Extracts of Carlos - Portrait of a terrorist
Waltzing Magdalena (From Chapter Fourteen.)
Magdalena Kopp, the quiet girl who used to share a bed with the
Johannes Weinrich, became Carlos lover some time in 1981. She was the
daughter of a post office worker and brought up in Neu Ulm in south-west Germany,
across the Danube from the old cathedral town of Ulm and about 60 miles from
Magdalena grew up a dreamy, not particularly academic child though she liked
the arts. She became an attractive young woman but was impressionable, easily
led. When she was not long out of her teens she became pregnant and had a daughter,
Anna, who was brought up by her parents. In the early 1970s she went
to West Berlin to study photography.
There she got caught up in the Zeitgeist of student protest. For this bastion
of the West was a magnet for those young Germans who thought that even the
dreary surrounding police state was preferable to the competitive striving
by the economic miracle that had nurtured them. Adreaas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof
were role models, an educated Bonnie and Clyde - then a cult movie. Unlike
most of her contemporaries, time did not weary Magdalenas youthful idealism.
Along with several other young women including Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann
and Brigitte Kuhlmann, who was shot dead trying to fight Israeli commandos at
Entebbe, she graduated into the Rote Armee Fraktion as the Baader-Meinhof Group
preferred to be known. Of course, living with Johannes Weinrich, the man who
would become Carlos closest German friend, would have eased her initiation.
Perhaps Weinrich tired of her. Certainly, his friendship with Carlos appeared
to be undiminished by Magdalenas switch to his friends bed. And
for Carlos there seems to have been no doubt that this is what the syrian poet
had been asking him about. For the first time in his life he was deeply in
It came at the right moment. Carlos was now in his early thirties and, it would
turn out, already past his peak. It was a time when a man, especially a man cut
off from his family to whom he was close, might well need more genuine consolation
than the whores the various Communist secret services made available. It was
also the time when things were beginning to unravel in the Eastern European safe-havens
which were definitely becoming less safe, less congenial.
On 21 February 1981 a bomb exploded at the Radio Free Europe studios and transmitter
at Munich. Four people were hurt in the blast. The radio station, a venerable
of the Cold War and at least partly financed by the CIA, provided a platform
for Eastern European émigrés to speak directly to their compatriots.
Most of the regimes who made up the Warsaw Pact had become inured to these
sort of propaganda pinpricks. Rumania was an exception. Ceaucescu was a vain
the political exiles on the Rumanian language programmes knew just where to
put the knife.
There has been speculation, never proven, that Carlos organised the attack on
Radio Free Europe to repay favours of transit and accommodation Ceaucescu had
done him and his gang. At the time Carlos and his gang were certainly well placed
to do it for they seemed to be spending more time in Budapest and East Berlin
than they did in Damascus.
The PLO used to enjoy putting it about that Carlos was always swanning in and
out of Rumania. But they had their own reasons for wishing to smear Ceaucescu
- his relations with Israel. Of all the Eastern European leaders Ceaucescu
was the darling of the West for an independent foreign policy that not only
on full diplomatic relations with Israel but condemned the Soviet intervention
in Czechoslovakia and its invasion of Afghanistan. His domestic tyranny and
spectacular nepotism were politely ignored. He certainly did not give carte
to any passing terrorist - when Abu Nidals gang tried to transit Rumania
they were arrested on sight.
Whether Carlos was involved in the attack or not people made out that Weinrich
and other members of his gang were and the East Germans were furious. For if
he was involved Carlos had broken one of their cardinal house rules for resting
terrorists: no attacks on the Federal Republic without permission. Even if
he was not involved, his general conduct was not at all that of the kind of
man of action they had thought they were sheltering. It certainly did not endear
him to people like Markus Wolf, the head of the East German intelligence service.
Then Wolf, after 1989 a Le Carré character come to light and enjoying
it, never had too high an opinion of him in the first place.
