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Ilich Ramírez Sánchez
Born October 12, 1949 (1949-10-12) (age 60)
Caracas, Venezuela
Alias(es) Carlos
Carlos the Jackal
Conviction(s) Murder
Penalty Life imprisonment
Status Imprisoned
Spouse Magdalena Kopp
Lana Jarrar
Isabelle Coutant-Peyre

Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (born October 12, 1949(1949-10-12)) is a convicted Venezuelan terrorist and murderer. After several bungled bombings, he achieved notoriety for a 1975 raid on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna, resulting in the deaths of three people. For many years he was among the most wanted international fugitives. He is now serving a life sentence in La Santé Prison[1] in Paris for the murder of two French agents of the DST (counter-intelligence) and an alleged informant[2].

Ramírez Sánchez was given the nom de guerre Carlos when he became a member of the leftist Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Carlos was called the "Jackal" by The Guardian when Frederick Forsyth's novel The Day of the Jackal was found among his belongings.




Early life

Ramírez Sánchez was born in Caracas, Venezuela.[3] Despite his mother's pleas to give their firstborn child a Christian first name, his father, a Leninist lawyer, called him Ilich, after Lenin (two younger siblings were named "Lenin" and "Vladimir").[4] He attended a school in Caracas and joined the youth movement of the national communist party in 1959. After attending the Third Tricontinental Conference in January 1966 with his father, Ramírez Sánchez reportedly spent the summer at Camp Matanzas, a guerrilla warfare school run by the Cuban DGI near Havana.[5] Later that year, his parents divorced. His mother took her children to London to study in Stafford House College in Kensington and the London School of Economics. In 1968 his father tried to enroll him and his brother at Sorbonne University, but eventually opted for Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. He was expelled from the university in 1970.

He then traveled to a guerrilla training camp run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Amman, Jordan.[citation needed] He claimed to have fought alongside the PFLP members as they resisted the Jordanian government's efforts to expel them in 1970. He eventually left Jordan to attend courses at the Polytechnic of Central London and apparently continued to work for the PFLP.


In 1973 Carlos was associated with the PFLP, which had conducted a failed assassination attempt on Jewish businessman and vice-president of the British Zionist Federation Joseph Sieff. This was prompted by the Mossad assassination of Mohamed Boudia, a theatre director accused of being a PFLP leader, in Paris. Ramírez Sánchez also admits responsibility for a failed bomb attack on the Bank Hapoalim in London and car bomb attacks on three French newspapers which were accused of pro-Israeli leanings. He claimed to be the grenade thrower at a Parisian restaurant in an attack that killed two and injured 30. He later participated in two failed rocket propelled grenade attacks on El Al airliners at Orly Airport near Paris on Jan. 13 and 17, 1975.

On June 27, 1975, Carlos's PFLP contact, Lebanon-born Michel Moukharbal, was captured and successfully interrogated. When three policemen tried to apprehend Carlos at a house in Paris in the middle of a party, he shot two detectives, fled the scene and managed to escape via Brussels to Beirut.

OPEC raid

From Beirut, Carlos participated in the planning for the attack on the headquarters of OPEC in Vienna. On December 20, 1975 he led the six-person team (which included Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann) that assaulted the meeting of OPEC leaders and took over sixty hostages. Carlos demanded from the Austrian authorities to read a communiqué about the Palestinian cause on the Austrian radio and television network every two hours. After negotiations this communiqué was broadcast as requested.

On December 22 the rebels and forty-two hostages were given an airliner and flown to Algiers. Ex-Royal Navy pilot Neville Atkinson, who at that time was personal pilot for Libya's leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, was given the task of flying Carlos and a number of other terrorists, including Hans-Joachim Klein, a supporter of the imprisoned Baader-Meinhof group and member of the Revolutionary Cells, and Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann, from Algiers.[6] The terrorists were finally dispatched in Baghdad. Thirty hostages were freed; the DC-9 was then flown on to Tripoli, where more hostages were freed before flying back to Algiers where the remaining hostages were freed and the rebels were granted asylum.

