Grim Evidence

The story of Leon Klinghoffer's death told to Italian authorities by the Palestinian hijackers of the Achille Lauro and adamantly echoed by officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization now stands conclusively exposed for the cheap lie that it was. Klinghoffer, in the Palestinians' version, died innocently enough of a heart attack and consequently, so the claim goes, homicide charges against the Palestinian terrorists can't be sustained. With the recovery of Klinghoffer's body, whatever final evidence that might have been needed to prove murder has come to light.

As the post-mortem examination has shown, Klinghoffer, 69, semiparalyzed and confined to a wheelchair, died after being shot in the back and through the head. He was the first of the 18 Americans aboard the Achille Lauro who, as U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Nicholas A. Veliotes put it, had been assigned numbers, like cattle, specifying the order in which they were to be executed. From everything known now about what went on aboard the ship after it was seized by the terrorists, the murder of Klinghoffer was as planned, deliberate and cold-blooded as any killing can be.

There was ample evidence to support this charge even before Klinghoffer's body washed ashore in Syria. At least one member of the liner's crew witnessed the murder and was later forced to help dispose of the body. The ship's captain has related how one of the blood-spattered terrorists bragged to him of the killing. Other physical evidence of the murder exists aboard the ship. The killers and their apologists seemed to think that without a body no firm case of murder could be established. They were wrong, and with the recovery of the body that case has been made irrefutable.

Syria's behavior in all this is of more than passing interest. It would have been an easy matter for Syria to keep the recovery of Klinghoffer's body to itself, with no one the wiser. Instead Syria promptly told the U.S. Embassy in Damascus of its discovery and cooperated in identifying the body. Syria's motives are obvious: It supports factions within the PLO that are rivals of Yasser Arafat. In turning over Klinghoffer's body, Syria has done its part to help convict the Achille Lauro killers and embarrass the Arafat supporters they are linked to. On occasion, it seems, even a regime that is habitually nasty chooses to do the right thing.

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