When Italian authorities released Mohammed Abul Abbas, the mastermind of the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking, Lisa Klinghoffer took it as a “good hint” of what was to come.
More than 10 years later, she and her sister, lisa Klinghoffer, have learned that only one of the four Palestinian terrorists imprisoned for the murder of their father remains in custody.
Last week, Youssef Magied al-Molqi – convicted of shooting the wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, who was then thrown off the deck of the hijacked cruise ship – fled a church-run shelter in Italy while on a 12-day good-conduct leave from prison.
He had been serving a 30-year sentence.
“It’s like we’ve just been victimized all over again,” Lisa Klinghoffer said in a telephone interview.
“We tried very hard 10 years ago to get the terrorists extradited to the United States and we failed. We had a promise from the Italian government that they would deal with the terrorists under the fullest extent of their law, and we feel that they have totally reneged. We feel totally betrayed.”
Prison officials reportedly considered Molqi a model prisoner and told a Rome newspaper that he had been allowed out four previous times on furlough in accordance with Italian law.
“To us it just seems as if they opened the door for him,” Klinghoffer said. “They might as well have given him a parade.” She added, “It is totally unacceptable. A terrorist does not deserve that. Everyone is so worried and concerned about terrorists’ rights, and no one is concerned about victims’ rights.”
Italian officials defended the law that permits cooperative inmates to spend time out of jail, regardless of the crime committed.
After a March 7 meeting with officials at the Italian Embassy in Washington, Klinghoffer said, “They sat there with a straight face, looked us right in the eye, and still seemed to defend the Italian judgment.
“They just don’t get it. They said they would look into it. I don’t know what that means.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the United States had raised the issue of Molqi’s escape with Italian Prime Minister Lamberto Dini.
The United States is satisfied with the hunt the Italian government is conducting, Burns said. “He will be hunted down and he will be captured and he will be thrown in jail,” Burns said. “And I hope that this time the local Italian officials who have authority over his jail sentencing will understand that it is not appropriate to release a murderer from jail for whatever reason.”
Leon Klinghoffer and his wife, Marilyn, both American Jews, were celebrating their wedding anniversary aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship when an extremist Palestine Liberation Organization faction hijacked the vessel in the Mediterranean Sea off Egypt for three days.
Klinghoffer’s murder set off an international uproar that culminated with U.S. fighters forcing an Egyptian plane carrying Abbas, the terrorist faction’s leader, to land in Italy.
The Italian government, however, prevented U.S. military personnel from capturing Abbas, ignored a U.S. extradition request and sent him to safety in Yugoslavia.
The Italian government then insisted that the four apprehended hijackers be tried in Italy because the Achille Lauro was an Italian ship.
After several years of incarceration, Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi disappeared in 1991 while on parole, and Bassam al-Asker vanished the same year while in the care of the Red Cross. Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif remains in a jail near Genoa on a 25-year sentence. Four others, including Abbas, were convicted by an Italian jury in absentia and remain at large.
Lisa Klinghoffer said she and her sister only learned about the first two escaped terrorists last week when they heard news accounts of Molqi’s disappearance.
“Frankly, I don’t think we’ll ever see them again,” Klinghoffer said. “I think they’re probably out there with Abul Abbas. I don’t know if he sent for them. I think they’re all joined up somewhere planning the next bit of terror, and that’s what’s so excruciating about it.”