Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal, is due to go on trial Monday for a deadly attack in a Paris’ shopping mall decades ago, the oldest one blamed on the former public enemy of France and probably the last one to come to court.
The Venezuelan-born Ramirez Sanchez, one of the most notorious political terrorists of the 1970s and `80s, is serving a life sentence in France for a series of murders and attacks he perpetrated or organized in the country on behalf of the Palestinian cause or communist revolution.
He first was convicted by a French court 20 years ago, and again in 2011 and 2013. If convicted on first-degree murder charges in the latest trial, he could get a third life sentence.
Ramirez Sanchez, 67, is scheduled to appear in a Paris court for allegedly throwing a hand grenade from a mezzanine restaurant onto a shopping arcade in the French capital’s Latin Quarter in September 1974. Two people were killed and dozens injured.
At the time of the attack, Ramirez Sanchez had not yet been dubbed “Carlos the Jackal” or become one of the world’s most wanted fugitives. He was 24 years old and already had joined the organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
When police arrived, they found a devastated mall with all the windows shattered, multiple bloodstains and a hole in the marble slab of the ground floor where the grenade fell. The two men who died were hit by metal chips that perforated vital organs and caused large internal bleeding, according to court documents.
Carlos has pleaded innocent and denied involvement in the case. His long-time lawyer and fiancé, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, claims that none of the witnesses from the trendy Drugstore Publicis restaurant had described a man resembling her client, and that the whole case was trumped-up.
Yet an Arab language news magazine in France, Al-Watan Al-Arabi, published a long interview with a man it identified as Ramirez Sanchez five years after the attack. He allegedly claimed he had personally thrown the grenade into the restaurant, described the full details of the operation and explained why it was carried out. Carlos later disputed he had given the interview.
In the 1979 article, the man said to be Carlos said he attacked the Drugstore Publicis to pressure for the release of a Japanese activist arrested in France two months earlier. The attack, he said, came as a backup operation for a hostage-taking that was then ongoing at the French Embassy in the Netherlands.
It was in the name of the Palestinian cause that he subsequently became the military chief of the PFLP in Europe, claiming the “operational and political responsibility” for all the operations of the group on the continent and also for “all the wounded and all the dead,” according to court documents.
“I am a hero of the Palestinian resistance, and I am the only survivor of [the group’s] professional executives in Europe because I used to shoot first,” he told investigators.
Carlos was arrested in Sudan by the French intelligence services in 1994, 20 years after the first attack blamed on him in France.
The case took so long to go to trial because it was first dismissed for lack of evidence before being reopened when Carlos was arrested and imprisoned in France. His lawyers introduced challenges at every stage of the proceedings.
The case will be heard by a special court made up of professional judges and with no jurors, as is the custom with terrorism trials in France.
During one interrogation, Carlos allegedly told investigators that “in 1974 it was obviously an attack. A grenade was thrown.” He added: “I don’t think the person who did this wanted to hurt the poor people who were present.”