Six degrees | South China Morning Post
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  • Jan 31, 2015
  • Updated: 8:15am

Six degrees

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 August, 2011, 12:00am

On this day in 1994, terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, aka Carlos the Jackal (below), was captured, in Sudan, after decades on the lam. The glamorous moniker came about by chance: the Venezuelan had preferred the code name 'Johnny'. The Guardian newspaper created the jackal myth when one of its reporters was shown a stash of his possessions and spotted a copy of a book that, in fact, didn't belong to the terrorist at all: The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth ...

As an author, Forsyth forgoes psychological quandaries in favour of technical details and writes in the style of an investigative journalist. His work is littered with characters that are recognisable as their real-life inspirations. A Ukrainian arms dealer, for example, is named Vladimir Bout, in a scantily veiled reference to so-called 'Merchant of Death' Viktor Bout ...

The former Soviet air-force pilot, who is awaiting trial in the United States, made a US$6 billion fortune through his no-questions-asked air-cargo business. The shy man and speaker of seven languages became the inspiration for the film Lord of War. An unimpressed Bout dismissed the film as 'rubbish' and said he felt sorry for the actor who played him, Nicolas Cage ...

Little has been done to dispel rumours of Cage's overt weirdness: in 2009, six months before admitting to taking hallucinogenic mushrooms with his cat, he was appointed goodwill ambassador for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Of the more than 20 films he has made in the past decade, only three have been rated 'watchable' by review website Best for Film. Film critic John Underwood likened a meeting with Cage as 'going to tea with Pol Pot' ...

Before overseeing the deaths of 21 per cent of the Cambodian population, the young Pol Pot was a frequent visitor to the royal palace, where his sister was a concubine to the king. Things changed rapidly when, as a young man studying in Paris in the 1950s, his political inclinations came to the fore after he joined a communist student group and forged a lifelong friendship with its president, Jacques Verges ...

The Thai-born son of a French diplomat and Vietnamese mother, Verges was exposed to racism and the evils of colonialism from an early age. He enhanced his mystery when he left his family for nearly a decade. He has never explained his absence, leading many to believe he had spent the time with Pol Pot. Never one to shy away from controversy (his autobiography is titled The Brilliant Bastard), the provocative lawyer took on high-profile cases, including those of Nazi Klaus Barbie and playboy-cum-terrorist Carlos the Jackal.


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