Hijackers Used Death List To Target Victims, Hostage’s Husband Says
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ The Palestinians who hijacked a cruise ship in the Mediterranean shuffled passports to make up a death list of passengers and ″were just going to go down the list″ when they murdered a crippled American, the husband of a freed hostage said Friday.
Neil Kantor, whose wife, June, was among 11 Americans who left the Achille Lauro in Port Said late Thursday after two days of terror at sea, told reporters that he heard of the plan from the passengers.
″They made up a list of who they were going to kill and they were just going to go down the list,″ said Kantor, who planned to return to the United States in the next few days.
The victim, Leon Klinghoffer, 69, of New York City was left partially paralyzed by a stroke six years earlier and was often confined to a wheelchair.
Western diplomats said Klinghoffer was slain by one of the gunmen Tuesday and thrown into the Mediterranean off Syria.
Other former hostages had already reported being hit and terrorized by the hijackers, and had said the American passengers were separated from others aboard the ship.
Italian Ambassador Giovanni Migliuolo told reporters Thursday in Port Said that the gunmen planned to kill an unidentified woman but the ship’s Capt. Gerardo de Rosa talked them out of it.
Kantor, of Metuchen, N.J., said the hostages apparently shuffled the passports of English-speaking passengers to decide the order in which they would die.
″Leon Klinghoffer was number one,″ Kantor said. ″Mildred Hodes was number two. This was what the captain said.″
Kantor said he could not remember the name of the third person on the list, but ″the fourth name was Silvia Sherman, who was in our group.″
″So they did have a list, and they did it by taking the passports and apparently shuffling them and the order they came out that was the death list,″ Kantor said.
Seymour Meskin, 71, of Union, N.J., a former hostage along with his wife, Viola, said he thought the pirates had chosen certain hostages for harsh treatment simply because they were British or American and not because of religion.
Klinghoffer, of New York City, was Jewish. His wife, Marilyn, was among the Americans who returned to Cairo from Port Said early Friday, but she did not meet reporters.
Meskin said that shortly before Klinghoffer’s death, the gunmen took the American passengers, along with two Austrian Jews and five female members of a British dance troupe, to an upper deck and forced them to kneel for three hours.
Klinghoffer ″did not walk very well and when they took us up on the deck, he couldn’t walk upstairs and he was left behind,″ Meskin said.
When the Americans, British dancers and the Austrians were allowed to join the rest of the passengers, Klinghoffer was missing, Meskin said.
″We were told he was not feeling very well and was at the hospital,″ Meskin said. ″But no one was allowed to see him.″
Mrs. Meskin added, ″We could hear gun shots and a splash.″ None of the former hostages saw Klinghoffer slain.
Kantor said that when the group was brought onto the deck, the hijackers terrorized them by threatening to ignite cans of diesel fuel near them.
″They sat them on this metal deck which was exposed to the heat and the sun,″ Kantor said. ″They had several cans, open cans of I presume diesel oil″ and threatened to shoot the containers to spark a fire.
″These women thought they were going to be incinerated,″ Kantor said.
Mrs. Meskin said the gunmen’s behavior swung from acts of extreme cruelty to simple kindness.
The gunmen, alternatively praising Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat and cursing President Reagan, pulled pins on grenades and ″played around with them,″ she said.
One passenger asked for some water, she said, and a gunman personally washed the glass and brought it to him.
″But the next minute, when Marilyn Klinghoffer was on the floor exhausted, one got up and kicked her with the butt of a rifle,″ she said.