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On Sunday, December 30, 1973 in an affluent suburb of London, a young man opened the front door of the mansion, where he was employed as a butler, only to be confronted by a young, dark-complexioned man with a gun. The man pointed the gun at the butler and demanded in heavily accented English, to be taken to Joseph Sieff, the owner of the house. Sieff at sixty-eight, was one of the most successful and influential Jewish businessmen in London. Not only was he the president of Marks and Spencer, one of the largest department stores in England but, more importantly to his uninvited guest, was also an honorary vice-president of the British Zionist Federation, an organization that had been instrumental in raising millions of pounds for Israeli charities.

With the gun pressed against his spine, the butler, Manuel Perloira, led the stranger through the house to the staircase that led to the master bedroom. As they climbed the stairs, Seiff’s wife Lois saw them from the first floor landing and quickly stepped back into her bedroom and, locking the door behind her, called the police. The police operator logged the call at 7:02pm.

At the time of the forced entry, Sieff was in the bathroom preparing for dinner. Hearing the butler call his name, he pushed open the door and was confronted by a gloved hand clutching an automatic pistol. Before he could react, the pistol fired sending a nine-millimeter bullet tearing into his face from less than a meter away. As Sieff slumped to the floor seriously wounded, the stranger stepped forward and aimed the pistol at his victim’s head and pulled the trigger a second time. The gun jammed.

Before he could clear the weapon and finish the task, a police car pulled up outside the house, just two minutes after Lois Sieff had placed the call. The gunman fled, but in the shock and confusion neither Lois nor the butler saw him leave the house.

Joseph Sieff, Carlos’s first victim.

Miraculously, Sieff survived. The bullet, which had entered just above his upper lip, had been deflected by his teeth and had lodged in his jaw. The track of the bullet had come within millimeters of his jugular vein. Even though he had survived the shooting, the wound bled profusely and Sieff may have choked on his own blood had it not been for his wife’s decision to turn him onto his stomach.

After he was stabilized by ambulance crews, he was rushed to hospital where surgeons spent several hours removing the bullet and shattered fragments of his jawbone. Some weeks later when he had recovered sufficiently to talk, he told friends that he could only remember the gloved hand clutching the gun, followed by the blast in his face.

The daring assassination attempt was the first act of violence by this young man with the unusual name. Even though he had failed to carry out his deadly task, he had succeeded in escaping unharmed. Had he been arrested on that cold December night, we might never have heard of the man who became known as “Carlos- The Jackal,” the world’s most notorious terrorist.

Carlos was born in Caracas, in the state of Tachira, Venezuela on October 12, 1949. His mother, Elba Maria S?nchez had planned to give him a Christian name in keeping with her strong Catholic beliefs. Jos? Altagracia Ram?rez Navas, the boy’s father, had other ideas. As a devout Marxist, he insisted that his first son should be named after his hero, Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov or Lenin, as he was better known. Stubbornly ignoring his wife’s protests, Jos? registered his son as Ilich Ram?rez S?nchez.

Jos? Altagracia Ram?rez Navas (Yallop)

Ironically, in his youth, Jos? had entered a Catholic seminary with the intention of becoming a priest. However, after completing only three years of study, he declared himself an atheist and returned home to the town of Michelena in Tachira. He was later accused of harboring an outlaw by the Tachira authorities, who labeled him as a Communist and expelled him from his home state. Angered by the decision, he crossed the border into Colombia and enrolled in a Bogot? university to study law. Not long after commencing his studies, he aligned himself with a leftist faction in Bogot? and by the time he had completed his law degree he had become a committed Marxist-Leninist.

Determined that Ilich would not waste his life pursuing Christian ideals, Jos? taught his son Marxist doctrine and regaled him with the exploits of the many leftist revolutionaries that South America had spawned. His mother, on the other hand, refused to stand by and see her son turned away from the church and had him baptized in secret. On other occasions, while her husband was away on business, she took Ilich to mass in an attempt to dilute her husband’s teachings. Even though he loved his mother for her tenderness and respected her for her refusal to bow to her dogmatic and overbearing husband, Ilich later embraced Marxism as his “one true religion” and turned his back on the church forever.

In 1951, his brother was born. Again, Jos? had his way and named the boy Lenin. Seven years later a third son was born and according to the same tradition was named Vladimir. In later years “Carlos” was quoted as saying: “It was bloody stupid of my Father to give his children such weird names. That kind of thing weighs on the children. In my case it was fortunate, but things were different for my brothers. They are not ashamed of their names, but it did cause them problems in later life.”

