Carlos the Jackal on trial for deadly French bombings

7th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Notorious Venezuelan militant cell leader Carlos the Jackal went on trial on Monday in Paris accused of carrying out four deadly bombings in France that killed 11 people and wounded almost 150.

The 62-year-old has made no secret of his past as the leader of a gang that carried out attacks on behalf of Warsaw Pact intelligence agencies and far-left or pro-Palestinian causes, but denies the latest French charges.

"I'm a professional revolutionary," he told judge Olivier Leurent, who began his questioning in front of a Paris anti-terrorism tribunal.

In a press interview, Carlos Ilich Ramirez Sanchez admitted leading a global campaign of attacks that left between 1,500 and 2,000 people dead.

He looked relaxed as the trial got under way, appearing in jeans and a blue jacket, as dozens of journalists and a motley collection of well-wishers struggled to find space in the packed courtroom.

Speaking before the hearing, French stand-up comic Dieudonne Mbala Mbala, an activist close to far-right circles who has been convicted of anti-Semitism, demanded "Commander Carlos" be allowed to return home to Venezuela.

The accused was arrested in Sudan in 1994 and transferred to France, where he has since been held in various jails. In 1997 he was convicted of the 1975 murder of a civilian and two policemen, and jailed for life.

Six weeks of hearings are scheduled, during which Carlos will return nightly under tight guard to his cell in Paris'S high-security La Sante prison. The trial is due to end on December 16.

Around 20 witnesses are expected to be called, including family members, experts and former accomplices.

On Sunday, Carlos boasted in an interview with Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional of committing more than 100 attacks.

Asked about civilian casualties, he told the paper: "There were very few. I calculated that they were fewer than 10 percent. So out of 1,500 to 2,000 killed, there were not more than 200 civilian victims."

Carlos, born in 1949, rose to prominence in 1975 when his commando group burst into the conference room where ministers from the powerful OPEC oil cartel were meeting in Vienna, taking 11 hostage.

His new trial deals with four attacks that are seen as part of a private war Carlos waged against France to free two comrades, including his future wife, who were arrested in Paris while planning to attack the Kuwaiti embassy.

The first bombing on March 29, 1982 aboard the "Le Capitole" express train running from Paris to the southern city of Toulouse killed five and wounded 28.

The attack was claimed by the "International Terrorist Friends of Carlos" and was followed on April 22, 1982 by the Paris car bombing of anti-Syrian newspaper Al-Watan Al-Arabi that killed a passer-by and wounded 60.

On the same day, Carlos' comrade Bruno Breguet and future wife Magdalena Kopp were convicted of the foiled embassy attack.

Two more bombings took place on New Year's Eve 1983. One hit a high-speed TGV train between Marseille and Paris, killing three people and wounding 13. Moments later, a bomb in a Marseille train station killed two.

Files released from secret police archives in Hungary, the former East Germany and Romania following the fall of the Iron Curtain allegedly detail Carlos's involvement in a series of attacks.

Carlos's lawyers -- including Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, whom he married in a Muslim ceremony in prison 10 years ago -- maintain that files from the former Soviet bloc are unreliable.

Three more suspected members of Carlos's gang -- "Ali" Kamal al-Issawi, Christa-Margot Froehlich and Johannes Weinrich -- are on trial in absentia.

Issawi's whereabouts are unknown, Froehlich is living in Germany which will not extradite her and Weinrich is serving a life sentence in Germany for other attacks, having been arrested in Yemen in 1995.

After the attacks in France, Carlos moved to Syria where he stayed until the 1991 Gulf War, during which Damascus was an ally of the United States and so he was asked to leave.

He then sought refuge in Sudan where, after two decades on the run, Carlos was finally captured in Khartoum in 1994 by French secret service agents acting with the help of the Sudanese government.

Carlos and his lawyers allege he was kidnapped illegally from Sudan.

© 2011 AFP

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