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Extracts of Carlos - Portrait of a terrorist

Trophy Terrorist (From Chapter Thirteen)

“He was signing autographs like a film star,” Senor Valentin Acosta, the Venezuelan oil minister used to say when he spoke, as he often did, about the unexpected excursion he took to North Africa courtesy of his young compatriot during that Christmas week of 1975. “Carlos was signing them whether people wanted them or not .”

Understandably, most of them did. Flattery might save your life. And even if many of the delegates had never heard of “the famous Carlos” until they were looking down the barrel of his gun there was no denying that by the end of the OPEC raid El Gordo had become the celebrity he always wanted to be. His chubby features were getting as familiar as a postage stamp. Wanted posters, newsprint and TV bulletins everywhere all carried the same picture. It was the photograph that appeared on his false Peruvian passport in the name of Carlos Martinez. It was probably taken in the late sixties when he was coming out of his teens. In it he stares straight at the camera. The eyes are clearly visible through the large frame spectacle, the nose straight, the thick lips unsmiling in the manner that used to be considered essential for passport photographs. His hair is combed forward in the suggestion of a Beatles’ fringe; the shirt has a large, floppy, floral sixties collar and the sideboards are well below the ears; the face they grow on is rounded, the cheeks slightly inflated. It suggests the genes of the native South American, the kind of Indian face you might expect to see in a dugout canoe along the banks of the Orinoco.

Haddad had recruited foreign terrorists who were just as ruthless and apparently dedicated to the Palestinian cause as the Venezuelan but, like Arguello and the kamikazes of the Japanese Red Army, they were usually dead or captured and in either event forgotten before their names became common currency. Somehow Carlos was accessible, a fully fleshed, three-dimensional human being with a past full of doting parents, loyal brothers, smitten lovers, and schoolteachers who had always suspected he was a big headed prat who would come to a bad end. And the nickname The Guardian reporter Peter Niesewand had inspired by mentioning the Forsyth thriller found along with the arms cache in Angela Otalola’s bedsit was a perfect fit. Derogatory yet with just a hint of admiration for the cunning of the canine sometimes known as “the lion’s provider”.

In October 1976 America’s People magazine, in a somewhat awe struck profile, was gushing that Carlos was a case of “life imitating art”. He was, said People, a heavy drinker, smoker, art lover, spoke six languages, a master of disguise and read the works of Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carré. Yet Carlos’ career had already reached its highwater mark...


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  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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