Owing to the success of his legal practice Jos? was able to afford to hire private tutors to teach his eldest son the finer points of communist doctrine. While Ilich was singled out for specialist teachings, he reared all three of his son’s under a strict code of ethical behavior to the point that he later wrote a pamphlet for them setting out the moral, ethical and civic standards that he insisted they adhere to.

Ilich at sixteen (Yallop)

As Ilich grew taller and heavier his friends teased him calling him “El Gordo” (Fatso). He hated the name and would scream in anger and counter their taunts by telling them how one day they and the rest of the world would hear of him. Regardless of the name-calling, Ilich became a natural leader in a group comprising his brothers and their friends.

In 1958, because of her husband’s blatant womanizing, Elba took her sons and left the family house, traveling to Jamaica then Mexico and back to Jamaica again before returning to Caracas in 1961. The years of traveling were disruptive for the boys and particularly affected Ilich. His schoolwork suffered but he discovered that he had a flair for languages and reveled in the different cultures he encountered.

Elba’s period of absence from the family home had done nothing to correct the instability in her marriage, to the point where Jos? began bringing his mistresses home. The couple was divorced two years later. Ilich was only thirteen when his parents split but, by his own admission, was relieved that the bitterness in his family was finally over.

After the divorce, Ilich was sent to the Fermin Toro Lyc?e School in Caracas. The school, which had been chosen by his father, was known for it’s radical left-wing teachings with many of the students becoming involved in street marches to protest over the liberal government’s ban of the Communist Party. In January 1964, Ilich joined the Venezuelan Communist Youth and became embroiled in their revolutionary activities, which included violent demonstrations against the ruling government. Ilich would later brag of his exploits and organizational abilities during his time at the school but Pedro Ortega Diaz, the president of the Venezuelan Communist Party at that time, later told authorities that Ilich had not made any memorable contribution to the cause.

Regardless of his lackluster involvement with the Communist cause, in 1966 Ilich was reported to have been a budding revolutionary under the guidance of no less than Fidel Castro and the KGB. According to claims made in various publications over the years, young Ilich was sent to a Cuban indoctrination camp by his father to study sabotage techniques and other terrorist activities. The camp in question was called Camp Mantanzas and was run by Castro’s Direccion General de Inteligencia (DGI) and Castro’s KGB adviser, Viktor Semenov.

The stories suggest that Ilich was a prize student at the camp and was personally tutored by Antonio Dagues-Bouvier, an Ecuadorian guerrilla warfare expert and a senior KGB officer, in the use of explosives, automatic weapons, mines, encryption and false documents. Another story tells of his meeting with the notorious Father Camillo Torres, a Colombian priest who became a guerrilla leader under Che Guevara.

Whether he received training from the Cubans is still a point of contention but two episodes seem highly unlikely. The first is that he could not have met Father Torres in Cuba because soldiers of the Colombian army had killed the priest in Colombia in February 1966. In addition, General Semenov did not become the head of the KGB in Cuba until 1968, some two years after Ilich was supposedly trained there.

These and other stories regarding Ilich’s training were apparently circulated by the CIA based on information supplied by Orlando Castro Hidalgo, a former member of the DGI who defected from the Cuban embassy in Paris. He supposedly told the CIA that Ilich was one of the many Venezuelans that received terrorist training in Cuba. In recent years a former head of the counter-terrorism department of the CIA has given evidence admitting that the CIA had no evidence to support the claim.

What has been confirmed is that in August 1966, Elba took Ilich and his brothers to London to continue they’re schooling. After the family settled in West London, Ilich was enrolled at Stafford House Tutorial College in Kensington. His teachers remembered him as an outspoken, opinionated, lazy young man who would rather cheat than study. He was also known for always being elegantly attired in expensive clothes. Regardless of his reputation, Ilich mastered his subjects and passed all his exams and moved on to the Earls Court Tutorial College.

During this period of his life, Ilich and his brother Lenin were reported as having been members of the Royal Kensington Rifle and Pistol Club, where they supposedly received instruction in the use of firearms. Again, there is no record of their membership or their having completed the probationary training period, which is compulsory for any prospective members. In addition, an investigation by Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch revealed that the brothers had never been involved in the club.

Rather than becoming a terrorist, Ilich’s time in London indicated that he seemed more intent on living the life of a playboy, and was often seen accompanying his mother to embassy cocktail parties. His life wasn’t entirely social however as, soon after arriving in London, he joined a group of British activists who were planning to set up an international association for communist students. Ilich would later be given credit for creating such an organization when in fact; he had attended only one meeting and left when he became aware that the police were carefully scrutinizing the proceedings.

