PARIS — Global terrorism, as well as a single terrorist, is on trial in a Paris courtroom.
Even as his trial began Friday, Carlos the Jackal - once one of the most sought-after terrorists - revealed the scope and reason for his years of leading violent attacks:
"My profession: professional revolutionary," he told a court in thickly accented French. "My last address? Listen, the world is my domain."
Technically, the native Venezuelan, whose real name is Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez, is charged for the 1975 murders of two French agents and an informant. But the trial may have wide repercussions.
Testimony is expected to reveal the support structure he used to bomb targets across Europe, information that could give antiterrorism agencies insight into the tactics of groups still active.
More broadly, the trial signals that neither the passage of time nor powerful allies can protect terrorists. They will be brought to justice.
"This sends the message that no matter when acts were committed, a terrorist can be held accountable," says Franoise Rudetzski, head of SOS Attentats, a group that helps the victims of terrorist attacks. "It serves as a warning."
A spokesman for the US State Department's Counter Terrorism Bureau adds that the warnings are getting tougher. "We're seeing an ever-increasing number of terrorists being put on trial, more than there ever were 20 years ago, and they're getting tougher sentences," he says.
It has taken the French 22 years to bring Carlos to justice. In the summer of 1975, Carlos was posing as a student in Paris when French agents arrived at his girlfriend's apartment with a Lebanese informer who had led them there. He killed two agents and the informer and then fled.
France convicted Carlos in absentia for those murders in 1992, but French law requires a retrial on the accused's return. In 1994, he was captured in Sudan and has spent the past three years in solitary confinement.
His path to radicalism began with his father, a wealthy Venezuelan lawyer and fervent communist who named his son "Ilyich" after Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Carlos has said he was involved in Latin American terrorism at 14. He went on to study at a Moscow University, receive guerrilla training in Cuba, and join the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which gave him the Carlos code name. British papers later dubbed him "the Jackal" after a character in a Frederick Forsyth novel.
By the time of the Paris killings, he had been linked to the 1972 murders of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, among other attacks. He went on to mastermind the 1975 kidnapping of OPEC's oil ministers and the Palestinian hijacking of an Air France jet to Entebbe, Uganda, which ended with an Israeli commando raid.
The trial is expected to reveal the workings of the networks Carlos used to stage such complex raids. This, in turn, should shed some light on the organization of terrorist groups in Europe today, says Dominique Nasplezes, French author of "Carlos: The Secret File."
"Twenty years ago, terrorism was dominated by a network of extreme left groups: Action Directe in France, the Red Brigade in Italy, the Baader Meinhof in Germany," he says. "What we'll learn is how these organizations worked together to hide equipment, ship weapons, and get logistical support. And what applies to them, applies to terrorist Islamic groups today."
Mr. Nasplezes cites groups such as the Egypt's Islamic Group, the Islamic Salvation Front, and the Algerian Islamic Armed Group, describing them as the equivalent of the PLO in the 1970s. "They are linked to each other," he says, "and arm themselves and operate like the earlier leftist groups."
The extent of Europe's Islamic terrorist network became clear at a trial here last month of 13 men linked to a fatal 1995 commuter-train bombing in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Hearings revealed details of groups that spanned Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada. Young men trained in Bosnia, Algeria, and Pakistan shipped and stockpiled weapons and bombmaking equipment, provided false passports, and conveyed messages to terrorist leaders.
France has been the target of violent Algerian militants in recent years and has been working hard to crack those organizations. While testimony from Carlos may shed some light on the logistics of these groups, there are risks associated with putting him on trial, as it could provoke retaliatory attacks.
"Precedent says that these kinds of activities are followed closely and can be related to future acts," says Mitchell Hammer, professor of international relations at the American University in Washington.
There was evidence of that just last month. The Islamic Group, which claimed responsibility for the Nov. 17 massacre of 58 foreign tourists in Luxor, Egypt, said it acted to free one of its founders who is serving a life sentence for his role in the World Trade Center bombing. The week before, militants shot four Union Texas Petroleum employees in Pakistan. They said later they were punishing the US for convicting a Pakistani two days earlier in a Virginia court for killing two CIA agents.
The trial of Carlos is a vindication for France. After the French captured his ex-wife, German terrorist Magdalena Kopp, in 1982, he launched a series of attacks that eventually led to her release in 1985. Of the 83 people Carlos is thought to have killed, 15 have been French, and France has long sought to avenge the deaths of its intelligence agents.