Captain Denies Cover-Up in Klinghoffer’s Murder
The captain of the Achille Lauro denied today that he covered up the hijackers’ slaying of passenger Leon Klinghoffer and said he offered his own life to prevent the killing of more hostages.
Capt. Gerardo De Rosa, testifying in the fifth day of the trial on the seizing of his vessel by a four-man Palestinian team, said he never saw Klinghoffer’s body. The body of Klinghoffer, 69, was thrown overboard.
De Rosa said he suspected the killing when Youssef Molki, 23, leader of the hijackers, came on to the bridge carrying two American passports.
Bassam Ashker, another member of the hijack team who is being tried separately because he was under 18 when the Achille Lauro was hijacked Oct. 7-9, came on to the bridge with Molki, De Rosa said.
“This is the first one we have eliminated,” Ashker said, according to De Rosa.
“Molki made a sign with one finger,” De Rosa said. “He gave me one passport. I did not understand but I opened the passport and read the name Leon Klinghoffer.
“Molki had bloodstains on his pants,” the captain said. “I hoped it was just from a scratch. Then Molki showed me the second passport--it was that of Mildred Hodes (of New York City)--and said, ‘This will be the second one.’
“I was convinced they were going to kill more people,” the captain told the court. “I said that instead of killing everybody, they could kill just one person--the commander of the ship.”
De Rosa said that during the hijacking he reported that Klinghoffer was missing because “I did not see the body. I did not hear the shots. I hoped desperately that the hijackers were lying.”
The captain said that after the hijackers surrendered he informed Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi by telephone that Klinghoffer “was missing and had been eliminated.”
Antonio Badini, political adviser to Craxi, testified today that the government let Abu Abbas, leader of the Popular Liberation Front to which the hijackers belonged, leave Italy because he had worked as an intermediary to get the hijackers to surrender.
Abbas, 37, now a fugitive, is accused of masterminding the hijacking and is being tried in absentia. In all, 15 men are on trial--10 in abstentia.
Abbas had been seized after the Egyptian airliner taking him and the hijackers to refuge in Tunisia was intercepted by U.S. Navy jets and forced to land at the Sigonella air base in Sicily.