March 10, 2004 by

Abul Abbas

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Categories: Criminals

Muhammad “Abul” Abbas, the Palestinian mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro, died on March 8 from natural causes. He was 55.
Born in Israel, Abbas grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp. He joined the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964 and became the leader of its splinter group, the Palestinian Liberation Front, two decades later.
In October 1985, several PLF members hijacked the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship en route from Egypt to Israel. The hijackers demanded the release of 50 Palestinians held by Israel, and permission to dock the boat in Syria. When the demands were not met, they killed American Leon Klinghoffer and dumped his wheelchair-bound body overboard.
The PLF hijackers negotiated to give up the ship in exchange for passage on an Egyptian airline to Tunisia. Once on board the plane, however, U.S. Navy fighters forced the aircraft to land in Sicily where Abbas and the hijackers were arrested. Although he wasn’t on the Achille Lauro during the hijacking, Abbas admitted to planning the ship’s seizure. For lack of evidence, the Italian authorities released him. He was later convicted of the hijacking and sentenced in absentia to five life terms in connection with Klinghoffer’s murder.
In recent years, Abbas lived in Iraq under the protection of Saddam Hussein’s government. He apologized in the mid-1990s for Klinghoffer’s death, saying the killing was part of a botched “military” operation. The Klinghoffer family refused the apology, calling him a “murderous terrorist.”
American Special Operations forces captured Abbas last April during a raid of a suspected terrorist training camp on the outskirts of Baghdad. U.S. officials held him for nearly a year without filing charges while they considered his legal status. Abbas was still in U.S. custody when he died.

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