On October 7, 1985, Palestinian terrorists hijack the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro shortly after it left Alexandria, Egypt. The well-armed men, who belonged to the Popular Front for the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), the terrorist wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Abu Abbas, easily took control of the vessel since there was no security force on board.
At first, the terrorists demanded that Israel release imprisoned PLF members and sought entry to a Syrian port, but when Syria denied the request, the terrorists lost control of the situation. Gathering the American tourists on board, the terrorists randomly chose to kill 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer. The wheelchair-bound American was shot in the head and thrown overboard. The world's outrage by the cold blooded murder forced PLO chief Yassir Arafat to cut PLO ties with the terrorists group. On October 9, Abbas contacted the terrorists, ordered them not to kill any more passengers, and arranged for the ship to land in Egypt. Meanwhile, U.S. Navy SEALs were dispatched to raid the ship, but by the time they arrived, the terrorists had already left the ship and boarded a plane to Libya. The U.S. then sent two F-14 fighter jets, which intercepted the plane and forced it to land in Italy. A three-way standoff between the PFLP terrorists, the Americans, and the Italian Army on the runway in Sicily ended with the Italians took Abbas and the other terrorists into custody. Despite intense American pressure, the Italians allowed Abbas to leave the country, and prosecuted the other four terroroists. All were convicted, but only one received a sentence of 30 years; the others got off with lighter prison terms. Italy tried and convicted Abbas in absentia, but did not seek extradition until 2003. He was captured by U.S. Special Forces in Baghdad that year and died in American custody in 2004.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: