‘‘A professional revolutionary’’, that’s what Ilich Ramirez Sanchez called himself. Others would name him world’s most infamous terrorist until 9/11. But most of the people know him as Carlos the Jackal.
Named after Lenin, Sanchez was born in Venezuela’s capital Caracas in 1949. Despite his mother’s wishes to raise their firstborn child as a Christian, his father, a true Marxist, raised him by communist principles. In 1959, Sanchez joined the youth movement of the national communist party. In 1966 he spent a summer in a guerilla warfare school near Havana, Cuba and for two years, he studied at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, which was ‘‘a notorious hotbed for recruiting foreign communists to the Soviet Union’’, according to the BBC.
In 1970, being expelled from his university, Sanchez joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and was trained at their terrorist school in Amman, Jordan. Here, Sanchez received the pseudonym Carlos, because of his South American roots. The other part of his nickname was derived from a novel, The Day of the Jackal, a thriller once found in his personal belongings. Carlos’ first infamous act of terror was the attempted murder of the noticeable Jewish businessman Joseph Edward Sieff in London.
The highlight of Carlos’ terrorist career however was yet to come. In 1975, Carlos carried out a series of bombings across France and in London. The bombings were directed towards persons and organizations accused of pro-Israeli leanings. A few days later, Carlos also tried to take out two Israeli El Al airplanes with rocket-propelled grenades at an airport near Paris.
Carlos had a long terrorist career
In December of that year, Carlos led the team of six that took over sixty OPEC ministers hostage and killed three at an OPEC meeting in Vienna. Carlos demanded that the Austrian authorities read a message for the Palestinian cause on Austrian radio and television every two hours – a demand which the Austrian government agreed to in order to prevent the threatened execution of a hostage every fifteen minutes. The day after, Carlos and his team were granted an airplane, with which the team together with 42 hostages were flown via Algiers to Tripoli, and eventually back to Algiers again. There, the hostages were freed and some of the terrorists were granted asylum. The hostage had such a tremendous impact that the OPEC didn’t hold another summit for over 25 years.
For Carlos personally, the hostage was less of a success: he was expelled from the PFLP due to the failure to execute two designated OPEC hostages. Between 1985 and 1991, he lived in Syria, after which he moved to Jordan and eventually Sudan.
In 1994, Carlos was captured and extradited by the Sudanese authorities to France. There, Carlos was accused of the 1975 murder of two French police agents and sentenced to lifelong imprisonment. Photos of Carlos’ prison accommodation soon leaked to the press, which showed a fully-furnished one-person suite equipped with radio, television and Internet. In 2011, the 62-year old Venezuelan received another life sentence, this time standing trial on terrorism charges.
In a 2009 speech, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez praised Sanchez, stating he was unfairly convicted and that he – instead of a terrorist – was a ‘revolutionary fighter’. Whether lawfully or unlawfully convicted, we can state with certainty that Carlos the Jackal was – of his time – one of the most infamous persons engaged in acts of terrorism.