Carlos the Jackal Has Run Out of Powerful Friends

Carlos the Jackal heads to his second trial in Paris on Monday, but the heads of state -- Qaddafi, Assad, Hussein -- who backed his brand of revolutionary international terrorism have thinned dramatically since he was first convicted.

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Carlos the Jackal heads to his second trial in Paris on Monday, but the heads of state -- Qaddafi, Assad, Hussein -- who backed his brand of revolutionary international terrorism have thinned dramatically since he was first convicted. The career of Carlos the Jackal, who was born Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, is one of the classic studies of state-sponsored terrorism during the Cold War, when Ramirez operated under the protection of Soviet Union-sponsored rogue states. Ramirez, brazen as ever, declared himself to be “a professional revolutionary” as Monday’s trial got underway, but since his arrest and his first conviction, those who supported him in that capacity have either faded or disappeared completely.

It was only after the Soviet Union fell in 1991 that Sudan, where Ramirez was hiding, decided it wasn't worth it to protect him anymore and reportedly made a deal with French Intelligence to hand him over in 1994. France had already convicted Ramirez in absentia for the murders of two policemen in 1975 (though he was re-tried and convicted in 1997), and he’s serving time for those charges now. The new charges stem from four bomb attacks in France in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 and wounded 195, which French authorities say Ramirez carried out as “part of a personal war that Mr. Ramírez waged against the French authorities in an effort to secure the liberation of his girlfriend at the time, Magdalena Kopp, a German former revolutionary who had been imprisoned for an attempted bombing in 1982,” The New York Times reports.

Col. Muammar Qaddafi: Western intelligence services believe Libya (along with Iraq) was a key sponsor of Ramirez’s 1975 raid on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna, which killed three people. “Years later, an accomplice of Carlos confirmed the view that Col. Muammar Qaddafi had commissioned the attack, promising Carlos an annual payment of $1 million as a reward,” wrote John Follain in the book Jackal. In a Sunday interview with the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacion, Ramirez, a Venezuelan native, said Qaddafi "had an eternal debt to me." Of course, now that Qaddafi's been deposed and killed, that debt's going to be very hard to collect.

Saddam Hussein: Follain writes that "Iraq was one of the first Arab countries to offer Carlos support," and according to journalist Edward Jay Epstein, Hussein personally backed the OPEC raid: "The operation was conceived of and backed by Saddam Hussein. Iraq provided him with the weapons, explosives, and other equipment by using its diplomatic pouch to transport them to its Embassy in Vienna, as well as the false documentation and money he needed. It also arranged his escape to Algeria with his hostages." But of course, U.S. forces deposed Hussein in 2003, after which he was arrested and executed.

Hugo Chavez: The Venezuelan leader praised Ramirez as a "revolutionary fighter" in 2009, saying, "I defend him. I don't care what they say tomorrow in Europe." Venezuela has reportedly kept a steady stream of care packages including cigars coming to Ramirez via its embassy in France, but those recently stopped coming. Ramirez suggested to El Nacional that the Chavez administration had tried to have him extradited to Venezuela, but Chavez has other issues to deal with this year. In July, he acknowledged he was battling cancer, and while he declared he was healthy in October, he's still struggling to maintain his political mandate back home after a weakening year.

Bashar al Assad: While al Assad didn't necessarily support Ramirez as a head of state (having come to power in 2000), Ramirez had lived in Damascus while he was at large, and traced his rise to prominence to Syrian support. He invoked that support in his first trial in 1997, according to Follain:

But Assad and the rest of the Syrian government have fallen distinctly out of favor with the West, as the Syrian military continues to fight a brutal battle to quell unrest there, and Western powers pressure Assad to step down.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.