Carlos the Jackal goes on trial in 1980s bombings

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REPORTING FROM PARIS -- The man known as Carlos the Jackal, once one of the world's most feared and hunted terrorism suspects, went on trial in a Paris court Monday for a series of bombings nearly 30 years ago.

Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez was smiling and defiant as he was accused of being the mastermind behind four attacks in France in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 people and injured nearly 200.

Asked to state his occupation, 62-year-old Ramirez replied that he was a “professional revolutionary,” adding “of the Leninist tradition.”

With his gray hair, beard and reading glasses and needing a chair for his “bad back,” Ramirez bore little resemblance to the photographs often circulated of him with a thatch of dark hair, Che Guevara beret and sunglasses, when he was at the height of his notoriety in the 1970s.

However, he had clearly lost none of his ability to provoke, giving a clenched-fist salute to a supporter on the public benches and leaping up to rage, in heavily accented French, about the “racist, Zionist state of Israel.”

“I witnessed my first shooting at 13, when my best friend died in my arms after the police gunned him down,” he said. “I have lots of respect for the victims, but there are many people, innocent people, who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Ramirez is already serving a life term for the killing of two French secret service agents and an informer in Paris in 1975. He was also suspected of being the mastermind behind the hostage drama at the OPEC oil ministers' meeting in Vienna in 1975, which left three people dead.

The self-styled Cold War revolutionary was apprehended by the French intelligence services in Sudan in 1994.

The current trial, expected to last six weeks, centers on four bombings, two against high-speed trains in France. Three other members of his organization, also accused of the bombings, are being tried in their absence: Johannes Weinrich and Christina Frohlich, who Germany refused to extradite, and Ali Kamal  Issawi, a Palestinian who is reportedly on the run.

Ramirez denies any involvement in the attacks.

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-- Kim Willsher

Photo: Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, center, lawyer and wife of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal, speaks to reporters before the start of his trial in Paris. “He's in a fighting mood, as always,” she said. Credit: Charles Platiau / Reuters

 
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