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Extracts of Carlos - Portrait of a terrorist

The OPEC Raid. (From Chapter Ten)

Edith Heller, the receptionist, was trying to stay awake. The Christmas party season was starting and the tall ash blonde had been up late on Saturday night. A light shone on the small telephone switchboard to the right of her desk. She looked away from the door for a second as shed answered the call. When she looked back two young men were standing there. One wore a basque beret and a leather jacket, the other a big fur hat. The one in the leather jacket held a sub-machine-gun and the other a pistol. This one asked: “Where’s the conference room?” The receptionist had a brief impression of Tichler [Inspector Anton Tichler, an Arabic speaking member of the State Police Bureau, Austria’s security service.] standing by the lifts with his hands up. Then they started shooting.

Half-a-dozen people, mostly civil servants attached to the various delegations, were sitting or standing in the reception area. One of them, an Algerian, motioned the mesmerised Heller, still staring at the firing gunmen, to get down. She did, taking the telephone off the desk with her left hand as she went. Then, with commendable courage, she crouched on the floor behind her desk and dialled the police. “This is OPEC. They’re shooting all over the place,” she said.

Who are you?” asked an incredulous voice.

“OPEC! OPEC! This is OPEC.” The gunfire was loud. She had to scream over it.

Her raised voice attracted the attention of one of the terrorists. He leaned over the desk, pistol in hand, pointed at Heller’s head then shifted his aim slightly and fired. The bullet passed straight through the telephone into the floor. He then put another shot through the switchboard receiver and into the board itself. A horrified Iranian who had watched the shooting from behind his chair was convinced that the receptionist was dead. Then, very slowly, she got up, rubbing her ears which were ringing from the shots.

Two people had already died. Anton Tichler, the cultured policeman, was the first to be killed. The Austrian police teach a judo hold whereby a strong and healthy man, if he is quick and brave enough, might be able to disarm somebody pointing a rifle or sub-machine-gun at them. For a man of sixty, Tichler didn’t do so badly. He seized hold of the barrel of Carlos’s machine-pistol and almost succeeded in wrenching it from his grasp before the surprised terrorist threw him off and ran on into the reception room.

Tichler, perhaps realising by now that he was badly outnumbered, then tried to get away by entering a lift which was already occupied by Frau Hetter Czeczelitz, one of the catering women who pushed coffee-trollies around the building. Frau Czeczelitz was facing the policeman as he entered when the young female terrorist, who had seen his tussle with Carlos, came up behind him and asked in English, “Are you a policeman?” Tichler admitted that he was and began to raise his hands. As he did so, Kröcher-Tiedemann took careful aim and, from a distance of about four feet, shot him in the back of the neck just below the hairline. The policeman slumped down into the lift, dying. Her next move was to drag the terrified Frau Czeczelitz out of the lift and send her darting under Edith Heller’s desk where she discovered the receptionist and another of the coffee ladies. Afterwards, they could not work out how they found the room. Then, in the manner of the worst B movies, Kröcher-Tiedemann pushed the policeman’s body further into the lift and sent it down to the ground floor where the doors opened to reveal the inspector lying in a pool of his own blood. His gun, unfired, was still in its holster.

The next to die was the Iraqi oil minister’s bodyguard Ali Hassan Saeed Al Khafari, a tall twenty-seven-year-old who had married in Baghdad three months before. The Iraqi pulled a gun and is thought to have fired several shots before closing in on the small young woman with the big automatic in her fist who had just shot Tichler. Whether his pistol was empty or jammed, or as an aide to the Iraqi chargé subsequently proposed some inbred Arab chivalry prevented him firing at a woman, is unclear. But he now started grappling with the girl, holding her gun arm to disarm her. In the process he tore her grey, fur-lined jacket down the left side. When she realised Hassan was getting the better of her Kröcher-Tiedemann played her trump card and with her left hand produced the second pistol from her belt and put a bullet through the Iraqi’s elbow and into his face. [In 1990 a court in Cologne acquitted Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann of murder after the prosecution’s key witnessed declined to testify.]

In the statistician’s offices along the corridor Suhail Nasser, a Lebanese who worked for the Kuwaiti delegation, had managed to get a telephone call through to his sister in Beirut - not always easy at the height of the Lebanese civil war. Slowly he became aware that he could hear shooting. “What are those shots?” he asked. After all, he was in Vienna four days before Christmas. She was in war torn Beirut.

“Oh it’s probably a funeral,” said his sister, after eight months of street fighting already the blasé Beiruti. Then there was another burst and Nasser said he had to go and put the receiver down. Once he had stepped out of the room any lingering hopes that the shots had been fired by one of the various rabbles who had taken over his home town were soon dispelled. The corridor was in semidarkness and the air smelt of gunsmoke. The doors of the conference chamber were slightly ajar. He walked towards them. As he did so two things happened at once. a young man wearing a beret and carrying a sub-machine gun across his chest came out of the conference room. at the same time the door to the men’s lavatory opened and out stepped Yousef Ismirli, a stocky member of the Libyan delegation whose wife, by whom he had two children, was an American.

“Ismirli was a strong looking man and I think he’d probably had some military training,” recalled Nasser. Certainly, he did not lack nerve. The Libyan took one look At the gunman and immediately tried to pull the weapon away from him. It began to dawn on Nasser what was happening. Fighting had broken out, he thought, between the bodyguards who accompanied all the Arab delegations. Over the last few days there had been particularly bad feeling between the Iraqis and the Algerians because the Iraqis had undercut the agreed price in a deal with the French.

“I went up to them,” said Nasser. “I said something like, ‘ Hey stop it fellows!’ Carlos kicked me. He had obviously been well trained and it was a very hard kick in the knee. I felt it for months afterwards.”

Then Ismirli gave a final tug and the Beretta was in his hands. As he did so Nasser saw another gunman wearing a ski-mask and also carrying a machine-pistol come out of the conference room. “Then I realised this fight had nothing to do with bodyguards. I wondered if they were Israelis. I yelled at the Libyan, ‘Leave him! Here come another one. Run!’ I saw Carlos go under his coat and pull out another gun, a pistol. I started running back down the corridor. The Libyan was right behind me. I went into one of the rooms on m y right and slammed the door. I didn’t go right into the room. I pressed myself against the wall next to the door. There were shots outside and then he started firing through the door. I think he was probably frightened to come in because he thought I was one of the bodyguards with the delegations and armed. One of these bullets ricocheted and hit me in the right arm. It felt like a red hot poker. Then it became very quiet. I waited a few minutes and opened the door.”

Outside, face down in the corridor, lay the body of Yousef Ismirli, the man who had wrestled Carlos’s main weapon away from and might easily have riddled him with it had he not been distracted by Nasser’s urgent “Run!” The Lebanese noticed there was a lot of blood coming from the back of Ismirli’s neck, as if he had been given the coup de grace there.


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Buy this book from
  Carlos - Portrait of a Terrorist
Mandarin Paperback,
London, 1995

ISBN 0 7493 2008 7
(A revision of the edition first published in London in 1976 by André Deutsch.)
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