Carlos was a big mouth, he told the Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung
shortly after the terrorists capture. He would spend his nights
at the bar, drinking like a fish, surrounded by women, with his pistol tucked
Even so, at this point the GDR made no effort to kick him out. Nor did they
try to expel Weinrich and the other seven surviving members of the Baader-Meinhof
gang for whom the workers paradise was also home. On the contrary, all
of them were under the personal protection of General Erich Mielke, the Minister
of the Interior.
Mielke had put himself personally in charge of Stasis Department Twenty-Two
which was nominally a counter terrorism unit but in fact exactly the opposite.
It was only against other peoples terrorism. It was very much in favour
of being able to dish it out. In the case of war we could have used such
people to build up a guerrilla force in the hinterland of the aggressor, a network
of specialists that would blow up bridges and attack strategic installations. explained
Meanwhile, the views of the German Democratic Republic on terrorism and all
persuasions of Trotskyist adventurism were well known. In Eastern Europe, Hungary
first country to start to make life difficult for the terrorists. In the years
since the Soviets brutal crushing of the 1956 uprising this had become the
most liberal regime, both economically and politically, in the Eastern bloc.
like East Germanys Honecker, the Hungarian leader Janos Kadar gave Carlos
sanctuary and the terrorist wrote him a letter thanking him for it. Kadar also
allowed Abu Nidal to operate out of Hungary for a while. One wonders why they
did it, these tough old communists. Were they tired of the philistine, coddled
masses who had inherited their revolution? Did they need a distraction from the
constant pressure they were under to lash their labour intensive economies into
catching up with the material accomplishments of the West? Did they see in Carlos
and his ilk some of the idealism and sacrifice of their own revolutionary youth,
the imprisonment and torture and the firing squads they faced when they fought
the Fascists? Didnt they understand that these were mainly the spoilt children
of the bourgeoisie taking up other peoples causes, bored and tearing
the wings off butterflies? Or was it just an easy way of keeping in with the
who wanted to be close to such people but not too close?
In eight years time Kadar would be dead and Hungary one of the first to make
a decent sized rent in the Iron Curtain by allowing East German tourists to
cross into Austria. In the summer of 1981 their security service, which was mostly
staffed by a generation younger than Kadar, was already getting fed up to the
back teeth with the antics of Carlos and his gang. Andreas Petresevics, the head
of their service, called Carlos in for a meeting which the Hungarians videoed
with a hidden camera. Afterwards, part of the tape was destroyed but a couple
of minutes survived to be discovered by the newly installed democrats after Budapests
Communists had cleared their desks and departed with a minimum of disorder
. For the first part of their conversation they spoke in Russian.
We demand that you evacuate your bases from our territory, Petresevics
kicks off. The western intelligence services know you are working out
Youre in league with the imperialists, accused Carlos. Weve
made these agreements and you dont respect them.
We dont have a written contract, said Petresevics, apparently
keeping his cool. We propose an arrangement. You get your bases out of
Hungary and we continue to grant you the privilege of transit.
At this point Carlos loses his temper and speaks in Spanish. Written contracts,
me. I dont know what these do. The only contract I own is this. And
with his left hand he drew his jacket back to reveal the holstered pistol tucked
into his left armpit.
Sadly, the video ends here and we dont get to learn the Hungarian secret
policemans response to being threatened in his own headquarters by a South
American bandit. What we do know is that it was the beginning of the end of the
bolt hole in Budapest, so handy for Vienna and all stops west. The door would
not be fully closed for several more years yet for, as Petresevics suggested,
he was still allowed the privilege of transit. But privileges could
be withdrawn at any time. And they had to be earned.
Carlos decided to give Eastern Europe a break for a while. He went back to
Damascus where he and Magdalena set up house for the first time. By now an
colony of desperadoes had established their Middle East residences there in
the citys tree lined Mezzeh district. Strangers who visited the place
came up against Mukhabarrat bodyguards in bomber jackets and jeans who lounged
the jasmine blossom, smoking Marlboro, combing their hair and watching for
unfamiliar faces. It was inadvisable to display a camera.
