ATHENS (Mar. 18)
Greek police have arrested an Arab and a Greek who allegedly played major roles in the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro six years ago.
The Arab, whose name has been variously reported as Abdulrahim Khaled or Abdul Rahmin Khaled, has been described as a right-hand man to Palestinian terrorist Mohammed (Abul) Abbas, who masterminded the hijacking.
Italy has asked for his extradition.
A wheelchair-bound American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed during the October 1985 hijacking, and his body was hurled overboard into the Mediterranean, off the Egyptian coast.
The arrests, which reportedly took place on March 5, seem to have been the fruit of a discovery by Greek police of a Greek-Arab terrorist network and an aborted plan to blow up a branch of Barclays Bank here.
A Greek weekly political and economic publication, Confidential Letter, reported last week that Greek police had uncovered the network and were saying the key person in the network is a Greek, Petros Floros.
Floros was arrested along with Khaled and two other Greeks, Evangelos Bakopoulos and Simeon Tsingoulis. Police found dynamite and a gasoline bomb in Floros’ home.
According to Confidential Letter, during the time of the Italian trials in June 1986 of several Palestinians charged with involvement in the hijacking, Italian police had issued an arrest warrant against Floros for cooperating with Abbas’ group, the Palestine Liberation Front, in the hijacking.
The Italians charged that Floros had himself been in contact with Khaled and Abbas a month before the hijacking. Floros reportedly gave Khaled his passport in Genoa so that Khaled so could board the Achille Lauro.
KLINGHOFFER FAMILY PRAISES ARREST
Khaled, 56, who has been described variously as a Palestinian, an Arab and a Yemeni, is thought to have left the ship in Alexandria, Egypt, before the hijacking.
When arrested, he reportedly was carrying three forged passports — from the Philippines, Iraq and Greece.
In Washington, the State Department on Monday confirmed Khaled’s arrest, pointing out that he was the subject of an international arrest warrant. Asked if the United States wants Khaled extradited to Italy, Richard Boucher, the department’s deputy spokesman, said, “We would like to see the rule of law applied against terrorists.”
In New York, the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith praised Greece’s arrest of Khaled and Italy’s call for his extradition in telegrams to the Greek and Italian prime ministers, Constantine Mitsotakis and Giulio Andreotti.
In a joint statement, Iisa and Lisa Klinghoffer, the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer, along with Abraham Foxman, ADL national director, said, “The Italian government should also ensure that Khaled serves out his full sentence.”
Khaled had been sentenced in absentia by an Italian court to life imprisonment.
(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)