JERUSALEM (Oct. 17)
Israel’s military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Ehud Barak, last night disclosed a tape recording proving that the Palestinian terrorist leader Muhammad Abbas personally commanded the hijack of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro last week.
“He was in it up to his neck in planning it, leading it and controlling it,” Barak said in a lengthy interview on Israel Television. Barak played a tape in which a man identifying himself as Abu Khaled — Abbas’ code-name in this operation — addressed the hijackers by their first names and gave them instructions. Abu Khalad showed that he was also familiar with the hijackers’ plan, which, according to Barak, was to carry out an attack in Ashdod, the ship’s port of call in Israel. The hijackers reportedly were compelled to take over the ship before reaching Ashdod when a member of the crew found them cleaning their weapons.
Barak said the recorded conversation was held over a shore-to-ship international wavelength last Wednesday between Abbas, who was in Port Said, Egypt, and the hijackers on the ship. The tape recording began, according to the playback on Israel TV:
“This is Abu Khaled, do you hear me? This is Port Said. Look after the well-being of the passengers. Who is speaking?”
“Maged. How are you Maged?
“Listen, behave well to the passengers. Apologize to the crew and the captain. Tell them we did not intend to hijack the ship. Tell them our main aim … our aim was not to overpower the ship…”
(Ship to shore) “Give me a sign that the message is from Abu Khaled.”
Barak said this last request showed that the hijackers and their commander had pre-arranged codewords to ensure the veracity of their communications. “He was to show that he was not broadcasting under duress,” Barak said.
The intelligence chief said Israel had much more evidence linking Abbas to the hijack, but it was “too sensitive” to be divulged. He added that Italy had had “enough proof of his guilt” when it had decided to free Abbas rather than respond to Washington’s demand for his extradition. Barak did not say specifically whether Israel had shared this particular intercept with Rome before the decision was taken there to free Abbas.
Barak stressed that Abbas is “not a marginal figure in the PLO. He is one of the closest to(PLO chief) Yasir Arafat. His own headquarters in Tunisia is 100 yards from Arafat’s headquarters which are in ruins following our bombing” on October I.
Asked about reports of Israeli and American intelligence cooperation during the U.S. Navy interception of the hijackers’ getaway plane last Thursday, Barak would only say: “There is constant cooperation. It goes on all the time. (But) the Americans have excellent intelligence. They know many things themselves.”