GENOA (Jul. 6)
The jury in the Achille Lauro trial will begin deliberations Monday on the fate of 15 defendants, 10 of them still at large, accused of hijacking the Italian cruise ship last October and the murder of a passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew.
The prosecution, summing up its case before the weekend, demanded life sentences for seven of the accused. They include Mohammed Abul Abbas, a Palestinian terrorist tried in absentia as the alleged mastermind of the hijack, and Youseff Magied Mulqui, who allegedly fired the shots that killed Klinghoffer in his wheelchair and then ordered crew members to throw his body overboard. Life imprisonment is the maximum penalty under Italian law.
State Attorney Luigi Carli told the jury, “This is not a trial against the PLO, the PLF or the Palestinian struggle… We are dealing with the taking of hostages, one of whom was killed. “The PLF or Palestine Liberation Front is the terrorist group headed by Abbas. The latter is also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
LAWYER SAYS THERE IS NO EVIDENCE AGAINST ABBAS
Abbas narrowly escaped imprisonment after U.S. Air Force planes forced an Egyptian plane carrying him from the hijack scene to land in Sicily last October 12, four days after Klinghoffer was murdered. Italian authorities released him, explaining later that they had insufficient evidence to hold him at the time.
Defense attorney Luigi Bacherini argued that Abbas “could not have masterminded the plot and that no evidence to prove this was presented in court.” He said the real objective of the hijackers was not to seize the Italian cruise ship but to take Israeli hostages at the port of Ashdod and hold them for release of 51 terrorists imprisoned in Israel.
Ashdod was the next port of call after Alexandria where the hijack took place. According to the defense, the accused were forced to take over the ship after crew members discovered weapons in their possession.
Bacherini described Abbas as “a prominent member of the PLO executive” who “would not have wanted to damage relations with the European country friendliest to the Palestinian cause (Italy). It just does not stand to reason,” he said.