'The Jackal' goes on trial today Terrorist: One of the world's most wanted men began and ended his 22-year career in Paris. Some nations are nervous about his trial because a few may have hired him.

Sun Journal

December 12, 1997|By Susannah Patton | Susannah Patton,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PARIS -- With its corner cafe and student-filled sandwich store, the Rue Toullier, a quiet Latin Quarter back street between the Sorbonne and the Luxembourg Gardens, seems an unlikely spot for a brutal murder involving international terrorists.

But 22 years ago, police say, a young Venezuelan with dark curly hair went to a party at a studio apartment here and shot dead two French counterintelligence officers and a Lebanese informant. Then he fled into the night.

It was the beginning of a fugitive life for Illich Ramirez Sanchez, who went on to become one of the world's most wanted men, eluding police and governments for years. The guerrilla mastermind, known as Carlos the Jackal, will go on trial for the first time today after a career in terrorism lasting two decades.

Ramirez, who has been held in solitary confinement in a Paris jail for the past three years, will be tried initially for the 1975 murder of the two French agents.

But governments around the world will be watching his first court appearance with care and some trepidation. They will be waiting to see what Ramirez reveals about his activities and his sponsors from the mid-1970s to August 1994, when France scored a coup by abducting him from Sudan in a nighttime raid.

"Carlos is a myth,` says Roland Jacquard, a terrorism expert and author of a forthcoming book on Ramirez. `This is the first time one of the top international terrorists is coming to trial. People will discover that Carlos was sponsored by governments with which we have diplomatic relations."

Adds John Follain, a journalist and author whose book "Jackal: The Secret Wars of Carlos the Jackal" is to be published in the spring: "Carlos could unveil a tremendous amount about state-sponsored terrorism during the Cold War. If he wants to talk about Colonel [Muammar el] Kadafi, Saddam Hussein or Syrian President Hafez el Assad, there is certainly a lot he could tell.`

One of Ramirez's lawyers predicts that his client will not remain voiceless. "He's not the type to remain quiet," says Frederic Pariente, a Franco-Venezuelan lawyer who has represented him for the past year. "He could very well decide to settle old scores and name witnesses."

French police accuse the secretive terrorist of killing 83 people in a series of attacks in Europe and the Middle East, including the kidnapping of 11 OPEC oil ministers in Vienna, Austria, in 1975. He has been linked with groups ranging from the Irish Republican Army to Germany's Baader-Meinhof gang to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

French investigating Magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a noted anti-terrorism judge, is also looking into Ramirez' role in a rocket attack on Paris' Orly airport in 1975, a 1983 railway-station bombing in Marseille and an explosion on a Paris-Toulouse train in 1982.

Though investigators say Ramirez has left a bloody trail over much of Europe and the Middle East, the significance of his capture and trial remains particularly high for France, long a hotbed of terrorist activity. `Carlos is very much France's man,` Follain says. "France has often been a target of terrorism, and investigators say it has suffered more from Carlos than any other country."

Ramirez, whose most recent suspected attack was the August 1983 bombing of the French consulate in West Berlin, appears to have been motivated initially by Marxist ideology and the Palestinian cause. Later in his career, experts say, he drifted more toward mercenary self-interest.

The attacks on French targets in 1982 and 1983 may have been personal revenge for the arrests in France of his German wife, Magdalena Kopp, and co-conspirator Bruno Breguet. In other incidents, Ramirez may have been working for governments in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, experts say. The release of files from the East German secret police, the Stasi, has revealed connections to several former East Bloc countries.

Illich Ramirez Sanchez was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on Oct. 12, 1949, one of three sons of a left-wing lawyer who named them all after the Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Illich and his two brothers, Vladimir and Lenin, were brought up among Marxist-Leninists at a time when Venezuela was ruled by a right-wing dictatorship. At 15, he joined the banned Venezuela Communist Youth League, but moved soon after to London with his mother and brothers.

After passing university entrance exams in London, young Ramirez went in 1968 to Moscow to study chemistry and physics at the Patrice Lumumba People's Friendship University. In June 1970, he was thrown out of the Soviet Union along with other students who had taken part in a demonstration. Some biographers have suggested that the expulsion was a cover for his recruitment to the KGB, but Ramirez has denied that he was ever an agent for the Soviet secret service.

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