"The thing about a myth is not whether it is true or not, nor whether it should be true, but that it is somehow truer than truth itself."
In The Last Tango in Munich, we looked at “Carlos the Jackal” and his bombing of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty on February 21, 1981. The planning and preparations for this terrorist attack took place in Budapest, Hungary in 1980. Below we will look at why Budapest was the city of choice for Carlos and why he had to leave Hungary after the bombing attack.
In 1978, Carlos was asked to leave Iraq, where he had temporarily set up his base of operations. After testing the waters in Bulgaria, Carlos finally chose Hungary in 1979 for his new base of operations because of "favorable communications, liberal border controls, a good relationships with the Foreign Ministry and other government and security organizations and no problems with the renting of private apartments and hotel rooms."
Why did the Hungarian government allow Carlos to settle in Budapest? One reason was given a 1990 televised interview with the former Director of Counterintelligence, Miklos Redei, when a reporter asked him, “Why did you not arrest Carlos? Why did you not liquidate him?” Redei replied,
To tell you frankly, it would have been very easy to arrest him, even at the expense of causalities. But we knew for certain that we would have provoked the vengeance of the whole terrorist group - made up of more than a few members - against Hungary. This would have meant that they would have bombed any of our foreign embassies, that they would take hostages, bomb our planes, etc.
Carlos called his group "Organization of the Armed Arab Struggle-Arm of the Arab Revolution" (OAAS) and also the “Organization of International Revolutionaries”. The group consisted of terrorists from the Basque separatist group ETA/PM (Politico Militar), the Swiss terrorist group “Prima Linea,” the Red Brigades from Italy, the Palestinian PFLP, former members of the Revolutionary Cells in Germany, and others yet to be identified.
English was the common language used by the group, which had no agenda, no strategic political plan, no manifesto, or logo. Carlos had created the myth and exploited it when dealing with Hungary, East Germany (DDR) and the other Warsaw Pact countries.
The East Germany Intelligence agency commonly known as “Stasi” used the code name "Separat" for the Carlos Group. One revealing Stasi document, dated February 10, 1981, gives an overview of the plans and intentions of the Carlos with East Europe:
The group still considers itself a revolutionary organization, whose struggle is aimed against imperialism of all kinds. They are predominantly concentrating on the support of national liberation movements, as they are convinced that these groups are the most efficient in their revolutionary struggle.
The group considers the socialist states to be its strategic allies; it is interested in maintaining a friendly relationship with them, but expects material and logistical support in return.
In the long-term (a period of about 10 to 15 years), it thus intends to establish bases in Socialist States with the aim to use them for meetings, for updating their technical equipment, and for recreation. The headquarters should be situated in Budapest.
On August 20, 1979 at 6:30 AM, Carlos went to Budapest police headquarters to file a complaint that three men in a green Opel automobile with West German license plates, WES YE 359, had been following him. The police told Carlos they would investigate.
Shortly before the arrival of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, a West German Consulate officer named Anton Metzger went to the Interior Ministry on August 23, 1980 and said that an anonymous letter had been received at the German Embassy in Vienna the day before. In this letter, Carlos was identified as living in Budapest under the name Adil Favaz Ahmed. The Hungarian official promised to look into it.
The two German terrorists in the Carlos group, Magdalena Kopp and Johannes Weinrich, were known respectively as “Lilly,” and “Steve.” Kopp was then Carlos' girlfriend, and the Group's expert on forging passports. On August 29, 1980, Carlos picked up Magdalena Kopp at the airport, after her arrival from Berlin, and they drove back in a taxi. On their way to their apartment, Carlos saw another suspicious automobile, stopped, jumped out of the taxi and shot at least four times at the suspicious vehicle. No one was injured—the passengers were, in fact, secret policeman tasked with following Carlos.
Carlos continued on to the apartment, called Johannes Weinrich in Berlin to tell him to remain there as German or Italian intelligence agents were following him. Carlos went back to the Budapest police headquarters and insisted on meeting Hungarian intelligence officials. One official later said that they agreed to meet Carlos on August 30, 1980, in order to quiet him down. Carlos requested security protection and offered to work with the Hungarian intelligence agency.
Hungarian Intelligence agents told Carlos it was possible that West German agents, due to the upcoming visit of Chancellor Schmidt, were following him. They told Carlos it would be better if he and others of the group agreed to leave Hungary before Chancellor Schmidt's arrival. He and Magdalena Kopp flew to Sofia, Bulgaria on September 2, 1980. The next day, West German Consulate officer Metzger called the Hungarian Ministry of Interior requesting an update of the risk of terrorism in Hungary during the Schmidt visit. He was told that there were no German or other terrorists in Hungary. Chancellor Schmidt visited Hungary September 4-6, 1979, without any problems.
On September 6, 1979, Hungarian intelligence officers secretly entered the villa used by the Carlos Group and found documents marked “Romania” that confirmed the connection between Carlos and the Romanian Intelligence Service. Carlos remained out of Hungary until the end of September 1979.
