ROME – Italy will seek the extradition of Abu Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian terrorist group that killed an American on the hijacked cruise liner Achille Lauro in 1985, the justice minister said Wednesday.
Abbas was arrested by U.S. commandos during a raid Monday night on the southern outskirts of Baghdad. He had been convicted in absentia in an Italian court for the Achille Lauro hijacking and sentenced to life in prison in 1986, but never served any time.
Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said Italy had sought his extradition in recent months from Egypt and Jordan, where Italian intelligence information said he might be.
"Now we know he has been captured in Iraq, but that he's in the hands of American authorities. We will have to clarify some legal questions as to whom to request the extradition, which we'll do as soon as possible," he said.
The minister's spokesman, Lorenzo Colombo, said later "If the competent authority is the United States, we will ask the United States."
American officials would not say whether Abbas would be held inside Iraq, taken to a third country or detained at a U.S. base. They also would not say whether he would face charges in the United States.
Abbas, whose real name is Mohammed Abbas, garnered international attention when the ship Achille Lauro was seized off Port Said, Egypt, by members of a PLO splinter group called the Palestine Liberation Front.
Hundreds of passengers, including American Leon Klinghoffer and his wife, were taken hostage. The hijackers demanded that Israel release 50 imprisoned Palestinians.
Militants shot Klinghoffer in his wheelchair and tossed him overboard.
The other passengers were released after a two-day ordeal and the commandos surrendered to Egyptian authorities, who put them on a flight to the PLO's headquarters in Tunisia.
U.S. Navy fighters forced the flight down in Sicily. The Italians, to the Americans' dismay, allowed Abbas to flee to Yugoslavia before a U.S. warrant for piracy and hostage-taking could be served.
Abbas disappeared, and international manhunts and a price on his head failed to flush him out. His faction relocated to Iraq after the attack.