Over two decades after he took part in a daring kidnapping of OPEC oil ministers in Vienna, an accomplice of jailed guerrilla Carlos the Jackal went on trial in Germany today.
Hans-Joachim Klein was extradited from France last year, 23 years after German authorities first sought him on suspicion of kidnapping and involvement in the killing of three people and the attempted murder of three others in the 1975 hostage-taking.
Carlos and five accomplices raided the OPEC meeting and took 70 people hostage, including Saudi Arabia’s powerful oil minister Sheikh Yamani. They got away with them to Algiers, and then disappeared. A Libyan, and Iranian and a Vienna policeman died.
The hostage raid was the most spectacular attack by the Venezuelan-born Carlos the Jackal, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez.
Life on the Run
As Klein, 52, took the stand, wearing a gray jacket, his graying hair slightly unkempt, he complained about having spent years on the run because of his role in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries raid.
“I just cannot understand why I had to spend half of my life on the run for 10 minutes of OPEC,” he told the court, referring to the length of the final shootout.
Klein was shot and seriously injured in the stomach during the kidnapping, but was treated and allowed to fly to Algiers with his accomplices and their hostages. He later took refuge in Libya before going underground.
Klein has not denied his role in the OPEC raid, but claims he never fired a gun or killed anyone. In 1977, two years after the raid, he split with Carlos.
The reason for the raid, Carlos announced at the time, was to try to prevent a pending U.N. resolution which they believed would legalize “the legality of Zionist existence on Palestinian land.”
German sources say Klein is expected to name Libya’s maverick leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi as the mastermind behind the OPEC raid.
Ties to Power
The names of some leading politicians will also be paraded before the court.
Klein said he was involved in the radical left-wing underground movement from 1967 to 1974 which opposed the war in Vietnam and dictatorships in Greece and Chile.
They include Germany’s current Foreign minister Joschka Fischer. Both were originally allied to the Revolutionary Struggle movement in Frankfurt. Another was Daniel Cohen-Bendit, who led the 1968 student revolt in France and is now a member of the European Parliament.
Fischer will be named because he unwittingly lent his car to Klein, who used to it transport stolen weapons out of a U.S. army barracks in Germany.
Cohen-Bendit helped Klein, a good friend, to get out of the terror scene and also helped him go underground in France, the court will be told.
Klein split away from the group round Fischer and Cohen-Bendit and joined the ultra-left, with links to the Red Army Faction anarchist terror group, most of whose leading members have died in jail.
Klein later linked up with Carlos and the “Arm of the Arab Revolution” in Paris and was sent for training in the Yemeni desert.
Rebuking the Jackal
Following his split with Carlos, Klein made a dramatic gesture, mailing his pistol to Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine together with a list of terrorist operations planned by Carlos.
Klein repudiated his own actions in a book published in 1979 titled Return to Humanity in which he described Carlos as a “megalomaniac murderer.”
Living under a false name, Klein moved from country to country and finally settled in France where he worked as a journalist under the pseudonym of Dirk Claussen.
He was tracked down and finally arrested in 1998 in a bistro in a Normandy village where he had lived for five years. Germany applied for his extradition a week later.
Last year, in an interview with Der Spiegel, Klein denied having fired any shots in the hostage raid. “I just cannot feel guilty for these murders,” he said.
In the dock with Klein is Rudolf Schindler, another member of the Carlos gang. The court will be told Schindler only had lists of possible recruits for the Carlos operation in Vienna, including Klein, of “safe house” apartments where they stayed, and also a ground plan of the building where the OPEC meeting was taking place.
The Hand of Destiny
The Frankfurt state court is expected to hear evidence on the murder charges from 78 witnesses in the coming months, including from former hostages and OPEC officials.
A verdict in the Klein case is not expected before late December.
Carlos was spirited from Sudan to Paris by French secret agents in 1994. He was jailed for life in 1997 for the 1975 murder of two French secret agents in Paris.
Reuters contributed to this report.