In the years following the OPEC raid, Abu Sharif and Joachim Klein claimed that Carlos had received a large sum of money in exchange for the safe release of the Arab hostages and had kept it for his personal use. There is still some uncertainty regarding the amount that changed hands but it is believed to be somewhere between 20-50 million dollars. Who paid the money is also uncertain but according to Klein it came from "an Arab President." Carlos later told his lawyers that the money was paid by the Saudis on behalf of the Iranians and was, "diverted en route and lost by the Revolution."[7]

Carlos soon left Algeria for Libya and then Aden, where he attended a meeting of senior PFLP officials to justify his failure to execute two senior OPEC hostages: the finance minister of Iran, Jamshid Amuzgar, and the oil minister of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Zaki Yamani. PFLP-EO leader Wadi Haddad expelled him.

After 1975

In September 1976, Carlos was arrested and detained in Yugoslavia, then flown to Baghdad. From there he chose to settle in Aden, where he set about forming his own group, the Organization of Arab Armed Struggle, composed of Syrian, Lebanese and German rebels. He also formed a contact with East Germany's Stasi. At one stage, the Romanian Securitate hired him to assassinate Romanian dissidents in France and destroy Radio Free Europe offices in Munich. With conditional support from the Iraqi regime and the death of Haddad, Carlos offered the services of his group to the PFLP and other groups.

The group did not perform its first acts until early in 1982, with a failed attack on a French nuclear power station, the Superphénix.

When two of the group, including Magdalena Kopp, Carlos's wife, were arrested in Paris, the group detonated a number of bombs in retaliation against French targets. Operations in 1983 included attacks on the "Maison de France" in West Berlin in August in which one man was killed and 22 injured.

On December 31, 1983, bombs on two TGV trains exploded, killing four passengers and injuring dozens more. Within days of the bombings, Carlos sent letters to three separate news agencies claiming responsibility for the bombings as revenge for a French air strike against a PFLP training camp in Lebanon the previous month.[8]

These attacks led to pressure on East European states that tolerated Carlos. For over two years he lived in Hungary, in Budapest's noble quarter, the second district. His main cutout for some of his financial resources, such as Gaddhafi or Dr. George Habash, was the friend of his sister, "Dietmar C", a known German terrorist and the leader of the Panther Brigade of the PFLP. Carlos was expelled from Hungary in late 1985 and was refused aid in Iraq, Libya and Cuba before he found limited support in Syria. He settled in Damascus with Kopp and their daughter, Elba Rosa.

The Syrian government forced Carlos to remain inactive and he was soon no longer seen as a threat but as a pathetic figure. In 1990, however, the Iraqi government approached him and in September 1991, he was expelled from Syria and eventually found a temporary home in Jordan. He found better protection in Sudan and moved to Khartoum.

During his career, most of it during the Cold War, western accounts persistently claimed he was a KGB agent, but the link is tenuous at best.[citation needed] It is now clear that he had no part in the Munich Massacre (the attack on Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972) or the 1976 hijacking of Air France Flight 139 to Entebbe.[citation needed] Some attacks may have been attributed to him for lack of anyone else to claim the credit. His own boasts about probably nonexistent "missions" obfuscate the matter even more.

Arrest and imprisonment

The French and U.S. intelligence agencies offered a number of deals to the Sudanese authorities. In 1994, Carlos was scheduled to undergo a minor testicular operation on a varicose vein on his scrotum in a hospital in Sudan.[9] Two days after the operation, Carlos was told by Sudanese officials that he needed to be moved to a villa for protection from an assassination attempt, and he would be given personal bodyguards. One night later, his own bodyguards burst into his room while he slept and he was tranquilized, tied up, and taken from the villa.[10] On August 14, 1994 he was handed over to French agents of the DST and flown to Paris. He was charged with the Paris murders of two policemen and PFLP guerrilla turned French informant Michel Moukharbal in 1975 and sent to La Santé de Paris prison to await trial.

