Report: Libyan-sponsored attacker now free in Rome

The only terrorist who served prison time for the 1985 attack on Rome's airport that killed 16 people has been released after serving his term and is living and working legally in Rome, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

Il Messaggero daily interviewed Mahmoud Ibrahim Khaled over the weekend amid new turmoil in Libya, which the United States has long blamed for sponsoring the airport attack.

Khaled, a 44-year-old Syrian, told the newspaper that the killings haunt him, that he realizes how wrong terrorism is and how wrong he was, and that he hopes Allah has forgiven him.

An Italian court in 1988 convicted Khaled, fugitive Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Nidal and another Palestinian for the attack. Khaled, who was 18 at the time of the attack and the only one in custody, was sentenced to 30 years in prison but was released early for good behavior in June, Messagero said.

Abu Nidal died in Baghdad in 2002.

Italy tried to get Khaled's native Syria or Libya to take him in after he was released from prison, but neither would accept him. Italian authorities gave him a residency permit, though he must check in with police and can't leave the Rome area, Messaggero said.

Khaled said he's grateful and feels like he has begun a new life, with a girlfriend and a job. But he said he will live with the grief of what he had done forever.

"I think about the dead always," he was quoted as saying. "In prison I was able to reflect and turn my head around and now I want to teach young people that it's wrong to dedicate themselves to a cause using weapons and staging attacks."

Sixteen people, including three terrorists, were killed and 80 injured in the Dec. 27, 1985 assault on the check-in counters of TWA and the Israeli carrier El Al at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport. A nearly simultaneous attack at the Vienna airport cost four lives, including those of two terrorists, and left 47 people wounded.

The United States accused Libya of sponsoring the attacks and harboring Abu Nidal.