Carlos the Jackal has made a surprising return to the news headlines, appearing in a Paris courtroom today to face terrorism-related charges connected to a series of attacks in the early 1980s. Already serving a life sentence for a triple murder in 1975, the man once known as the world's most notorious terrorist is not likely to alter his life trajectory at this point, no matter what the results of this trial may be. But he certainly appears to be savouring his return to the public eye, using today's session as an opportunity to brand himself as a "professional revolutionary" and to launch into bombastic rhetoric.
That's right, Carlos the Jackal. If you're below a certain age, it's no doubt a vaguely familiar name, but not one you can quite place. That's probably because, while he's got a pretty cool handle (even if it makes him sound a bit like an amateur wrestler), the man has been out of the public eye for a long time - he has been in French custody since being taken by undercover agents in Sudan in 1994, and had been on the run for many years before that.
In his heyday, though, the Venezuelan-born Illich Ramirez Sanchez was one of the most feared men on the planet: A leftist terrorist who devised a number of plots to weaken the "imperial" world order, including kidnappings, bombings and murder. He came to global attention in 1975 with the hostage-taking of 11 OPEC minsters at a conference in Vienna, and has been linked to a series of other crimes spanning the late 1970s and early 1980s. (Today's Paris trial concerns four bombings in France in 1982.)
But Sanchez has also become a bit of a pop-culture phenomenon, helped no doubt by his nickname (the "Carlos" was his choice, while the "Jackal" part was bestowed on him by the British press after a copy of Frederick Forsyth's book The Day of the Jackal was found at his U.K. safe house). In fact, even if you have never heard of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (Sanchez's anti-Zionist terror group in the 1970s), you've probably come across one of the many artistic ventures to use his name or image .
Most recently, of course, was the 2010 movie Carlos, directed by Olivier Assayas and starring Edgar Ramirez, which won a Golden Globe as the best motion picture made for television. It also succeeded in making its subject look like the embodiment of revolutionary cool:
Sanchez also features prominently in Robert Ludlum's Bourne Trilogy of books, as the initial target of the compromised CIA assassin Jason Bourne, memorably brought to the big screen in a series of movies starring Matt Damon.
But it was Carlos the Jackal himself - albeit a pop-art, colorized version of the man - who appeared on the cover of Black Grape's 1995 album It's Great When You're Straight ... Yeah.
The connection between a Marxist-inspired terrorist and Black Grape's danceable Britpop has never been entirely clear, but lead singer Shaun Ryder, originally of the early '90s Britpop breakthrough band Happy Mondays, has been quoted as saying that "As kids, we were fascinated by the face of Carlos the Jackal and his many disguises, his giant square head a perfect shape for the cover." [Link 6] And really, must there be a better reason than that?