Looking relaxed in jeans and a blue jacket, Carlos Ilich Ramirez Sanchez told Judge Olivier Leurent, as questioning began, that he was “a professional revolutionary”.
He makes no secret of his past as leader of a gang which carried out attacks on behalf of Warsaw Pact countries and pro-Palestinian causes.
The trial has attracted considerable public attention, and there were several well-wishers in the packed courtroom.
Speaking before the start of proceedings, controversial French stand-up comic Dieudonné Mbala Mbala, who is involved in extreme right-wing politics and has been convicted of anti-Semitism, appealed for “Commander Carlos” to be allowed to return to Venezuela.
The trial deals with four attacks that are thought to be part of a private vendetta Carlos waged against France, in a bid to have freed two comrades, including his future wife, who was arrested in Paris while planning to attack the Kuwaiti embassy. He denies all the charges.
This first bombing on March 29, 1982 aboard the “Le Capitole” express train running from Paris to the southern city of Toulouse, killed five people and left 28 wounded.
That attack was claimed by the “International Terrorist Friends of Carlos” and was followed on April 22 of the same year by a car-bomb in front of the Paris offices of the anti-Syrian newspaper Al-Watan Al-Arabi which killed a passer-by and wounded 60 people.
On the same day, Bruno Breguet and Magdalena Kopp, comrades of Carlos were convicted of the foiled embassy attack.
Two more bombings took place on New Year’s Eve in 1983. One hit a high-speed TGV train between Marseille and Paris, killing three people and wounding 13. Moments later, a bom in a Marseille train station killed two.
The trial is expected to last six weeks during which Carlos, and around 20 witnesses are expected to be called, including family members, experts and former accomplices.
He will travel daily to the trial from La Santé prison in Paris. He has been held in various Paris prisons since he was arrested in Sudan in 1994, and transferred to France where he was convicted in 1997 of the 1975 murder of a civilian and two policemen and jailed for life.