Abul Abbas, mastermind of the Achille Lauro ship hijacking in which a wheelchair-bound American was killed, said Friday that his future strikes would be on Israel, not against "innocent people."
Abbas, here at a meeting of the Palestine National Council, or parliament-in-exile, is being dropped from the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, reportedly because of the October, 1985, hijacking of the Italian cruise ship.
"How many times must I apologize and clarify the Achille Lauro affair?" Abbas said about the hijacking by four Palestinian gunmen of his terrorist organization, the Palestine Liberation Front.
The gunmen, Abbas said in an interview, were initially set to attack an Israeli military base after the Achille Lauro called at an Israeli port during its Mediterranean cruise.
But the guerrillas panicked after weapons were found in their cabin, and they seized the ship. During the 51-hour hijacking, which ended at Port Said, Egypt, one of the gunmen shot and killed Leon Klinghoffer, 69, of New York City, and pushed him overboard.
American jet fighters later intercepted an Egyptian plane carrying Abbas and the hijackers, forcing it to land in Italy. But Italian authorities let Abbas go, saying they lacked evidence to hold him.
Abbas, a military aide and the four gunmen were convicted of murder and hijacking by Italian courts in July, 1986. Abbas was one of three defendants convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison.
The guerrilla leader is still wanted in the United States as well as in Italy.