On this day: Palestinians hijack the Achille Lauro

October 7 1985: Passengers on an Italian cruise ship are taken as hostages


More than 400 people were on board the Mediterranean cruise ship Achille Lauro when it was seized by hevaily armed Palestinian terrorists as it sailed near to the Egyptian coast.

The gunmen, representing the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), redirected the ship to Syria and demanded that Israel release 50 Palestinian prisoners.

The crisis continued for three days. Negotiators agreed that the hijackers could fly to Egypt in return for them releasing the hostages, but on the orders of President Ronald Reagan the US Navy intervened and the plane carrying the hijackers was landed in Italy.

After two days of negotiations, the hijackers agreed to let the hostages go. But one of the passengers, a 69-year-old disabled American man called Leon Klinghoffer, did not survive.

Mr Klinghoffer, on the cruise with his wife Marilyn to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary, was shot in his wheelchair and his body was then thrown overboard.

Four of the terrorists were tried and sentenced in Italy, although one, Abu Abbas, died before he went to prison.

Youssef al-Molqi was convicted of the murder of Leon Klinghoffer and sentenced to 30 years behind bars. Following a botched escape from jail in 1996 and despite the outrage of the Klinghoffer family, al-Molqi was given early release in 2009.

In 1991 an opera about the hijack, The Killing of Klinghoffer, drew accusations of antisemitism.

What the JC said: Both the White House and the State Department issued statements expressing horror at the hijacking and demanding that the hijackers should be brought to justice. It was made clear that the United States resented the apparent deal with the hijackers, allowing them to go free. Most of the passengers aboard the ship when she was seized after leaving Alexandria for Port Said were elderly Jews.

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    Last updated: 11:22am, October 7 2010