On October 7, 1985, four members of one of the PLO's factions, the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), hijacked the Italian
cruise ship Achille Lauro and demanded the release of Palestinian
prisoners held in Israel. Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak persuaded the hijackers to surrender, but not before they
shot to death a wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger from the United States
named Leon Klinghoffer, dumping his body overboard.
Mubarak allowed the PLF leader and hijacking mastermind, Mohammed Zaidan, and the
other terrorists to fly to their headquarters in Tunisia. President
Ronald Reagan sent U.S. warplanes to intercept the flight, however,
and forced it to land at a U.S.-Italian air base in Sicily. The United
States and Italy fought over jurisdiction in the case, but the Italians
refused to extradite any of the men.
Inexplicably, Zaidan was allowed to go to Yugoslavia.
An Italian court convicted 11 of 15 others associated with the hijacking,
while Zaidan and another terrorist were tried in absentia, found guilty and were sentenced to life in prison. Bassam al-Asker, one of the hijackers, was granted parole in 1991 and Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi,
another accomplice, disappeared in 1991 while on parole.
was never arrested. In 1990, he struck again from the sea, with an abortive
speedboat attack on bathers on a beach near Tel
Though he was sentenced to five life terms in Italy,
and was wanted in the United States, Zaidan remained a free man. He spent
most of the years after the hijacking in Tunisia before moving to the Gaza Strip in April 1996, after the Palestinian
Authority took control of the area as part of the peace
agreement with Israel.
While in Gaza, Zaidan said he was sorry for the hijacking,
but the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer said that he had been convicted
of murder and should serve his sentence. As a result of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian interim
peace agreement, however, Zaidan and other PLO members were granted immunity
for violent acts committed before the signing of the September 1993
Zaidan eventually made his way to Iraq where he was
believed to be a conduit for Saddam Hussein's payments to the families
of Palestinian suicide
bombers. He was captured by U.S. forces in a raid in Iraq on
April 15, 2003.
Zaidan died on March 9, 2004, at the age of 56 while in U.S. custody
in Iraq. Klinghoffer's daughters said, “Now, with his death, justice
will be denied. The one consolation for us is that Abul Abbas died in
captivity, not as a free man.”