AS the international terrorist known as ``Carlos'' sits in a Paris prison under tight security - awaiting trial for a 1982 attack in the French capital that killed one person and injured 63 others - there is widespread speculation here over his sudden arrest in Sudan and his transfer to France.
Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, who has reaped a huge political profit with the dramatic arrest of Illich Ramirez Sanchez, has categorically denied that there was a trade-off between Paris and Sudan's capital Khartoum leading to the capture last Sunday of the Venezuelan-born terrorist.
Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the head of the Sudanese military junta that took power in 1989, also denied categorically in an interview with the private French TV network, TF-1, that a deal had been made between his country and France for Carlos's arrest. Earlier, Sudan's government spokesman, Abubaker Shingieti, said the terrorist had been expelled for entering the country illegally with a false diplomatic passport.
But a number of Paris newspapers and Africa specialists say Carlos's capture is linked to Sudan's civil war and to Khartoum's effort to remove itself from the United States list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
The French connection?
France has long had interests in northern Africa - particularly Algeria, where a growing Islamic movement is threatening the military regime. And Sudan, an Islamic state and Africa's largest country geographically, has an important influence over Islamic movements in nearby nations.
The Paris daily, Liberation, reported this week that top Sudanese intelligence officers, including Gen. Hachim Abou Said, the head of Khartoum's external-security apparatus, had made numerous visits to France over the past year.
Liberation reported that French intelligence provided authorities in Khartoum with satellite photographs showing the positions of antigovernment rebels in southern Sudan.
``We provided those photographs to the Sudanese,'' said a top government official quoted anonymously by Liberation. ``But we thought they would not be capable of exploiting them, something that requires a high level of technical knowledge. However, they were in fact able to do so with the help of their Iraqi friends.''
Liberation also reported that Paris arranged for Sudanese troops to cross the Central African Republic, where France maintains a strong military presence, so they could enter the rebel-controlled southern Sudan and attack the guerrillas from the rear.
Interior Minister Pasqua labeled the reports in Liberation as ``disinformation'' and said they were the product of ``warped minds.''
For its part, the French daily newspaper Le Monde speculated there may be a link between Carlos's capture and France's decision last December to free two Iranian citizens wanted in Switzerland for the 1990 murder of Kazein Rajavi, an Iranian opposition leader. Khartoum and Tehran maintain close ties, given that they are both radical Islamic states.
Sudan needs friends
Khartoum would have good reasons for cooperating with the French. The Sudanese regime faces a major civil war from separatists in the south, and it is denied all but humanitarian aid from the international community because it is on Washington's list of states that sponsor terrorism.
Khartoum wasted little time after the arrest of Carlos in asking the US for removal from the list, a request just as quickly denied by Washington.
But if France is cooperating with Sudan, it may have little to do with Carlos, although he is believed responsible for killing 15 French citizens. The reports have linked the alleged cooperation between Sudan and France to the deteriorating situation in Algeria. Paris is concerned that if the Islamists reach power in the former French colony, hundreds of thousands of Algerians will flee to France.
Although the conservative government of Prime Minister Edouard Balladur has officially expressed full support for the Algerian military that rules the country, a growing number of French politicians believe that a dialogue will have to be established with the Algerian radical Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) if the worst is to be avoided.
France ``should not give the impression that it unconditionally supports the Algerian government, which is incompetent, corrupt, and illegitimate,'' remarked Bernard Stasi, the vice president of the French-Algeria Association, a private group.
According to well-placed sources in Paris, Hassan Turabi, thought to be the most influential member of the Sudan's military junta, enjoys close links with FIS leader Abassi Madani. According to the sources, Mr. Turabi facilitated contacts in April between French government officials and FIS representative Rabah Kebir. Islamic officials say Turabi has had a moderating influence on the FIS.