Verdict in Achille Lauro Trial Due in July

The Italian criminal court trying 15 people accused of the Achille Lauro hijack and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer will render its verdict next month. Court President Lino Monteverde said the court will continue hearing Thursday defense lawyers and the state prosecution and will then retire to consider its verdict.

Among the 10 defendants tried in absentia is Mohammed Abbas, a Palestinian terrorist leader charged with having masterminded the hijacking of the cruise ship and the murder of Klinghoffer an American Jewish invalid passenger.

An aide to Prime Minister Bettino Craxi claimed Tuesday that Italy had allowed Abbas to leave the country because the U.S. failed to submit sufficient proof to justify his arrest and because he was technically “protected” by being aboard an official Egyptian plane.

The aide, Antonio Badini, told the court that when Abbas, a leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, a PLO splinter group headed by George Habash, was allowed to leave Italy, the U.S. government failed to provide Italy with any concrete evidence of his involvement. Italian prosecutors appearing in court have shown beyond any doubt that the 37-year-old Abbas had organized the hijack. Badini said Tuesday when concluding his testimony “We did not know all this at the time.”

TEENAGE TERRORIST’S TESTIMONY

On Wednesday the court heard testimony from Bassam AI Ashker, a young Palestinian terrorist who will be tried by a juvenile court. He was 17 at the time of the October 7-9, 1985 hijack, a minor according to Italian law.

Ashker repeated the story told earlier by the other hijackers claiming that the original plan was to try to reach the Israeli port of Ashdod in an attempt to force Israel to free 51 imprisoned Palestinians. He said the hijackers were “forced” to seize the ship after a crew member found arms and grenades hidden in their cabin.

Ashker claimed that the hijackers did not kill Klinghoffer. He said “This is an American trick to spoil our reputation. We are Palestinian fighters and our laws bar us from killing civilians.”

In Rome, Italy and the U.S. signed a special agreement Tuesday to coordinate their fight against world terrorism. Attorney General Edwin Meese and Interior Minister Oscar Luigi Scalforo singed a special treaty extending the accord on cooperation against organized crime to the fight against terrorism. The two countries, Italian Radio said, will pool intelligence resources on this issue.

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