Carlos the Jackal

Carlos the Jackal

Carlos the Jackal, 1949-, pseud. of the revolutionary and international terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, b. Caracas, Venezuela. Son of an affluent Marxist lawyer, he joined the Communist party at 15 and may have had guerrilla warfare training in Cuba; he later attended university in Moscow. A member (1970-75) of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, he acquired the name Carlos ("the Jackal" was added later by the press) and committed (1973) his first confirmed terrorist act, a botched assassination attempt in London. Becoming a widely feared terrorist with his own small network of operatives, he allegedly worked during the 1970s and 80s for Muammar al-Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Fidel Castro, for revolutionary groups, and for East European security agencies. He is said to have been responsible for more than 80 deaths as well as hijackings, bombings, and other violent acts. His most notorious exploit occurred in 1975 in Vienna when he held OPEC oil ministers hostage. Captured (1994) in Sudan by French agents, he was tried (1997) in France, convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

See biography by J. Follain (1998, repr. 2000).

Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (born ) is a Venezuelan-born leftist revolutionary. After several bungled bombings, Ramírez Sánchez 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 Clairvaux Prison in northeast France.

He was given the nom de guerre Carlos when he became a member of the leftist Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Carlos was given the "Jackal" moniker by the press (The Guardian) when the Frederick Forsyth novel The Day of the Jackal was reportedly found among his belongings. Although the book actually belonged to someone else, the nickname stuck.


Early life

Ramírez Sánchez was born at the Razetti birth clinic in Caracas, Venezuela. Despite his wife's pleas to give their firstborn child a Christian first name, Ramírez Sánchez's father, a Marxist lawyer, gave him the forename Ilich, after Lenin's patronym (two younger siblings were named "Lenin" and "Vladimir"). He was educated at a local school in Caracas and joined the youth movement of the national communist party in 1959. Apart from his native Spanish, he reportedly speaks Arabic, Russian, English and French. After attending the Third Tricontinental Conference in January 1966 with his father, it was said that Ramírez Sánchez spent the following summer at Camp Matanzas, a guerrilla warfare school run by the Cuban DGI located near Havana. Later that year, after the divorce of his parents, his mother took him and his brother to London to continue their studies in Stafford House College in Kensington and the London School of Economics. In 1968 his father tried to enroll him and his brother Lenin at Sorbonne University but eventually opted for Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. He was expelled from the university in 1970.

Apparently, he traveled from there to a guerrilla training camp that was run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Amman, Jordan. It was there that he gained the pseudonym Carlos. He claimed to have fought alongside the PFLP members as they resisted the Jordanian government's efforts to expel them in 1970. When he did leave Jordan it was for London where he attended courses at the University of Westminster and apparently worked for the PFLP.


In 1973 Carlos was associated with the PFLP, who 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 thirty. He later participated in two failed rocket propelled grenade attacks on El Al airliners at Orly Airport near Paris on 13 January and 17 January 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 through Brussels to Beirut.

OPEC raid

From Beirut, Carlos participated in the planning for the attack on the headquarters of OPEC in Vienna. In December 1975 he led the six-person team (which included Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann) that assaulted the meeting of OPEC leaders and took over sixty hostages. 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 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-Meinhoff group and member of the Revolutionary Cells, and Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann, from Algiers. 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. 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. He may have also embezzled some of the ransom money. 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 more permanently 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 set off a number of bombs in retaliation against French targets. Operations in 1983 included attacks on the "Maison de France" in West Berlin in August and two bombs on TGV services in December. These attacks led to pressure on European states that tolerated Carlos. For over two years he lived in Hungary, in Budapest's noble quarter, the second district. His main go-between for some of his money-sources like Gaddhafi or Dr. George Habash was the friend of his sister, "Dietmar C". C., a known German terrorist, was 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 rather a pathetic figure. However in 1990 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. 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. Some attacks may have been attributed to him for lack of anyone else to claim the credit. His own boasts about probably nonexistent "missions" confuse 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. 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. 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 the 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 12 December 1997 and ended on 23 December at which time he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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".

Ramírez Sánchez is engaged to his lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre.

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. Carlos is currently held in Clairvaux Prison, where he is part of the general inmate population.

He is known to have had a sporadic correspondence with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez from his prison cell. President Chávez replied, with a letter in which he addresses Carlos as "distinguished compatriot". On June 1 2006, Chávez referred to him as his "good friend" during a meeting of OPEC countries held in Caracas.

New trial

The new trial will be on charges relating to "killings and destruction of property using explosive substances" in France in 1982 and 1983. In addition to those killed, more than 100 people were injured. Carlos converted to Islam and his wife has stated she believes the prosecution is political.

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, although The Guardian newspaper, credited with giving Carlos his "Jackal" moniker, is featured in The Bourne Ultimatum film.
  • 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 3 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.
  • Carlos the Jackal (Illich Remirez Sanchez) features in "The Long Shot" by Stephen Leather. In it he is working with Mary Hennesy of the IRA on an assassination attempt on the British Prime Minister and, it is later discovered, on the President of the United States at an Orioles game.



  • The character Lacrobat in the British sitcom Whoops Apocalypse is a parody of him (his nick-name is The Devil.)
  • 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.
  • The TV series, Frederick Forsyth Presents, which was made between 1989 and 1990, featured an episode, Death Has a Bad Reputation, in which Carlos (Tony Lo Bianco) is spotted in Rome and killed by British intelligence agents led by Sam McCready (Alan Howard) who wants revenge after Carlos almost killed his son. Elizabeth Hurley is also involved.

Other media

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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