The trial began on December 12, 1997 and ended on December 23 at which time he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In 2001, Ramírez Sánchez was married in a Muslim ceremony to his lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, although he was still legally wed to his second wife.[11]

In June 2003, Carlos published a collection of writings from his jail cell. The book, whose title translates to Revolutionary Islam, seeks to explain and defend violence in terms of class conflict. In the book, he voices support for Osama bin Laden and his attacks on the United States. He also supported Saddam Hussein for resisting the USA, calling him the "Last Arabic Knight".

In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights heard a complaint from Ramírez Sánchez that his long years of solitary confinement constitute "inhuman and degrading treatment". Although the Court rejected this claim, it was on appeal as of early 2006.

In November 2009, the Venezuelan president Chávez during one of his speeches defended Ramírez Sánchez, saying his compatriot was an important "revolutionary fighter" who supported the cause of the Palestinians and was unfairly convicted. "They accuse him of being a terrorist, but Carlos really was a revolutionary fighter" he said during a televised speech to socialist politicians from various countries, who applauded.

Chavez had previously called Ramirez a friend, and a controversy erupted in 1999, after he confirmed he had written a letter to him in prison, in response to a note from Ramirez [12].

Revolutionary Islam book

Carlos is reported to have converted to Islam. In June 2003, Revolutionary Islam, a book "compiled and edited by a French journalist, Jean-Michel Vernochet, on the basis of letters, interviews and texts" by Carlos, went on sale.[13] In it Carlos praises Osama bin Laden and the September 11 attacks and advocates Revolutionary Islam as a "new, post-Communist answer to what he calls US `totalitarianism`", telling readers "from now on terrorism is going to be more or less a daily part of the landscape of your rotting democracies."

However some have questioned the authenticity of the book in the light of the fact that "the French prison system is supposed to control strictly all correspondence between inmates and the outside world."[13] Carlos mistakenly refers to the first four caliphs (known as the Rashidun, or "rightly guided" caliphs) who were only distantly related to each other, as members of a "dynasty known as the `Rashidis.`" He also "confuses Hajjaj Ibn Yussef, the brutal governor of Kufa, with Mansur Al-Hallaj, the mystic who was crucified for blasphemy."[14]

New trial

In May 2007 anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere ordered a new trial for Carlos on charges relating to "killings and destruction of property using explosive substances" in France in 1982 and 1983. The bombings killed 11 and injured more than 100 people.[15]

Popular culture references


  • Frederick Forsyth wrote a novel, The Day of the Jackal, first published in 1971, in which an international assassin known only as "The Jackal" (French "le chacal") is hired to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle. A copy of this novel, mistakenly thought to have belonged to Ramírez Sánchez, is the origin of his "Jackal" nickname. Many erroneously believe that the character portrayed in that novel was based on him; however, the novel was published before Carlos came to public attention.
  • Charles Lichtman wrote a novel entitled The Last Inauguration in which Carlos is hired by Saddam Hussein to carry out a terrorist attack on the Presidential Inauguration Ball, crippling the US economy.
  • Carlos the Jackal features prominently in Robert Ludlum's Bourne Trilogy. In the trilogy, Carlos is depicted as the world's most dangerous assassin, a man with international contacts that allow him to strike efficiently and anonymously at locations anywhere on the globe. His actual name (Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez) is used and details - a mixture of fact and fiction - are given about his upbringing and training, including the fictional account that he trained with Russian intelligence at Novgorod. In the Trilogy, he keeps residence in France disguised as a priest, protected by a close network of contacts. In the Bourne Identity a relatively small amount is revealed about him but he factors prominently in the plot of the book because the title character, Jason Bourne, was an American black ops officer whose mission was to usurp Carlos as the world's preeminent assassin in order to draw him out of hiding so that he could be killed or captured. During this book, it is "revealed" that Carlos in fact orchestrated the Kennedy assassination. In the second book, The Bourne Supremacy, Carlos is not a significant character and is understood to be in hiding. However, in The Bourne Ultimatum, the final book of the trilogy, Carlos and Bourne are pitted against each other again. Carlos the Jackal was portrayed by Greek actor Yorgo Voyagis in the 1988 TV mini series starring Richard Chamberlain, but is not mentioned in the film adaptations with Matt Damon.
  • The 1976 book Carlos: Terror International has Carlos and a doppelganger pursued by a lone Mossad agent. The plot includes real names, organisations, and events, such as the Mukarbal murder.
  • In the Tom Clancy novel Rainbow Six, terrorists attempt to have Carlos freed from prison by staging a terrorist attack on a Spanish amusement park. In this book Carlos is referred to by his real name (Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez) and his nickname (Carlos the Jackal) and is spoken of as a highly successful terrorist/assassin who was imprisoned after an incident similar to his actual capture.
  • Aline, Countess of Romanones (née Aline Griffith), whose first three books were memoirs of her work with the OSS, published in May 1994 a novel, The Well Mannered Assassin, about Carlos the Jackal. The Countess of Romanones knew Carlos as a charming playboy in the 1970s. Without sufficient material for a full memoir featuring him, she turned it into a novel about the trafficking of nuclear materials.


