Jackal at bay

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 March, 1998, 12:00am

We do not know for sure whether one of the world's most notorious terrorists, Illich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, ever saw the movie The Day of the Jackal (Pearl, 9.30pm) but there is some evidence that he read the original book. It was after a copy of Frederick Forsyth's bestseller was found in his Paris flat that he got his nickname, and not because any of the events in the movie are attributed to him.

The movie is based on the ill-fated attempts of a group of aggrieved white Algerians, who were so enraged by French president Charles de Gaulle's decision to give Algeria back to the Algerians that they decided to kill him.

In real life, the assassination was a badly organised disaster.

In the movie, a young Edward Fox as the hitman is much more competent, but not competent enough to outwit the French police and various other international law agencies who are determined to track him down.

If Sanchez had been in charge of the assassination de Gaulle would quite likely have been killed.

Although his recent performance in a French courtroom, where he was given two life sentences for the murder of French agents in 1975, made him look something of a buffoon, there is no doubt that in his time Sanchez was the most feared terrorist in the world.

He has claimed that he killed 83 people in the name of pro-Palestinian guerilla groups. Police are certain he was behind the shooting of a prominent British Zionist, Edward Sieff (who is part of the clan which owns the Marks & Spencer retail chain); and the dramatic kidnapping of 11 OPEC ministers, which netted him a ransom of more than US$20 million (some reports say he got as much as US$50 million).

But by the time this notorious character was brought to justice by French security agents, who kidnapped him in Sudan, he was not so much fearsome as a figure of fun. He has apparently spent the past 15 years drinking too much and boasting to various women friends about his crimes.

His lawyers complained the only solid evidence French prosecutors had managed to muster against Sanchez consisted of 22-year-old eye-witness accounts ('Better investigations are done on tramps on the Metro,' said one of them, Olivier Maudret).

However, most observers agreed the most damaging testimony came from his own lips. In a four-hour tirade peppered with the kind of Marxist jargon so out of fashion now, he managed to both offend and bore the jury into finding him guilty.

He even made a confession sound like a political statement: 'I admit and claim everything, I am responsible only before history, the comrades, the martyrs, the Palestinian people.'