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Monday, October 08, 2007

This Week in Terrorism - the Achille Lauro

On October 7, 1985, in Egyptian waters, four heavily-armed PLF terrorists hijacked the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship with mostly elderly passengers on board.

Their demands included the freeing of 50 Palestinian prisoners from Israel. In order to make their point, they shot and killed 69-year-old American tourist Leon Klinghoffer, who was wheelchair-bound. After they murdered him, they threw his body - still in the wheelchair - overboard.

After two days, the Egyptian government provided them with safe passage in exchange for freeing the passengers and ship. They were at that time unaware of Klinghoffer's murder.

Upon discovery of the fate of Mr. Klinghoffer, however, U.S. Navy F-14 fighters intercepted the Egypt Air 737 flying the hijackers to Tunisia, forcing it to set down in Sicily. The terrorists were taken into custody by Italian authorities, tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison.

Of the hijackers and their accomplices:

Bassam al-Asker was paroled in 1991.

Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi disappeared in 1991 while on parole.

Youssef al Molqi was sentenced to 30 years, fled to Spain while on furlough, and was recaptured and returned to Italy.

Abu Abbas, the mastermind, was convicted in absentia, remaining at large for years. As of 1998, Abbas was openly residing in Arafat-controlled Palestinian territory. Asked at that time why Klinghoffer was murdered, Abbas stated that "He created troubles. He was handicapped but he was inciting and provoking the other passengers. So the decision was made to kill him."

The U.S. has a long memory when it comes to terrorists - Abu Abbas was captured by U.S. Special Forces near Baghdad, Iraq on April 15, 2003. He died while in U.S. custody.

The PLO, for its part, was sued over the hijacking, but the suit was dropped after the PLO paid an undisclosed sum to Mr. Klinghoffer's daughters. They used the funds to establish the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League, which works to combat terrorism through legal, political and educational methods.

The Achille Lauro continued service after the hijacking - until December 2nd, 1994, when she sank off the coast of Somalia as a result of catching fire a few days earlier.

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