Carlos the Jackal: Who is the man behind the nickname?

The terrorist Carlos the Jackal went on trial today for his role in four bombings in the 1980s that targeted trains and a newspaper office, killing 11 people. The native-born Venezuelan was once the most sought-after fugitive in Europe, a mysterious figure who killed two French secret police and an informant before being apprehended in Sudan in 1994.

The Jackal’s real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez. He first gained headlines and notoriety for an attack on an OPEC meeting in 1975 on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in which he took some 60 hostages, including 11 oil ministers. His current trial follows the discovery of evidence against him in communist-era files from Hungary, Germany, and Romania. He is suspected in a dozen other cases for terrorism spanning three decades. 

Today in a Paris court, Ramirez said he was a “professional revolutionary,” according to the Associated Press. He claims involvement in some 100 terrorist attacks. What is the Jackal's story?

Christine Lemarie/AP

How he got his nickname

Christine Lemarie/AP
In this courtroom sketch, by Christine Lemarie, Carlos the Jackal, 62-year-old Venezuelan whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez is shown in Paris Monday on the first day of a trial for four deadly attacks in France in 1982-1983.

Ramirez was first codenamed “Johnny” but is said to have been dubbed “Carlos” on a trip to Jordan. The name “Carlos” showed up on a false passport discovered by the French police.

The nickname "Carlos the Jackal" was coined after the Guardian reported that Fredrick Forsythe’s novel “The Day of the Jackal” was found among his alleged possessions in a London apartment occupied by a Basque separatist named Maria Angela Otaola Baranca. Ms. Baranca's boyfriend found a bag of weapons in the flat and contacted the Guardian. Two reporters found a copy of the Forsyth novel about a hit-man hired to assassinate General Charles de Gaulle, and the nickname was born, though the Guardian later reported the book was simply found on a shelf in the apartment.

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