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Spanish Court Acquits Syrian of Links to Achille Lauro Ordeal

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A Madrid court has acquitted a Syrian arms dealer who was charged with aiding the Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, according to the World Jewish Congress.

Monzer al- Kassar was arrested in June 1992 on charges that he had supplied Kalashnikov assault rifled and grenades to the hijackers. He was freed on $16 million hail in 1993 until the start of the trial earlier this year.

The charge sheet also accused him of involvement in piracy, kidnapping and murder.

On Oct. 7, 1985, terrorists belonging to the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked the Achille Lauro, which was on a Mediterranean cruise from Genoa, Italy, with a large number of American tourists aboard.

The terrorists, who seized the vessel in Egyptian waters, held the passengers and crew hostage for three days. Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew confined to a wheelchair, was shot to death by one of the hijackers and thrown overboard.

The prosecutor in the case, who had sought a prison term of 29 years for Kassar, attempted to prove that the arms dealer had helped Mohammed (Abul) Abbas, who was said to have mastermined the hijacking.

Kassar denied that he ever knew or met Abbas.

But a U.S. drug enforcement agent who testified at the trial produced a photo, taken in the course of a separate investigation into drug smuggling, showing Kassar and Abbas together.

The court nonetheless found Kassar innocent, citing insufficient evidence.

The three-week trial ended Feb. 1, but the verdict was only made public this week.

Leaders of the Spanish Jewish community, who monitored the trial, reported the court’s findings to the World Jewish Congress.

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