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For the Jackal, No Place to Hide : Terrorist’s arrest in Sudan shows change in international attitudes

The world’s most wanted terrorist now sits in a prison cell in France, two years after he was convicted in absentia of the 1975 killings of two French counterespionage agents who were investigating attacks on Israeli airliners at Orly Airport in Paris.

Venezuela-born Illich Ramirez Sanchez, code name Carlos, media-bestowed name the Jackal, was arrested in Sudan over the weekend and promptly delivered to France. The circumstances of his arrest remain murky. Sudan says Carlos entered the country on a false diplomatic passport and along with others engaged in “suspicious activities” that could have embarrassed Sudan. French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua says that French intelligence spotted Carlos in Sudan earlier in the year and urged Sudanese authorities to arrest him. It’s a credible guess that Paris put intense pressure on the Khartoum government to give up the man Pasqua says is responsible for terrorist attacks that killed 83 and injured hundreds worldwide. If so, good for France.

There are two major implications of this arrest. First, the protection Carlos and others like him could once count on from many sympathetic or craven governments has pretty much come to an end. It’s all but inconceivable that in the 1970s or ‘80s any Arab regime would have risked the wrath of Carlos’ allies and sponsors by arresting him. The Cold War’s end and what seems to be a maturing consensus in much of the Arab world that it’s also time to end the long conflict with Israel are producing a new political climate, one in which--just maybe--terrorists will find they have run out of places to hide.

The second far-reaching implication of this arrest is its dramatic reminder that there cannot be any statute of limitations on terrorism, any amnesty, any lack of diligence in pursuing international killers. French intelligence, either acting alone or in cooperation with the agencies of other countries, put a lot of effort into tracking Carlos after and probably even well before he left his sanctuary in Syria. Finally, decades after his infamous career began, it appears that justice will be done. France in this case has earned the thanks of all who support the international rule of law.

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