By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 26, 2010; A07
PARIS -- Long before Osama bin Laden, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal, was the most famous terrorist of his era, bursting onto the scene with a spectacular hostage-taking of 11 OPEC oil ministers in 1975 and feeding his fame with more bloody attacks in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Ramírez, described by the spy novelist Robert Ludlum as "the most dangerous man of all times," has been the subject of numerous books and films over the past two decades, not all of them flattering. But apparently determined to control his image even from his Paris prison cell, he has brought suit against a French production company shooting a documentary film on his life and legend, demanding a say on the final cut.
Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, the lawyer representing Ramírez, said that Ramírez is demanding that the Film in Stock production company hand over a master copy of the documentary as soon as it is finished and grant him three months to review the content and impose changes. Anything else, she said in an interview Monday, would violate his intellectual property rights to his name and "biographical image."
Coutant-Peyre, who is Ramírez's wife as well as his attorney, said the documentary, being shot for France's Canal Plus television network, would likely be a propaganda film unless she and her husband were granted a right to oversee its accuracy. She charged that statements by the producers indicate they plan to portray Ramírez as the instigator of terrorist attacks for which he has not been convicted, violating his right to presumption of innocence.
"It's extravagant," added Coutant-Peyre, who wedded Ramírez in a prison ceremony in 2001.
The lawyer representing Film in Stock, Richard Malka, told a Paris court during a hearing on the case Jan. 13 that no French politician or other public figure would get the right to review a film depicting his life. To grant Ramírez that right, Malka said, would deprive Film in Stock of its constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. The judges said they would hand down their ruling Feb. 4.
The Venezuelan-born Ramírez, now 60, was brought to justice after French police, acting on a U.S. tip, captured him in 1994 as he recovered from surgery in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. Bundled into a French government jet and secretly flown to Paris, he has been incarcerated ever since.
Before his return, he had been sentenced in absentia to life in prison for the killings of two French internal security agents and their informant after they knocked on the door of his Paris hideout in 1975. A Paris appeals court ruled 16 months ago that he must also stand trial before a special anti-terrorism tribunal for a series of spectacular terrorism attacks in Paris in 1982 and 1983.
Ramírez carried out his attacks in the name of Palestinian liberation and against the established order. Although he has converted to Islam since his imprisonment, he fought for secular leftist ideals that are a far cry from the strict Salafist Islam that motivates al-Qaeda and most terrorism today.
The son of a Communist-sympathizing Venezuelan lawyer, Ramírez was named after Lenin.
In the early 1970s, he joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical group headed by George Habash that helped pioneer airline hijackings. As a member of the PFLP External Operations group, Ramírez and Palestinian accomplices kidnapped the OPEC ministers during a meeting in Vienna. Later that same year, according to French police, he tried to bring down an Israeli airliner by shooting a shoulder-fired rocket from the terrace of Orly Airport.
Despite his life sentence, Ramírez has sought to keep a hand in public affairs. He published an autobiography in 2004 and last year sent a letter to President Obama seeking help in tracing an old comrade, Bruno Breguet, a Swiss pro-Palestinian revolutionary who disappeared in 1995 on a ferry from Italy to Greece.