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Italy to Request Extradition of Abu Abbas - 2003-04-16

Justice authorities in Italy say the Rome government will request the extradition of Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Abbas now that he has been captured. Abbas was tried in absentia and sentenced to multiple life terms for the 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship.

Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said a request will be made to extradite the Palestinian guerrilla leader, who has been captured by American special operations forces in Iraq.

Italy wants to bring Abu Abbas to justice for the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, in which an elderly and disabled American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, was shot and thrown overboard. At the time, the hijackers had demanded that Israel release 50 Palestinians prisoners.

The hijacking ended after negotiations that were helped by Egypt, but Abbas slipped out of the country after Italian authorities failed to detain him on grounds that there was insufficient evidence.

Two weeks later, Italian magistrates filed charges against Abbas. The Palestinian was tried in absentia in Italy in 1996 and sentenced to five life terms for planning the hijacking in the Mediterranean.

The justice minister said Italy now needs to clarify legally to whom it must address the extradition request. Abbas was captured in Baghdad, but is being held by U.S. forces there.

Mr. Castelli said requests for the extradition of Abbas had been made in recent months to Egypt and Jordan.

The deputy speaker of Italy's lower house of parliament, Alfredo Biondi, said Abbas must pay for his crime in Italy. He also said the capture of Abbas in Baghdad is clear evidence that Iraq was harboring and giving refuge to terrorists.