Magdalena Kopp was in Paris on behalf of the Mukhabarrat. Her target were the
offices in Rue Marbeuf just off the Avenue George V of the Arabic language
magazine Al Watan Al Arabi in which the Syrian poet Assem el-Jundi had published
with Carlos over two years before. Since the start of the Iran-Iraq war in
1980 the magazine, like most Arabic language publications, had been firmly
Syria on the other hand, in one of those extraordinary realpolitik, self-centred
moves that so characterised the regional politics, had decided to support Khomeini
and the mad mullahs of Iran while continuing to bash its own fundamentalists.
For Assad, this may have been made slightly more palatable because he is himself
an Alawite muslim. The Alawites are very much a minority, a schism of the Shia,
the dominant sect in Iran, whereas in Syria the Muslim Brotherhood is almost
totally from the Sunni sect .
How much Magdalena Kopp understood or cared about the convoluted political knitting
behind the attack on Al Watan Al Arabi is unclear. What really mattered to Carlos
about the attack on Al Watan Al Arabi was that, when the Syrian Mukhabarrat had
subcontracted it out to him, Magdalena had persuaded him to let her take part.
Previously, in all the years of living dangerously with Weinrich, she had always
been a camp follower. Before this time there was no evidence of her ever committing
a crime more serious than travelling on false papers. Now she wanted to show
that she had the kind of guts Brigitte Kuhlmann had displayed at Entebbe. It
was probably something to do with being in love with Carlos.
It was not entirely Kopps fault that it all went so disastrously wrong.
She was teamed up with Bruno Bréguet, a Swiss terrorist living in West
Berlin who joined her in Paris. Brégeut was one of Haddads original
foreign legion and a bit of a jonah. In the early seventies he had been among
those French and Swiss recruits picked up within minutes of arriving at Israeli
ports or at Lod airport because Mossad had planted an informer among them though
they did their best to lay a smokescreen over this. In Bréguets
case this was comparatively easy. They were able to put his swift arrest down
to suspicions aroused when he disembarked from a Cypriot ferry at Haifa at
the height of summer clad in a heavy overcoat. The coat pockets were full of
Sentenced to 15 years the Israelis released him after seven speaking reasonable
Hebrew and some Arabic.
Carlos probably felt that he was not taking much of a risk by indulging his
lover. In the seventies and eighties terrorism was very easy to get away with
capitals of Western Europe. A few obvious targets such as airports and prime
ministers officers had become relatively well guarded but that was about
all. When, just before Christmas 1985, some of Abu Nidals zombies started
mowing down passengers at El Al ticket desks at Rome and Vienna airports four
of them were killed - though not before they had murdered twelve people.
To catch terrorists before they started killing you either needed a lot of
luck, good intelligence like the Israelis had with Brégeut, or a chess players
anticipation and generous logistics to back it up. In 1975 Scotland Yard had
this with four the IRA gunmen they cornered in Londons Balcombe Street
siege. A young detective-sergeant noticed that there was a pattern to their
targets. He then persuaded his superiors to adopt his enormously expensive
central London was swamped with police in civilian clothes though unarmed in
case they mistook each other for terrorists. When the gunmen cheekily machine-gunned
a Mayfair restaurant for the second time the pursuit to Balcombe Street was
The French police could hardly anticipate the moves of Kopp and Brégeut
because they had not yet fired a shot or planted a bomb. But Brégeut
seems to have had little natural ability for crime and they were able to capture
before any harm was done. First of all the car he get for the job was an old
white Peugeot borrowed from a friend, a terrorist for the National Front for
the Liberation of Corsica who wanted it back. The false number plates that
came with it were far too recent for its year of manufacture which made it
to the sort of people whose day-to-day business is cars.
