Chavez praises alleged terrorist Carlos the Jackal

AP News
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Posted: Nov 21, 2009 9:11 PM

President Hugo Chavez is praising Carlos the Jackal, the imprisoned Venezuelan once notorious for a series of Cold War-era bombings, assassinations and hostage dramas, saying he was a "revolutionary fighter" and not a terrorist.

The Venezuelan president lauded Carlos _ whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez _ during a speech Friday night saying: "I defend him. It doesn't matter to me what they say tomorrow in Europe."

Ramirez is serving a life sentence in a French prison for the 1975 murders of two French secret agents and an alleged informant.

He has testified that he led a 1975 attack that killed three people at the OPEC headquarters in Vienna, Austria. He also has been linked to the 1976 hijacking of an Air France jet en route to Uganda.

"They accuse him of being a terrorist, but Carlos really was a revolutionary fighter," Chavez said during a televised speech to socialist politicians from various countries, who applauded.

He said Ramirez had aided the cause of the Palestinians, something Chavez has also supported while verbally clashing with Israel.

In his speech, Chavez sought to defend other leaders he said are wrongly labeled "bad guys" internationally, including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chavez called both of them brothers and said he now wonders whether Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was truly as brutal as he was reputed to be.

"We thought he was a cannibal," Chavez said, referring to Amin, whose regime was notorious for torturing and killing suspected opponents in the 1970s. "I have doubts. ... I don't know, maybe he was a great nationalist, a patriot."

Chavez has previously called Ramirez a friend, and a controversy erupted in 1999 after the leftist leader wrote a letter to him in prison, in response to a note from Ramirez. In that letter, Chavez addressed Ramirez as "Dear Compatriot."

Chavez's remarks on Friday were among his most strident in support of Ramirez. He said he believes Ramirez was unfairly convicted, and called him "one of the great fighters of the Palestine Liberation Organization" at the time.

Ramirez was captured in Sudan in 1994, and whisked in a sack to Paris by French agents. He was convicted three years later.

Ramirez is also accused of having a role in two 1982 bombings in France _ on a Paris-Toulouse train and a car bombing outside the office of Arab-language newspaper _ and is suspected in two train bombings in France on Dec. 31, 1983.

In 2001, Ramirez told the France Soir newspaper that he felt "relief" when he heard about the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. He said he never had links with Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the attacks, but had "strategic points of agreement" with al-Qaida.

Still, in Venezuela some leftists have been receptive to Ramirez. The pro-government newspaper Vea in 2003 published a letter from Ramirez that was a tribute to his recently deceased father, Jose Altagracia Ramirez Naval, a wealthy lawyer and co-founder of Venezuela's Communist Party.

Ramirez described his father as a mentor who taught him everything about "the rules of conspiracy."

Chavez didn't refer to any of the accusations against Ramirez, but suggested the Venezuelan is paying a price for backing the Palestinians' struggle.

Venezuela broke off diplomatic ties with Israel in January to protest its military offensive in the Gaza Strip, and Chavez has directed some of his most heated condemnations at Israeli officials.

On Friday, he protested remarks by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who predicted during a visit to Argentina that the people of Venezuela and Iran will make their leaders disappear before too long.

"Talking about Chavez, among other things he said he will soon disappear _ just like that, which has different connotations," Chavez said. "Imagine if one of us said something similar talking about him or them _ any of them, the 'good guys.'"