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The World: The Man Known as ‘Carlos’

4 minute read

He looked like Carlos—or did he? He talked like Carlos—or did he? He said he was Carlos—and then that he was not. At the end of the OPEC affair, one major question remained: Was the man who led the raid on the oil cartel’s headquarters the terrorist known variously as Carlos and “the Jackal”? French intelligence was convinced that the leader of the attack was another person and that Carlos had been killed earlier by other terrorists. Israeli agents speculated that there might be not one but four Carloses.

If the raid leader was indeed the Carlos, however, his name is Ilyich Ramírez Sánchez. He is 26, the son of a Venezuelan Communist intellectual who gave each of three sons one of Lenin’s names: Vladimir, Ilyich and Lenin. Carlos was recruited by the KGB in his homeland and sent to Moscow’s Lumumba University for training sometime in the late ’60s. He also attended four special institutes run by the Soviet secret police near Moscow, where he took courses in political indoctrination, sabotage, the use of weapons and killer karate. In 1969 he was expelled from the Soviet Union, although Washington believes that this was merely a ruse to disguise his KGB connections. Shortly afterward, Carlos appeared in the Middle East and joined George Habash’s militantly anti-Israel Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The P.F.L.P. apparently dispatched Carlos to Europe in the early ’70s to coordinate its terrorist activities there. Among other things, he was the group’s chief liaison with various terrorist bands, including West Germany’s Baader-Meinhof gang, the Japanese Red Army, the Irish Republican Army and South America’s Tupamaros. Carlos first appeared in the news last June when he made a dramatic escape from French counter-intelligence agents in Paris. On the alert for terrorists who use Paris as the center of their European operations, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST) had been alerted by Lebanese authorities that a terrorist courier, Michel Moukarbel, was on his way from Beirut with money and instructions for an agent in Paris. Moukarbel was arrested in France and led three DST agents to Carlos’ apartment on the Rue Toullier, near the Sorbonne. Confronted with the informer, Carlos pulled out a 7.65-mm. pistol and fired five shots. Moukarbel and two of the agents were killed; the third was critically wounded.

In the dragnet that followed, police from a dozen countries put together a fairly complete profile of Carlos without ever being able to find him. In a satchel which Carlos had left with a friend in London’s Bayswater, they found a passport and a photograph, along with a list of 500 prominent names apparently targeted for kidnaping or assassination, including Playwright John Osborne, his actress wife Jill Bennett and Violinist Yehudi Menuhin. In Paris, police discovered an apartment with a nearly complete ammunition dump of dynamite, submachine guns and homemade bombs, along with equipment to make counterfeit documents. There was also another list of potential murder or kidnap victims, including French politicians, journalists, businessmen and intellectuals, as well as a list of terrorist attacks that Carlos had already carried out.

In addition to these acts, Carlos is believed to have had a part in the bombing of the Drugstore in Paris and an attack on the French embassy in The Hague, both in September 1974, and the attempted murders of a prominent Jewish merchant in London and a Yugoslav diplomat in Lyon. From various papers found in Carlos’ hideouts, police discovered other as yet unhatched plots: a scheme to block the Suez Canal by dynamiting a ship, the kidnap or murder of the Israeli Ambassador to France and the possible assassination of Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani—one of the hostages seized at OPEC headquarters last week.

But was Carlos aboard the Austrian DC-9 that flew the terrorists and their kidnap victims to Algiers? Backing up the skepticism of French police, some of the hostages said that the gang’s leader did not look like pictures of Carlos. But Venezuela’s oil minister, Valentín Hernàndez Acosta, insisted that “the head of the commandos was definitely Ilyich Ramírez Sànchez, alias Carlos.” Added another OPEC official: “If Carlos is a Latin American of medium height who speaks Spanish, French, English, German and Arabic, and if he is a cool killer who can also be polite to his hostages, then probably it was Carlos who kept us here.”

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