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 Otalolas bedsit
was a perfect fit. Derogatory yet with just a hint of admiration for the cunning
of the canine sometimes known as the lions provider.
In October 1976 Americas 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...