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Hijackers’ Sentences Less Than Maximum

From Reuters

The Achille Lauro hijackers were convicted and sentenced to less-than-maximum jail terms on arms charges today on the recommendation of a prosecutor who argued that “fighting for a cause cannot be considered devoid of valid reasons even if terrorist methods are used.”

After the sentences--ranging from four to nine years--were announced, the five defendants raised their hands in the V-for-victory sign and chanted in unison, “We shall defend our Palestine with our soul and our blood.”

A separate trial on the hijacking charges is expected next spring.

A three-judge panel found the five guilty of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and agreed with Public Prosecutor Luigi Carli, who recommended prison terms of four to nine years rather than the maximum 12 years.

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‘Fighting for a Cause’

“All things considered, fighting for a cause cannot be considered devoid of valid reasons even if terrorist methods are used,” Carli said.

The verdict and sentences came at the end of a one-day trial of the four alleged hijackers and a fifth man accused of bringing their weapons into Italy. Carli said all five had confessed the arms offenses.

Palestinian commandos demanding the release of colleagues jailed in Israel and elsewhere held the Italian luxury liner for three days in the Mediterranean last month before surrendering to Egyptian authorities.

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A wheelchair-bound American tourist, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed during the hijacking.

Intercepted by U.S. Jets

A plane carrying the hijackers out of Egypt was intercepted by U.S. jet fighters and forced to land at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization base in Sicily, where the hijackers were arrested.

Court President Carlo Maria Napoli and two other judges deliberated nearly 2 1/2 hours before handing down the verdict and sentences today.

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The alleged leader of the hijackers, Youssef Magid Molqi, 23, was jailed for eight years and fined $1,700.

Mohammed Khalaf, accused of bringing the weapons to Italy in a car that disembarked at Genoa from a Tunisian ferry, was sentenced to nine years in prison and fined $1,700.

The other defendants identified Khalaf in depositions to magistrates as a relative and close personal associate of Palestinian leader Abul Abbas, who is believed by Italian magistrates and U.S. officials to have masterminded the hijacking.

Allowed to Leave Italy

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Abbas was aboard the plane forced down in Sicily but was allowed to leave Italy afterward.

Ibrahim Abdellatif, 20, described by Carli as second in command among the hijackers, was sentenced to seven years and three months and fined $550. Bassam Ashker, 19, who was said by Carli to have had a less important role in the affair, was jailed for 6 1/2 years and fined $800.

The lightest sentence went to Ahmed Assadi, 23, who was jailed for four years and fined $500.


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