The number plate was the second thing a car parking attendant working in an
underground car park near the magazines offices in Rue Marbeuf noticed when he approached
the Peugeot. The first thing was that the car should not have been there in the
first place because this was a private car park and it was not the kind of place
where people left clapped out Peugeots. He was asking Brégeut what they
were doing and who they were when he found himself looking down the barrel of
an automatic pistol. The couple then sped off and the attendant rushed to a telephone.
Later it was alleged that Brégeut had tried to shoot him but the gun misfired.
Not long afterwards a police patrol car, which thanks to the attendant had the
Peugeots number, picked them up and forced them off the road. Again Brégeut
produced his pistol and again it did not fire. For some reason the gendarmes,
not always noted for their restraint, resisted the temptation to shoot him to
pieces and put them both in handcuffs. Inside the car the police a brief case
containing two kilos of Penthrite plastic explosive and two full gas bottles.
Together the two make a formidable bomb. When the West Berlin police went through
the papers in Bregeuts Berlin flat they discovered the Carlos connection
for the ever obliging Brégeut kept an intermittent and only lightly
Not that Carlos intended to leave the matter in any doubt. His anguish must
have been considerable. Here was the woman he loved, the only woman he had
loved, a very amateur terrorist indeed who had persuaded him, perhaps against
his better judgement when he came to consider it, to let her go on this mission.
Now, thanks to the idiot Bregeut, they faced years of separation. It was intolerable.
The French had to be persuaded to let them go. Surely not an impossible task.
After all, they had let Abu Daoud go and the Germans had wanted him on twelve
charges of murder! But where to begin? Kopp was arrested on 16 February. It
took him nine days to decided on a plan of action. Rather uncharacteristically
Carlos, in these matters at least, he began by putting pen to paper.
25 February 1982
to Gaston Defferre, Minister of State, Minister for the Interior
M. Le Ministre
I am writing to inform you
First: that two soldiers from our organisation, Magdalena Cecilia Kopp and Bruno
Bregeut, have been arrested in Paris by the French Security forces.
Second: that our soldiers have been arrested while carrying out the orders of
those who are accountable for them for a mission which was not directed against
Third: that our soldiers do not deserve prison as retribution for their
dedication to the Revolutionary Cause.
Fourth: that our organisation will never abandon its soldiers.
Following the decision of our Central direction I give you the following warning.
We will not accept our comrades being in prison. We will not tolerate our comrades
being extradited to any country, no matter which.
- an immediate halt to all interrogation of our soldiers.
release of our soldiers within 30 days of the date of this letter.
our soldiers should be released with all the correct documents,
our soldiers should be allowed to travel together by a regular
airline to a country and by the route of their choice.
They should have a French permit
We are not at war with Socialist France and I beg of you not
to force us to be so.
I assure you that the contents of this letter are considered to be a secret
of the Organisation. However, we have no objection to it being made public.
We hope that this business can be brought to an early and satisfactory ending.
By the Organisation of the Armed Arab Struggle - arm of the Arab Revolution.
PS: I place below my thumb prints in order to identify this letter.
also made in French and Spanish
and duly thumb-printed.
The Spanish copy was
mailed to the Interior Ministry from Vienna
and was the last to arrive.
The French copy went to the French embassy in The Hague. The choice of this
embassy was surely part of the message. This was the
embassy the Sony generation
Samurais stormed in September 1974 and where the initial
French refusal to surrender their Japanese Red Army prisoner led
to the grenade attack
on Le Drugstore in S. Germain
de Pret - Carlos first terrorist act.
It was an incredible document. A lovelorn terrorist was declaring war on
one of the most powerful states in Europe unless he got his girlfriend back.
if he had been aware of the passions behind the threat Defferre would have
acted differently. As it was, he didnt have much choice. Someone leaked Carlos letter
to Agence France Presse, the French news agency. After that there was no
way he could enter into any sort of secret deal even if he wanted to.