His political career could have begun shortly after in 1967 when the Venezuelan guerrilla group, Armed Forces of National Liberation, asked him to travel to Eastern Europe and organize a group of young Venezuelan Communists in the Communist Bloc countries. His plans were curtailed when his father arrived in London later the same year and told his sons that he wanted them to continue their education at the Sorbonne in Paris. In May 1968, Jos? took Ilich and Lenin to Paris to make the arrangements but found that the city was in the midst of violent student protests. Although like-minded Marxists instituted the protests, Jos? had no wish to see his sons involved in violent street fighting and abandoned his plans.

Anxious for his sons to gain a “suitable” education, Jos? contacted the cultural attach? of the Soviet embassy in London and made arrangements for the boys to attend Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. Much speculation has since been made that, on his arrival in Moscow, the KGB recruited Ilich based on a recommendation from the Venezuelan Communist Party. The only evidence of such an approach came from the records of the Venezuelan Communist Party that showed Ilich as having been awarded a study grant from the “Soviet-Venezuelan House of Friendship” a connection that may indicate some form of endorsement.

The Patrice Lumumba University was considered a training ground for the future leaders of the Soviet Union’s expansion into third world states. Ilich and Lenin were excited by the prospect of furthering their studies in ‘Mother Russia,’ the heartland of the Communist ideal. Their excitement quickly diminished when they were subjected to the harsh surroundings and even harsher codes of discipline. In his first year, spent learning the Russian language and examining Marxist culture, Ilich rebelled and spent more time drinking and chasing girls than studying. His teachers were not impressed.

With a generous allowance, provided by his father, Ilich was able to afford all the drink and good times he could handle. Like his father, liaisons with women became an important part of his life but few relationships lasted very long. Ilich described one woman in particular, a Cuban by the name of Sonia Marine Oriola, as his “one great love story.” The relationship ended when the pregnant Sonia returned to Cuba and shortly after gave birth to a daughter. Anxious for news of his child, Ilich made several attempts to contact Sonia but received no response.

Although Ilich seemed to embrace Marxist teachings, his classmates remember him as more of a romantic than an idealist. Regardless of his lack of enthusiasm toward his studies, Ilich was seen as a young man with potential, particularly with the Venezuelan Communist Party. Dr Eduardo Gallegos Mancera, a senior member of the party’s politburo, offered him a post as the party representative in Bucharest. He turned the offer down, a move that was seen as a blatant insult to the one organization that had supported him. The final insult came when Ilich openly supported a rebel faction that the party was attempting to dissolve which led to his expulsion from the party in 1969.

Without the support of the party that had sponsored his studies at Lumumba, his days in Moscow were numbered. Several attempts were made by the university authorities to convince Ilich to cease his extra-curricular activities and concentrate on his studies but their efforts fell on deaf ears. Ilich became even more brazen in his activities and verbally abused anyone who dared to criticize him. Finally in 1970, when Ilich took part in a demonstration organized by Arab students, he was officially accused of “anti-Soviet provocation and indiscipline” and expelled from the university. One theory suggests that the expulsion was a ruse organized by the KGB to cover up his recruitment into their service but no evidence can be found of such an arrangement.

While studying at Lumumba, Ilich formed an alliance with several Palestinian students and listened attentively as they related stories of their homeland’s struggle against its archenemy Israel. They spoke in glowing terms of a rebel leader who had organized a terrorist campaign to liberate Palestine. The man’s name was Wadi Haddad. In partnership with George Habash, a fellow student at the American University in Beirut, Haddad had been instrumental in founding the Arab Nationalist Movement in the early 1950’s. The members of the movement dedicated themselves to a campaign to take Palestine back from the Israelis. Prior to the Six-Day War, their methods had been peaceful but soon after, fuelled by bitterness over their nations humiliating defeat, Haddad formed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and introduced a new manifesto – The Liberation of Palestine by acts of violence against the State of Israel. The basic doctrine of the organization was Marxist; the new method used to achieve its ideals was international terrorism. The first such act was in 1968 when armed terrorists hijacked an El Al 707 passenger aircraft that was en route from Rome to Tel Aviv. The aircraft was forced to land in Algiers where the terrorists took the passengers hostage in exchange for the release of sixteen Palestinians who were serving time in Israeli jails. Initially, the Israeli government refused to negotiate with the terrorists but after a month had passed they changed their mind and acceded to the Palestinian requests. The aircraft passengers were released unharmed but not before the Israeli’s had suffered a humiliating defeat of their own.

