamed Khier, said in a statement that Carlos had been carrying a false diplomatic passport from an Arab country, which he did not identify, and was among a group suspected of planning attacks on foreign institutions in the Sudanese capital.

Mr. Khier said the group's aim was for Sudan to be blamed for supporting international terrorism. Sudan has been accused by both Egypt and the United States of supporting Islamic extremists, a charge denied by Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Bashir, the leader of Sudan's Islamic fundamentalist government.

Abubaker al Shingieti, a Sudanese government spokesman, said the group first stayed in a Khartoum hotel and then rented an apartment, where they were kept under surveillance because "they were not conducting any kind of activity to justify their presence in Sudan."

He added that France subsequently informed Sudan that it suspected Carlos had entered the country, and Interpol formally requested his arrest.

Mr. Shingieti said Sudan's decision to extradite him was evidence that it did not support international terrorism. "In doing this, the government of Sudan is fulfilling its obligations to the international community in fighting terrorism and fighting against terrorists," he said.

France's counterintelligence service has long had a special interest in capturing Carlos because he is accused of killing two of its agents as they were about to arrest him in Paris in June 1975. For this crime, which he admitted in an interview with a Paris-based Arab-language magazine in 1979, Carlos was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment in 1992.

An arrest warrant was also issued for his involvement in a car bombing in Paris in April 1982 in which one person was killed and 70 wounded. Carlos has been blamed for other attacks in France around that time, including the bombing of a train in March 1982 that killed five people, and the bombing of the Saint-Charles railroad station in Marseille in December 1983 in which 6 people were killed and 80 injured.

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