An Italian court imposed a 30-year prison sentence Friday on Ibrahim Mohammed Khaled, sole survivor of a Palestinian terrorist gang that killed 16 people and wounded 80 in a machine gun and grenade attack on Leonardo da Vinci Airport near Rome on Dec. 17, 1985.
At the same time, the court pronounced life sentences in absentia on the terrorist leader known as Abu Nidal and his associate, Rashid al-Hamieda, who masterminded the Rome airport massacre and the almost simultaneous terrorist attack at Vienna airport, where four people where killed and 47 wounded.
Judge Felippo Antonioni, who read the verdict, explained the court’s relative leniency toward Khaled, 20, for whom the prosecution had demanded a life sentence. It took into consideration the defendant’s youth — he was 17 at the time of the massacre — and his subsequent cooperation with the Italian authorities.
Khaled, in his pre-trial testimony, provided detailed information about the preparation and execution of the attack and about Arab terrorist organizations in general. Although he refused to appear in court during most of the trial, his testimony was the basis of the prosecution’s case and implicated Abu Nidal.
The plan, according to Khaled, was a mass hijacking of passengers at the check-in counters of El Al, Israel’s national airline, and an American airline, TWA. They were to have been forced aboard a plane and flown over Tel Aviv where the planes were to be blown up in mid-air.
SAID ISRAELIS FIRED FIRST
Khaled claimed the terrorists opened fire in the crowded airport terminal, because El Al security agents spotted them and fired first.
The victims of the attack included five Americans, three Greeks, an Italian, an Algerian and two Mexicans.
The court said information provided by Khaled also led the authorities to a terrorist arms cache.
According to Khaled, the coordinated attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports were intended by Abu Nidal to discredit PLO chief Yasir Arafat’s diplomatic offensives.
Abu Nidal, a shadowy figure in the terrorist underworld whose real name is Sabry al-Banna, is believed presently to operate from Syrian controlled areas of Lebanon and from Libya. He is also held responsible for numerous assassinations and assassination attempts aimed against Israelis in Europe and against prominent figures of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.