Wadi Haddad

News of Haddad’s achievements spread quickly throughout the world and in the years that followed other terrorist groups aligned themselves with his cause including Germany’s Baader-Meinhof gang and Italy’s Red Brigade. The Popular Front also made a favorable impression on the KGB, which resulted in direct support from Moscow. It was through this alliance with Russia that Ilich first became involved with the Popular Front. Rifaat Abul Auon, Haddad’s representative in Moscow, met with Ilich and subsequently invited him and a select group of his fellow students to attend a terrorist training camp in Jordan. Intrigued by the offer, Ilich left Moscow in July 1970 to travel to the Middle East.

His first stop was Beirut where he arrived unannounced at the office of Bassam Abu-Sharif, the unofficial “recruiting officer” for the Popular Front. Abu-Sharif was impressed with the fervor of Ilich’s convictions and made arrangements for him to begin his training. According to subsequent investigations, it was at that first meeting that Ilich was given the name that, in the years to come, would strike terror throughout the world. From that day forward, Ilich was known only as “Carlos.”

Within weeks of the meeting, Carlos traveled to a Palestinian training camp in the hills north of Amman, Jordan to begin training in weapons handling and explosives interspersed with heavy doses of political propaganda. Even though he did well in his studies there, the course was peppered with fake attacks and other tests of the trainee’s bravery. Carlos refused to take them seriously and longed for “real action.” In the final week of his training, he got his wish when Israeli jets bombed an adjoining camp and killed a member of Yasser Arafat’s personal guard. A week later, Carlos returned to Amman. Anxious to move on to “more exciting” pursuits, Carlos contacted Abou Semir, a senior member of the Popular Front, and was sent to an advanced commando training camp.

On September 6 1970, Haddad ordered the simultaneous hijacking of four airliners bound for New York. Leila Khaled, one of Haddad’s trusted lieutenants, led the first attack. Khaled had come to notoriety when she had successfully hijacked a TWA flight to Damascus in 1969. In July 1970, Khaled had escaped serious injury when remote controlled rockets were fired into Haddad’s house during a meeting. Incredibly, two of the four rockets failed to explode but Haddad’s wife and eight-year-old son, who were in another room, received cuts and burns. Haddad blamed Mossad, Israel’s secret service, for the attack.

Khaled’s mission was to hijack an El Al flight, which was en-route to New York from Tel Aviv via Amsterdam. The plan was for Khaled and her accomplice, Patrick Arguello, to pose as a married couple and take control of the aircraft. As the plane approached the English coast, the pair rose from their seats and, brandishing guns, made their way to the cockpit. As they reached the flight deck the pilot thrust the aircraft into a steep nosedive throwing the terrorists off their feet. In the scuffle that followed, Arguello threw a hand grenade down the aisle of the plane and was shot dead shortly after by an El Al “sky marshal.” Fortunately the grenade failed to explode. Khaled was overpowered by male passengers and savagely beaten as she tried to retrieve her own grenades, which had been secreted inside her brassiere.

After an emergency landing at Heathrow Airport, Khaled became the subject of a heated argument as El Al security and British police fought over who had jurisdiction over the prisoner. Eventually the Israelis conceded defeat and Khaled was taken into British custody.

Dawson’s Field, 1970

The second attack also met with problems when the Pan Am 747 was found to be too big to land at the Jordanian airstrip that Haddad had selected. Instead it was flown to Cairo where the passengers and crew were ordered off before the plane was blown up. The other two aircraft, a Swissair DC8 from Zurich and a TWA 707 from Frankfurt were successfully captured and flown to Zarqa airstrip in Jordan as planned. In honour of the event the Palestinians renamed Dawson’s Field, a former British airstrip, “Revolution Airstrip.” In a public announcement, the Popular Front described the attacks as the first strike in avenging “the American plot to liquidate the Palestinian cause by supplying arms to Israel.” They further ordered the Swiss and West German governments to release several of their jailed comrades.

A further hijacking by a Popular Front sympathizer saw a BOAC flight from Bombay to London carrying 150 passengers taken hostage and held at Zarqa pending Khaled’s release. After twenty-four hours of intense negotiations, 360 passengers and crews were released in exchange for Khaled and six other convicted terrorists. As a final act of revenge, terrorist bombers destroyed the aircraft. Carlos, as a new recruit with no experience, was not used in the attacks but spent the time guarding a munitions depot far from the action.

Prior to the hijackings, King Hussein of Jordan had been mostly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and had allowed over fifty terrorist groups into his country. Tensions had been mounting however, since Palestinian attacks on Jewish targets had increased Jordan’s vulnerability to retaliatory strikes from Israel. The tension increased in February 1970 when Jordanian troops, attempting to enforce a royal decree that ordered the Palestinians to surrender their guns and explosives, clashed with the “freedom fighters” in a street brawl that lasted three days. The decree was later abandoned.

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