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MS Achille Lauro

On October 7, 1985, four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) took control of the cruise ship MS Achille Lauro off Egypt as she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said.

The hijackers directed the vessel to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons. After being refused permission to dock at Tartus, the hijackers killed disabled American passenger Leon Klinghoffer and then threw his body overboard. The ship headed back towards Port Said, and after two days of negotiations, the hijackers agreed to abandon the liner in exchange for safe conduct and were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner.

United States President Ronald Reagan ordered that the plane be intercepted by F-14 Tomcats from the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga and directed to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella, a N.A.T.O. base in Sicily, where the hijackers were arrested by the Italians after a grave diplomatic crisis over juristiction between the US and Italy. The other passengers on the plane (possibly including the hijackers' leader, Abu Abbas) were allowed to continue on to their destination, despite protests by the United States. Egypt demanded an apology from the U.S. for forcing the airplane off course.

The fate of those convicted of the hijacking is varied:
  • Bassam al-Asker was granted parole in 1991. He died on February 21, 2004.
  • Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi disappeared in 1991 while on parole.
  • Youssef Majed al-Molqi, convicted of killing Leon Klinghoffer, was sentenced to 30 years, left the Rebibbia prison in Rome on February 16, 1996, on a 12-day furlough, and fled to Spain, where he was recaptured and extradited back to Italy. On April 29, 2009, Italian officials released him from prison on good behaviour. In June 2009, however, al-Molqui's attorney told the Associated Press that the Italian authorities had placed his client in a holding cell and were about to deport him to Syria.
  • Abu Abbas left the jurisdiction of Italy and was convicted in absentia. In 1996, he made an apology for the hijacking and murder, and spoke out in favour of peace talks between Palestinians and Israel; the apology was rejected by the U.S. government and Klinghoffer's family, who insisted he be brought to justice. Abbas was captured in Iraq in 2003 by the U.S. military during its 2003 invasion of Iraq. He died in U.S. custody March 8, 2004.
  • Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. He served 20 and three more on parole and on July 7, 2008, he was expelled from an illegal immigrant detention center in Rome. He plans to appeal this arguing that he has nowhere else to go since Lebanon will not allow his return as he was born in a refugee camp and is thus not a Lebanese citizen.
The PLO was sued for its role in the death of Leon Klinghoffer. The $1.5 billion suit was dropped when the PLO paid an undisclosed sum to Klinghoffer's daughters. The family founded the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation which works to combat terrorism through legal, political and educational means.

The ship continued in service; she was reflagged in 1987 when the Lauro Line was taken over by the Mediterranean Shipping Company to become StarLauro. On November 30, 1994, she caught fire off the coast of Somalia while enroute to South Africa. Abandoned, the vessel sank on December 2.

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