French court sentences Carlos the Jackal to life in prison

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A French court has sentenced the notorious Venezuelan militant Carlos the Jackal to life in prison, with a minimum of 18 years before parole, for four deadly attacks in France in the 1980s.

In a verdict issued late Thursday, Carlos Ilich Ramirez Sanchez was handed the maximum sentence that had been requested by prosecutors, who had urged the court to convict him of bombings that killed 11 people and wounded nearly 150.

The 62-year-old's lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, described the verdict as a "scandal" and said Carlos would appeal.

Carlos first 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 Paris trial dealt with four attacks that were 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.

French authorities received a letter, allegedly marked with Carlos's fingerprints, threatening "war" if the pair were not released within 30 days.

French prosecutor Olivier Bray had argued that the bombings in France in 1982 and 1983 were not "targeted" political actions, but "blind" attacks aimed to "kill the maximum number of people with the minimum of risk."

He said 30 years was "too long" for Carlos's victims to have waited for his conviction, but that "the duty of democracies is to never give up ... arresting those behind attacks and bringing them to justice."

Alain Poupaux, who was injured in one of the attacks, said he was "relieved" by the minimum term "which will make sure he stays in prison".

German national Christa Froehlich, tried in absentia for one of the attacks, was found not guilty. The prosecution had asked for a 15-year sentence on the 69-year-old woman who lives in Hanover.

Two other life sentences were handed down on co-accused who were also tried in absentia. German national Johannes Weinrich, Carlos's former right-hand man, is being held in Germany for other crimes while Palestinian Ali Kamal al-Issawi is at large.

The trial of Carlos lasted six weeks. He spoke for five hours before the verdict was announced, reading a rambling document that denounced his "botched" trial as a "comedy B-movie".

He insisted "there is nothing that links me" to the attacks and said: "I am ashamed of nothing."

With clenched fist he shouted "Long live the revolution" and "Allahu Akhbar" (God is greatest), echoed by some 15 supporters in the public gallery.

Carlos 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.

Carlos has boasted in newspaper interviews of carrying out more than 100 attacks as the leader of a militant gang that operated in Europe on behalf of Warsaw Pact intelligence agencies and militant Palestinian groups.

The series of attacks began with the bombing of the express train "Le Capitole" on March 29, 1982, which was running from Paris to the southern city of Toulouse.

Five died in the attack and 28 were wounded.

The attack on Le Capitole 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, which killed a passer-by and wounded 60.

On the same day, Carlos's 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.

Despite his notoriety, he has drawn the support of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who praised him last month as a "worthy heir of the greatest struggles ... on behalf of the people and social justice."

© 2011 AFP

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