  • The 1979 Mexican film Carlos el Terrorista, starring Dominican-Mexican actor Andrés García, is loosely inspired on Ramírez Sánchez.
  • In the 1981 movie "Nighthawks", Rutger Hauer portrays an international terrorist named Wulfgar. In one scene, Wulfgar shoots 2 French detectives, shortly followed by the informant who betrayed him.
  • In the 1994 film True Lies, Harry (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and "Gib" (Tom Arnold) identify Simon (Bill Paxton) as Carlos while interrogating him. However Simon was only a used car salesman who pretended to be a spy to seduce women, and the interrogation was done to terrify him in retaliation after he attempted to do so with Harry's wife.
  • In the 1997 film The Jackal, starring Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, and Sidney Poitier, Willis plays a character who goes by the name "The Jackal". Ramírez Sánchez is mentioned a few times. This movie is a remake of the 1973 film The Day of the Jackal, starring Edward Fox. Although the 1997 movie is more high tech and moved to the U.S., a number of scenes in it are similar to the 1973 movie.
  • In the 2007 documentary film Terror's Advocate, there is a whole chapter dedicated to him. It covers his involvement with Wadi Haddad, the PFLP, the OPEC raid, and his beginnings when he worked with fellow terrorist Johannes Weinrich. Also included are interviews with his former girlfriend Magdalena Kopp, as well as former terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein, among others, regarding Carlos' behavior and past.
  • A new biopic is in the works, with Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez as the elusive terrorist. The biopic is a trilogy directed by French director Olivier Assayas which will be aired first on french television in February 2010.[16]
  • In the 2009 Danish film Blekingegadebanden (about a minor Danish organization robbing money to send to the PFLP), an interview with him is used.


  • In The Professionals episode, Long Shot, a master assassin by the name of Ramos wearing dark glasses, a medallion and given to referring to himself in the third person, is commissioned to eliminate the head of CI5, George Cowley.

See also



  • Carlos: Portrait of a Terrorist; by Colin Smith. Sphere Books, 1976. ISBN 0233968431.
  • Jackal: The Complete Story of the Legendary Terrorist Carlos the Jackal; by John Follain. Arcade Publishing, 1988. ISBN 1559704667.
  • To the Ends of the Earth; by David Yallop. New York: Random House, 1993. ISBN 0-679-42559-4. This book was also published under the name Tracking the Jackal: The Search for Carlos, the World's Most Wanted Man.
  • Encyclopedia of Terrorism by Harvey Kushner. SAGE Publications, 2002.
  • The Last Inauguration; by Charles Lichtman. Lifetime Books, 1998. ISBN 0811908704.

External links


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