There was a planning session in Budapest, apparently on October 14, 1980, when the Carlos, Weinrich and others discussed existing surveillance reports that detailed how the RFE/RL building appeared Saturday night. Someone, obvious from the discussion, had already observed the RFE/RL headquarters building at 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. The surveillance report showed that about forty percent of the rooms had lights on, and the observer estimated that twenty percent of the employees worked at 9 p.m. When the bomb exploded Saturday. February 21, 1981, at 9:50 p.m., only forty employees were in the building, out of a staff of almost one thousand. Their surveillance report, obviously, was wrong in the estimated numbers of employees.
After a few weeks of post-bombing “rest and recreation” in Romania, Carlos returned to Budapest to face difficult times with his Hungarian hosts.
Time to Say Goodbye
After the RFE/RL bombing, Carlos had become a liability for the Socialist countries. For example, Swiss-born Georgio Bellini, listed by the East German Intelligence Agency Stasi as a member of the Carlos gang, had been arrested on February 16, 1981 on the German-Swiss border. One Stasi officer wrote: “He had been informed about the preparation and execution of the attack against Radio Free Europe." Should he reveal what he knows, great dangers for the Socialist States as well would follow.” Although he spent nine months in the German jail on suspicion of terrorism, Bellini did not reveal anything, and there was no cause to keep him in jail in connection with the bombing. He was released and returned to Switzerland. Years later, Bellini denied any knowledge of the bombing in sworn statements to Swiss and German prosecutors. Magdalena Kopp backed this up in her own sworn statements to prosecutors.
The Hungarians asked for a “multilateral consultation” with other Warsaw Pact countries on this issue. In May 1981, a joint-intelligence decision was made to “investigate, with Cuban comrades,” whether they could convince the Carlos group to move his base of operations to Cuba; he refused. The Stasi files show the various intelligence services decided to act cautiously, because of a fear that Carlos and his group would seek revenge or move over to “the enemy camp”.
Joszef Varga was the Hungarian intelligence officer, who was the official liaison with Carlos. In sworn statements to both Hungarian and German investigators for the Weinrich trial, and in television interviews, admitted meeting Carlos 20 to 25 times in Budapest. He said he never discussed the bombing of RFE/RL, before or afterwards, with Carlos or Johannes Weinrich.
In one television interview, Varga said that the Hungarian officials notified their Soviet counterpart with the pre-bombing information. The Soviet officers in Budapest then said that they would pass the information on to the French to show goodwill and improve Soviet-French relations. Varga added that this information exchange was never confirmed.
The Hungarian Ministry of Interior invited Carlos to a meeting, where he was confronted with disclosure of the violations of Hungarian law he and his Group committed. The two-hour meeting with Carlos and Weinrich on May 15, 1981 was recorded with a hidden camera. Only a few minutes of this meeting somehow survived and that is of poor visual and acoustic quality. On July 6, 1990, the Budapest Television Service, Panorama Program, aired this film, which also appeared later on Italian television.
At one point, Carlos was handed a forged Interpol report identifying Carlos and his group living in Budapest. Carlos reportedly asked the Hungarian counterintelligence officers to provide him with “information about where and why the Western secret services are searching for him and his men.” Andras Petresevitis, Hungarian Counterintelligence Deputy Director told Carlos:
The Budapest headquarters base must be liquidated. Because you should not direct, organize the activity of groups. You are not safe here. If you are discovered, the actions too are endangered. I think your feel responsibility for all your people, for yourself. I hope this is clear. Should you continue from here, your group would be endangered. At the same time, it harms the interests of the Hungarian’s Peoples Republic if we get involved. Therefore, we are informing you about the decision. You must liquidate your base. Thus we emphasize once more, our request is that you liquidate your base.
I emphasize that you will still be able to transmit, travel through Hungary. You may stay here for short periods. We do not limit your movement, activity. We do not interfere.
The meeting ends with Carlos remarking that he and his group of sixty members did not remain in Hungary for the food, although it was good, but for the security for his group. Carlos then said he would need about two months to secure a new base for his group and transfer their weapons and other materials. The film ends at this point.
Carlos then wrote a letter to then Communist Party Chairman, Janos Kadar, explaining, in part, why he had chosen Hungary in 1979:
Dear Comrade Janos Kadar:
The Socialist countries permit our combatants to freely pass through their territory, and now a palpable trend is appearing toward improving relations with our organization.
We have been struggling for a year, for the realization of our revolutionary objectives, enjoying the security advantages provided by socialist Hungary. From Hungarian soil, we have developed our international relations, making contact with the revolutionaries of every nation, without the Hungarian authorities hampering us in this.
Carlos, on behalf of the Organization of International Revolutionaries.
Carlos then moved his base of operations from Hungary to Damascus, Syria.