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'Peace partner helped free Achille Lauro terrorist'

Achille Lauro

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas personally interceded to urge the release of the terrorist who in 1985 infamously led the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro and the murder of an American Jewish passenger, according to two diplomatic sources with direct knowledge of the release negotiations.

The two sources were working to petition against the release of Youssef Magied al-Molqui, who led the hijacking. The sources claimed to WND they were made aware by Italian officials that Abbas personally asked Italy to release al-Molqui.

A spokesman for the PA denied Abbas had any involvement with al-Molqui’s release.

Al-Molqui was the leader of a cell from the Palestinian Liberation Front, which splintered from Abbas’ Palestinian Liberation Organization, the PLO. The PLO at the time was led by Yasser Arafat.

U.S. and Israeli policy considers Abbas’ PA to be moderate.

Al-Molqui was released yesterday from a prison in Palermo, Italy, having served almost 24 years of his 30-year sentence. Italian officials told media Al-Molqui was released on good behavior.

Al-Molqui and three other Palestinian terrorists attacked and hijacked the Achille Lauro Oct. 7, 1985. Their group demanded the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners. One of the hijackers shot and killed wheelchair-bound American tourist Leon Klinghoffer, 69, before throwing him overboard. His corpse washed ashore weeks later.

All the terrorist hijackers initially escaped after allowing the Achille Lauro to dock in Egypt, but the U.S. military intercepted an Egyptian plane being used by the terrorists to flee. The U.S. Air Force forced the plane to land in Sicily, where the four hijackers were arrested.

Still, Italians allowed one of the terrorists, Abu Abbas, to escape, generating a crisis in U.S.-Italian relations.

Al-Molqui himself failed to return to prison in 1996 following a furlough. He was re-arrested in Spain.

Shock admission

In an astonishing admission last summer, the former president of Italy confirmed his country provided Palestinian terror groups with sanctuary and the ability to establish internal bases in a secret pact in which the terrorists pledged not to target Italian interests.

“I always knew, though not by official documents and information kept from me, about the existence of an agreement based on ‘don’t harm me and I won’t harm you’ between the Italian Republic and organizations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the PLO,” former Italian President Francesco Cossiga revealed in a letter to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Cossiga was responding to an interview the newspaper conducted with Bassam Abu Sharif, a top Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP, leader who claimed Italy provided his group in the 1970s with safe haven in a non-aggression pact.

“The terms of the agreement were that the Palestinian organizations could even maintain armed bases of operation in the country, and they had freedom of entry and exit without being subject to normal police controls, because they were ‘handled’ by the secret services,” Cossiga wrote.

Cossiga stated the agreement was approved and directed by former Italian Premier Aldo Moro, who in 1978 was kidnapped and assassinated by the Italian terror group the Red Brigades.

At the time of the agreement, Cossiga was serving as Italy’s interior minister. Palestinian groups in the 1970s carried out scores of attacks targeting European countries.

“During my time as interior minister I learned that PLO people were holding heavy artillery in their homes and protected by diplomatic immunity as representatives of the Arab League. I was told not to worry and I managed to convince them to lay down their heavy artillery and make do with light weaponry,” Cossiga wrote.

The Italian pact apparently didn’t work. Palestinian factions are blamed for several attacks against Italy in the 1970s and 80s, including an attack at Rome’s airport and main synagogue, and the Achille Lauro hijacking. The Rome airport attack was attributed by some to a breakaway PLO leadership.

Cossiga singles out Palestinian groups as responsible for a 1980 explosion at an Italian train station that killed 85 people and wounded 200 more. He says it may have been a “work accident” by Palestinians transporting explosives into Italy.