Saturday, August 19, 2006

Jackal, by John Follain

(hb; 1998: biography)

From the inside flap:

“On an August night in 1994 French counterespionage officers seized the world's most-wanted terrorist from a villa in the Sudan. After more than two decades on the run, Carlos 'the Jackal' had finally been caged. For years he had murdered and bombed his way to notoriety, evading capture thanks to powerful backers and the blunders of Western secret services. Jackal is the definitive biography of this self-proclaimed 'professional revolutionary,' ladies' man, and cold-blooded killer. Setting his story against the larger political picture of the time, it exposes how the Soviet bloc and certain Arab regimes sponsored terrorist actions for their own ends during the Cold War.

The tale of Carlos's exploits, including his most daring coup – the kidnapping of eleven OPEC oil ministers in Vienna in 1975 – crackles with suspense, deception, and violence to rival the best-selling fiction of Le Carre and Forsyth. Tracing Carlos's evolution from his childhood in Venezuela to London, Moscow, Paris, East Berlin, and the Middle East, Jackal uses previously untapped sources, including the archives of the East German secret police and the files of France's judicial investigations into Carlos's crimes, to tell his fully story for the first time.

Jackal reveals the web of intrigue, blackmail, and fear that guaranteed Carlos's survival, the helping hand of Colonel Qadhafi, and the true nature of the 'Kremlin Connections.' John Follain shows how the CIA and French intelligence issues their agents a license to kill in their efforts to stop Carlos; how his bravado, combined with events leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, forced him out of the Communist fold; and how betrayal and revenge sealed in a secret pact between France and his masters brought about his downfall...”

Review:

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, born October 12, 1949, in Caracas, Venezuela, became famous in 1975 when a reporter, investigating a Rue Toullier apartment (where Sanchez had lived, and later shot three cops, killing two, wounding the third), noticed one of the novels sitting on a bookshelf: Frederick Forsyth's 1971 thriller, The Day of the Jackal. Sanchez had already been using the nom de guerre Carlos, as suggested by one of Palestinian employers, since 1970, but it wasn't until that 1975 attack that Ramirez became known to international security services, and the public as “Carlos the Jackal,” as he was named by that sharp reporter.

Carlos's career as a “revolutionary” officially began in December 1973, when he bungled the ordered assassination of Joseph Edward Sieff, a prominent London Jewish businessman – Sieff was wounded, but survived. Prior to that, Carlos, son of a revolution-minded father and an intensely Catholic mother, had spent a year or two in Palestinian training camps, learning how to build bombs, use various guns, and utilize psychological terror.

Follain's succinct yet descriptive writing and characterizations of the events and players in Carlos's life keeps the true-life tale moving along briskly. Near the end, the pace slows a bit as the author reveals details about Carlos's trial (which focused on the infamous 1975 Rue Toullier shootings), but it's still semi-interesting.

Worthwhile read, especially if you're fans of Robert Ludlum's Bourne trilogy (Ludlum's Carlos, though notably fictionalized, still bears a faint thematic resemblance to the real-life Carlos), or Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal.

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