By Alexandria Sage
PARIS (Reuters) - Calling himself a "living martyr," Marxist militant Carlos the Jackal defended his innocence in a French courtroom on Thursday, seizing the limelight on the final day of his trial for a series of bombings in the early 1980s that killed 11 people.
Once one of the most wanted international criminals, the Venezuelan-born defendant, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, addressed the court in a five-hour monologue, alternately rambling, vitriolic and poignant, as he prepared to hear a verdict expected for later Thursday night.
Ramirez, 62 -- a self-dubbed "elite gunman" who has been lingering in a French prison since his capture in 1994 serving a life sentence for murder in a separate case -- appeared resigned to a likely guilty verdict.
Death in prison, he said at one point, "is the role of a revolutionary."
"I am in prison ... condemned in a pre-decided case," he told the court, his voice rising in volume. "I am a living martyr."
Ramirez, a colorful figure recognizable at the height of his notoriety by his Che Guevara-style beret, sunglasses and Havana cigars, sealed his renown in a bloody hostage-taking of OPEC oil ministers in 1975.
During the Cold War he received backing from Soviet bloc and Middle Eastern countries, staging attacks throughout Europe for more than two decades before being captured in Sudan in 1994.
During the six-week trial, Ramirez appeared more like a master of ceremonies than a defendant, talking over speakers, interrupting judges, correcting lawyers, and occasionally beaming benevolently from his caged-in defendant's box.
He denied any specific involvement in the four bloody bombings in 1982 and 1983 on a Paris street, two trains and a Marseilles train station that wounded nearly 200 people and left 11 dead. Prosecutors say the bombings were Ramirez's answer to the police seizure of two of his gang, including his lover.
"There is nothing ... to connect me with these four attacks," he told the court, making a zero sign with his thumb and index finger.
Like a modern-day Scheherazade, Ramirez wove story after story, often smiling and waxing nostalgic about former comrades, and sometimes turning fiery to rail at the system.
His unrelenting discourse touched on a variety of topics, from prison life to Zionist strategy, Soviet passports, the French state, hashish and even the death penalty.
Ramirez broke down, his powerful voice wavering when, at the end of his speech, he read from what he said was the last will of fallen Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
"I will continue the fight," he read from the text, before breaking off, overcome with emotion. A group of about a dozen youths in the courtroom audience raised their fists in the air, shouting encouragement at Ramirez.
"Salam Alaikum," or "Peace be with you," said Ramirez, who converted to Islam while in prison, before giving a final fist in the air to the crowd.
MAN OF COMBAT
Accused of being a gun-for-hire by his opponents, and a cold-blooded killer by a former cohort turned witness against him, Ramirez introduced himself on the first day of the trial as "a revolutionary by profession."
Casting himself as a convenient scapegoat, he questioned why no one had ever been arrested in France for the attacks. The evidence in the case, he and his lawyers say, is based on unreliable witnesses and photocopies of documents from Eastern European secret service archives.
Clearly enjoying the limelight, Ramirez displayed a fondness for name-dropping, variously citing a cast of historical and modern-day heads of state from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Soviet leader Stalin to former French president Jacques Chirac, mentioning the latter's guilty verdict given in the same courthouse earlier in the day.
He explained to the court the proper way to load a 9-millimeter pistol, correcting a prosecutor's knowledge of how many cartridges such a gun holds.
"You really aren't a man of combat," he told him.
Prosecutors had argued Ramirez remains a public danger and demanded he be sentenced to an additional life term and serve a minimum of 18 years.
(Reporting By Thierry Leveque and Alexandria Sage; Editing by Sophie Hares)