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D. R. Walker
The Achille Lauro

On This Day: Achille Lauro Hijacked

October 07, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Oct. 7, 1985, the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked by four members of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) off the coast of Egypt in the Mediterranean.

The Achille Lauro Hijacking

The Palestinian hijackers took the more than 400 passengers and crewmembers hostage and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians from Israeli prisons.

The  New York Times wrote, “The hijackers were quoted as saying they would blow up the ship if a rescue mission was undertaken. According to unconfirmed reports from Israeli radio monitors, the hijackers said they would begin killing the hostages unless their demands were broadcast on Egyptian radio and television.”

The following day, after the Syrian government refused to let them dock at the port of Tartus, the hijackers decided to execute one of the hostages: Leon Klinghoffer a 69-year-old wheelchair-bound American Jew, who was tossed off the ship after being killed.

The hijackers surrendered on the condition that they and hijacking mastermind Abu Abbas be given a plane to escape. However, on Oct. 10, the plane was intercepted by U.S. military aircraft and forced to land at a NATO base in Sicily, where Abbas and the hijackers were arrested.

The U.S. and Italian governments argued over jurisdiction to prosecute the hijackers. Italy would not extradite the men to the U.S., and, though it did convict the four hijackers, it allowed Abbas to escape to Yugoslavia. He remained a free man until 2003, when he was captured by U.S. troops in Iraq; he died in custody the following year.

The Achille Lauro, meanwhile, went back into service as a cruise ship. In 1994, it caught fire while sailing off the coast of Somalia and sank. Two of the nearly 1,000 people on board died in the accident.

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