News / Europe

Terrorism Trial Offers Diversion from European Debt Crisis

Convicted Venezuelan terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez, aka "Carlos" waits at Paris Court House prior his questioning by German prosecutors about the involvement of a former comrade-in-arms in the bloody attack on an OPEC conference in Vienna in 1975, (Fil
Convicted Venezuelan terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez, aka "Carlos" waits at Paris Court House prior his questioning by German prosecutors about the involvement of a former comrade-in-arms in the bloody attack on an OPEC conference in Vienna in 1975, (Fil
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Besides Europe's financial crisis, France has been riveted this week by the trial of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known to many as Carlos the Jackal. The trial has sparked debate about old-style terrorism - and what has, and hasn't, changed.

Sanchez high-profile trial begins

This is not the first time Ilich Ramirez Sanchez has gone on trial. The man better known as "Carlos the Jackal" is already serving a life sentence killing two French police and a Lebanese informer in Paris in 1975.

The media has been captivated by 62-year-old Ramirez, who has filled the courtroom with rambling but colorful speeches.

This time, he is being tried in connection to four bombings in France between 1982 and 1983, that killed 11 people and wounded at least 150 more. His lawyer and wife, Isabelle Courtant-Peyre, claims he is innocent.

In an interview on French radio, Courtant-Peyre says Ramirez has been condemned without proof.

Ramirez has a colorful past. Born in Venezuela, he was expelled as a student from the former Soviet Union. He spent a decade on the run in the Middle East, Europe and parts of Africa. He mixed with Palestinian radicals and worked for several Eastern European intelligence services.

"He was a really iconic terrorist at the time. He was the specter of the bogey man [monster] that had all the counter-terrorist organizations and all the governments running around trying to catch him," stated London-based terrorism expert Bob Ayers.

The French finally did -- in Sudan -- acting on a tip from the CIA, according to former French terrorism prosecutor Alain Marsaud.

Change in terrorism

Speaking to French radio, Marsaud says Ramirez defines a bygone era of so-called state-sponsored terrorism, used by countries like Libya, Iraq and Syria. Today, he says, terrorism is carried out by groups -- many of them, like Al Qaida, embracing radical Islam.

But Ayers disagrees. He believes the real change in terrorism is that countries are much better at fighting it. "Terrorist groups -- their purpose is to go off and get a lot of attention to do some very heinous activities to, at least ostensibly, promote their cause. So there's really no difference between people like Ramirez, or Carlos the Jackal, and people like [Osama] Bin Laden," he said.

Despite Ramirez' notorious reputation, Ayers says he was a chameleon figure, more focused on himself than any cause.

"He claimed responsibility for a lot of things that he didn't do, and he didn't do many things very well," said Ayers. "As a matter of fact, as he went through his career, he got bumped around from intelligence service to intelligence service - from the East German intelligence to the KGB -- and everyone was trying to find a place to put this man so he wouldn't embarrass them."

Many Europeans today were not even born when Ramirez was in his prime. But his high-profile trial does offer a diversion from Europe's bleak and very current financial crisis.

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