Want a career that promises excitement, travel, high pay and good times? Try terrorism.
“Carlos,” a new movie about Venezuela-born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez - who gained fame in the 1970s under his nom de guerre, Carlos the Jackal - portrays the terrorist as a committed Marxist revolutionary and remorseless killer who mixes his murderous business with a substantial degree of pleasure. Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez grippingly portrays the Jackal as a narcissistic sociopath free of “bourgeois” baggage like guilt or shame that could slow his killing spree. He’s the perfect romantic villain: charismatic, intelligent and ruthless. One reviewer described a scene in which Carlos bombs a London bank and then takes a luxuriously steamy bath as “the most disgustingly sexy thing you’ve seen in a while.”
The “terrorist as playboy” was a common theme in the decades before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. Ali Hassan Salameh, known as the “Red Prince,” was chief of operations for the Black September organization and mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, among other attacks. He led a lavish, very public life and married Georgina Rizk, who was the 1971 Miss Universe. Sabri Khalil al-Banna, aka Abu Nidal, the original international terrorist franchiser and self-described “evil spirit,” was romanticized by others even though he maintained a low profile. Terrorists like this were the model for later al Qaeda leaders Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who traveled the world spending their sponsors’ money lavishly while committing random acts of extreme violence. They were an inspiration to people who saw terrorism not just as a way to further a political cause but to live in luxury doing it.
Playboy terrorists often meet decidedly unromantic ends. Carlos is serving a life sentence in a French prison. The Red Prince was killed in 1979 by a car bomb arranged by Israeli intelligence. Abu Nidal was found in Baghdad in August 2002, dead of multiple gunshot wounds, ruled a suicide by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Ramzi Yousef is rotting in a Supermax prison in Colorado. When intelligence operatives hauled a grizzled Khalid Shaikh Mohammed out of a bed in his underwear in Pakistan in 2003, they supplied the world with one of the more memorable images of the reality of contemporary terrorism. There is nothing glamorous about spending your days hunkered down in a crumbling flat in Rawalpindi.
These days, terrorists adopt the playboy lifestyle as a stratagem. The Sept. 11 hijackers were instructed to shave their beards and frequent strip bars to allay suspicion. Assem Hammoud, who plotted to blow up train tunnels beneath the Hudson River between New Jersey and Manhattan, was ordered by al Qaeda leaders to live like a party animal to throw investigators off his trail. The subterfuge failed, and he was arrested in Beirut in 2006.
“Carlos” is a window on another time, 35 years ago, when the threat of international terrorism was overshadowed by the reality of Cold War competition and nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. The current mania for anti-terrorism measures and building security was nonexistent. It was a time when a gang of rough-looking characters with duffel bags filled with weapons could walk into a building hosting a ministerial meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and be directed by the staff to the conference room. It was an era when it was perfectly reasonable for terrorists to use a rocket launcher to attack an airplane on an airport runway and, a week later, make the same type of attack at the same airport.
Today, because of the efforts of the generation of terrorists inspired by the Jackal, metal detectors are a way of life and passengers can’t board airplanes without removing their shoes and surrendering their juice boxes. Thanks, Carlos.