March 10, 2004,
Perhaps, somewhere in hell, Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas has started to shovel coal into a giant fire for the next...forever. While the world will hardly miss the former secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Front, news of his death may have made Saddam Hussein weep.
Born in 1948, Abbas died in American custody in Iraq Tuesday, apparently of natural causes. According to a news release from the Coalition Joint Task Force in the Iraqi capitol, "U.S. forces have held Abbas since he was captured in Baghdad on April 14, 2003." His path into American hands illustrates why Operation Iraqi Freedom was and is an indispensable part of
Abu Abbas masterminded the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship, off the Egyptian and Israeli coasts. He directed the operation at a distance, by radio. Four Palestinian terrorists boarded the luxury liner that October 7 and held some 400 passengers hostage for 44 hours. They segregated Jews on board, then selected one for special treatment. Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old retiree and stroke victim from New York City, was shot to death, then thrown into the Mediterranean with his wheelchair.
Klinghoffer "was all covered with blood, so much that we couldn't figure out where he was hit," Joaquim Pineiro Da Silva, a Portuguese waiter on the ship, was quoted as saying in the October 18, 1985 issue of Corriere della Sera, Italy's largest paper. Da Silva said that on that October 8, two hijackers threatened him and an on-board hairdresser with a machine gun if they did not dispose of Klinghoffer's corpse. "We picked him up, he was already almost cold...We threw the body overboard and I tried not to look. I heard it fall in the water. I wish I could cry but I can't."
Klinghoffer's body washed ashore near Tartus, Syria a week later. An autopsy revealed that he was shot in the head and back.
The hijackers surrendered to Egyptian authorities in exchange for safe passage. Abu Abbas then joined them on a flight to freedom aboard an Egypt Air jet. However, four U.S. fighter planes forced the airliner to land at the Sigonella NATO base in Sicily that October 11. Italian officials took the hijackers into custody. However, Abbas possessed the ultimate get-out-of-jail card.
''Abu Abbas was the holder of an Iraqi diplomatic passport,'' Italy's then-prime minister Bettino Craxi said. ''The plane was on an official mission, considered covered by diplomatic immunity and extra-territorial status in the air and on the ground.''
Abbas and an aide "remained constantly on board the aircraft covered by diplomatic immunity and under the military control of the Egyptians,'' Craxi said in an October 14, 1985 United Press International dispatch by Rome correspondent Paula Butturini.
Italian officials refused an American request to extradite Abbas. In fact, they released him, whereupon he flew to then-Communist Yugoslavia and beyond. The resulting outrage led one of Craxi's Coalition partners to withdraw from his parliamentary majority. Craxi's appeasement of terrorists caused his government to fall.
Abbas resurfaced in 1994 when he is believed to have moved to Baghdad. He kept an apartment in Iraq and enjoyed the hospitality of Saddam Hussein and the Baathist regime. In appreciation, he praised Hussein's government on Iraqi state television in the autumn of 2001 for fomenting Arab outrage at Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.
Last April 14, with the assistance of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, Special Forces soldiers seized Abbas in a tree-lined compound in southern Baghdad. Two days later, Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told reporters: "Abu Abbas is a terrorist...He was a terrorist. He remains a terrorist. And he will be viewed as such. Notwithstanding any declarations that have been made in recent years, his role in terrorism, his links to terrorist organizations, are abundantly clear."
Abbas was just one guest of Saddam Hussein, the Howard Johnson of global terrorism. Indiana-born, Iraqi-reared Abdul Rahman Yasin built the bomb that exploded under Manhattan's World Trade Center on February 26, 1993, killing six and injuring 1,042 individuals. As ABC News' Sheila MacVicar confirmed on July 27, 1994, Yasin returned to Baghdad where he made himself comfortable and often visited his father. Richard Miniter, author of the bestseller Losing bin Laden, cited documents U.S. forces found in Tikrit, Iraq. He reports that Yasin received "both a house and monthly salary" from Hussein's government.
Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal also lived pleasantly in Baathist Baghdad. Previously, he arranged attacks in 20 countries, killing 407 people, including at least 10 Americans, and wounding 788, among them, 58 Americans. His days under Hussein soured on August 16, 2002, when, as Iraqi officials then amazingly claimed, he committed suicide...by shooting himself four times in the head.
While Nidal ultimately may have found conditions uncomfortable at the Hotel Hussein, the fact remains that the Iraqi dictator provided shelter, funding, training and even diplomatic support for bloodthirsty terrorist murderers. As I documented in the current issue of American Outlook, Saddam Hussein's philanthropy of terror, as exemplified by his generosity toward the late Abu Abbas, offered sufficient justification for Operation Iraqi Freedom and current American and Coalition efforts to stabilize and enrich that country.
This is a simple and winning message that the Bush administration needs to communicate loudly, clearly, constantly, and in great detail. Abu Abbas's death gives them a new opportunity to bring this vital issue into the public eye.