ATHENS (Mar. 29)
A three-member appeals court here ruled Tuesday that an Arab man suspected of taking part in the October 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship may be extradited to Italy.
But the suspect, Abdulrahim Khaled, 56, is appealing the ruling to the Greek Supreme Court.
And even if the high court backs extradition, it will be up to the Greek justice minister to decide whether to comply with Italy’s longstanding request. In the past, the justice minister has decided against extraditing Arab terrorists arrested in Greece.
Moreover, the prosecutor said any extradition would have to be delayed, because Khaled must first stand trial for crimes allegedly committed in Greece and serve time if convicted.
Khaled, who has been variously described as a Palestinian, Yemenite or Arab, was tried in absentia by a Genoa court and sentenced in 1987 to life imprisonment for his role in planning the hijacking, in which an American Jewish man, Leon Klinghoffer of New York, was killed and thrown overboard in his wheelchair.
The attack was masterminded by the Palestine Liberation Front of Mohammed Abbas. Khaled has been described as Abbas’ top lieutenant.
The appeals court rejected a request by Khaled’s lawyer, Constantine Koutras, for a 15-day postponement of the hearing. Koutras said he needed time to collect evidence proving his client is not the person wanted by Italian authorities.
Khaled was arrested in Athens on March 5, along with three Greeks, one of whom, Petros Floros, had likewise been tied to the Achille Lauro affair. The Italian court had not found substantial evidence, however, to convict Floros.
Police found 12 sticks of dynamite in Floros’ apartment at the time of the arrest and determined that the explosives had been intended to blow up a local branch of Barclays Bank.
Prosecutor Alexandros Metaxas said execution of the extradition order will be delayed, because Khaled must first be tried for crimes allegedly committed in Greece, such as the possession of explosives. That case is expected to be brought to court in two months.