ATHENS (Dec. 12)
Greek Justice Minister Michael Papakostanlinou signed papers Thursday ordering the extradition of Palestinian terrorist Abdulrahim Khaled to Italy, where he is under life sentence for plotting the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro.
The long-delayed extradition order reflects Greece’s change of policy toward terrorists since the Socialist government of Andreas Papandreou was voted out of office two years ago and replaced by the conservative government of Constantine Mitsotakis.
But there will be no immediate change for the 57-year-old Khaled, who was arrested here last March.
Before he is sent to Italy, he must serve a 10-year sentence imposed by Greek courts for illegal possession of explosives, drug dealing and attempted escape from jail.
A court in Genoa, home port of the Achille Lauro, tried khaled in absentia and found him guilty of planning the hijacking, which occurred Oct. 7, 1985, while the ship was in Egyptian waters.
The passengers and crew were held hostage until Oct. 10. In that period, Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew who used a wheelchair, was shot to death by one of the hijackers and thrown over-board.
Khaled, working for Palestinian terrorist leader Mohammed (Abul) Abbas, who is believed to have masterminded the hijacking, was ashore in Alexandria when his gunmen took over the ship.
Italy’s extradition request was approved by a three-judge court of appeals on May 28. The Supreme Court upheld it on Oct. 22. But under Greek law, a decision by the highest court is not binding on the justice minister, who has the final say.
In the Papandreou era, court rulings against Palestinian terrorists were often overridden, and as a result, they operated with impunity in Greece.
The few who were arrested would be expelled to a country of their choosing. Greece earned the reputation of protecting terrorists and therefore being unsafe for tourists, particularly Americans. The present government is trying to correct that image.