French court upholds life term for Carlos the Jackal

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 26, 2013 4:14 PM
French court upholds life term for Carlos the Jackal

By Chine Labbé and Alexandria Sage

PARIS (Reuters) - Carlos the Jackal, once one of the world's most wanted criminals, lost his appeal of a guilty verdict for deadly bomb attacks in France three decades ago, as a Paris court on Wednesday reaffirmed a life sentence in prison.

The Venezuelan defendant, 63, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, had appealed a guilty verdict handed down in December 2011 for masterminding four separate attacks on two trains, a train station and a Paris street that killed 11 people and wounded about 150 more.

The appeals court ruled that Ramirez will serve a minimum of 18 years of the life term.

Asked what Ramirez's reaction to the verdict was, his lawyer Francis Vuillemin said: "a smile".

Ramirez will "in all likelihood" appeal the verdict before France's high court, he said. His lawyers argue that the 18-year minimum prison term should run from 1994, when Ramirez was first jailed in France - which would mean it has already been served.

Before the verdict, the Marxist militant and self-dubbed "elite gunman" who became a symbol of Cold War anti-imperialism delivered a four-hour rambling monologue touching on everything from U.S. foreign policy to Basque separatism and Hezbollah.

Interrupting his speech with flashes of temper and self-deprecating comments about his middle-age paunch, the defendant who represents himself as a commando officer denounced what he called a sewn-up trial and suggestions he was a terrorist.

"I have fought all my life against terrorists," Ramirez said, dressed in a leather jacket, Izod shirt and ascot and speaking rapid-fire French in a thick accent.

"We are not terrorists, we are freedom fighters!"

Ramirez sealed his notoriety in 1975 with a hostage-taking of OPEC oil ministers in Vienna in the name of the Palestinian struggle, and went on to become an international gun-for-hire with Soviet bloc protectors.

But the revolutionary mystique Ramirez once enjoyed - helped by a Che Guevara beret, leather jacket and dark glasses - has worn thin from nearly two decades behind bars in France since his 1994 capture in Khartoum by French special forces, which he calls an illegal kidnapping.

The press gave him his nickname after a reporter saw a copy of Frederick Forsyth's "The Day of the Jackal" at his London flat and mistakenly assumed it to be his.

Ramirez is already serving a separate life term from 1997 for killing two French police officers and an informant in 1975.


Ramirez has complained of lack of financial resources following the March death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, once a supporter.

On the first day of the over six-week appeal, Ramirez accused Venezuela of trying to sabotage his defense by not sending promised funds for his legal team, which included a lawyer he married while in prison.

The French state provided him with court-appointed lawyers.

Prosecutors asked judges not to be swayed by the avuncular look of "the man of a certain age, a bit paunchy," whose hotheadedness now manifests in interrupting the court from a caged-in defendant's box with rambling tirades and raised fists.

"The accused before the court is still the same man, time has changed nothing about him," prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard told judges on Monday in asking that the life term be upheld.

Francis Szpiner, a lawyer representing victims of attacks in the case, told Reuters he had been prepared for the typical courtroom antics of the famous defendant, including name-dropping and bravado.

"We'll be entitled to a funeral oration for Mr. Gaddafi, for President Chavez, a sort of who's who of international terrorism and his connections," Szpiner said on the first day of trial.

"Then on arrival we saw the mask had fallen and Carlos, who was a myth, was a sort of balloon that had deflated," he said.

During the trial, Ramirez said the case against him that took 13 years to build was based on fabricated documents from Eastern Europe, and warned the judges they would be complicit in "U.S. imperialism" were they to heed them.

Prosecutors say the bombs that ripped through two trains, a Marseille train station and parked cars in Paris were Ramirez's answer to the arrest of two of his gang, including his lover.

(Writing By Alexandria Sage and Natalie Huet; Editing by Peter Graff)