Cheers Over Seizure of Hijackers Follows Reagan on Fund-Raising Trip
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The echo of President Reagan’s order last week to capture the fleeing hijackers of an Italian cruise ship continues to ring in his ears and highlighted a cross-country GOP fund-raising trip.
Shouts of support from the crowds and tributes for his action from people he went to help followed Reagan on Tuesday during a 13-hour, 4,200-mile stump for Republican senators in Idaho and Wisconsin.
In Milwaukee, Reagan never mentioned the events of last week involving the Achille Lauro and the apprehension by U.S. Navy jet fighters of four hijackers from a Palestine Liberation Organization faction.
But Sen. Robert Kasten, in introducing the president at a GOP fundraiser, drew cheers from the crowd when he said people everywhere ″join you in your praise of the Navy pilots and, most of all, salute you, Mr. President, as commander-in-chief for standing up against worldwide terrorism.″
Reagan barely mentioned the incident in the remarks prepared for a similar fund-raising speech earlier in the day on behalf of Sen. Steve Symms in Boise. But from a cheering crowd at the airport in Boise came a shouted, ″Way to go with the PLO 3/8″
The body of a 69-year-old American tourist, Leon Klinghoffer, who died aboard the ship during the hijacking was identified today by officials in Syria who were examining a body that washed ashore near the port city of Tartus, the State Department said. Klinghoffer was reported shot on the liner and his body dumped overboard off the Syrian coast. Spokesman Joe Reap said in Washington this morning that the body had two apparent bullet wounds.
During his trip Tuesday, Reagan at first refused to comment on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek’s demand that he apologize for forcing down an Egyptian airliner with the accused hijackers on board. But he gave relented when a reporter asked if the United States did anything to apologize for.
″Never 3/8″ the president replied, disappearing into his limousine.
Symms, a one-term senator expecting stiff Democratic opposition next year, drew his loudest applause praising Reagan’s order to force the hijackers’ plane to divert to Italy.
Delivering a message he said came from the Sun Valley Veterans of Foreign Wars, Symms told Reagan, ″Bring ‘em to justice, give ‘em a quick and fair trial, and hang ’em.″
Although the accused hijackers don’t face a death penalty either in Italy or the United States, it was a message that delighted the audience of 1,800 Symms and Reagan supporters.
In contrast to that tough cowboy talk, Reagan, even in elaborating on his text, simply expressed pride in the servicemen who conducted the operation.
″They didn’t have more than an hour’s notice,″ Reagan said. ″And yet, out there, over the Mediterranean, with all the aerial traffic that was going on in that area, in the dark of night, they were able to pick out the target plane and persuade it to land where they wanted it to land.″
He asked members of his audience to take notice of Americans in uniform and go a little out of the way to ″say hello and give them a smile and tell them how proud we are.″
If the administration’s sense of triumph over the capture on Thursday was dampened by the refusal of Italy and Yugoslavia to detain the accused mastermind of the ship hijacking and murder of Klinghoffer, it was hardly apparent on the campaign trail.
Presidential spokesmen told reporters aboard Air Force One that Reagan ″is confident he did the right thing″ and the administration ″will continue to be keenly interested in the apprehension″ of Palestine Liberation Front leader Mohammed Abbas.
The 38-year-old Abbas helped get the hijackers off the ship and accompanied them on the intercepted flight. He apparently made his way from Italy to Yugoslavia and back to some receptive nation in the Arab world without being served with an arrest warrant issued by the U.S. District Court in Washington. The warrant charged him with masterminding the hijacking.
One U.S. official said Tuesday that messages between Abbas and the four hijackers were among the evidence offered by the Reagan administration to a U.S. court here to back the claim Abbas planned the ship seizure.
The administration also submitted a history of past terrorist attacks by the Palestine Liberation Front in which captured members stated they got their instructions from Abbas.
The text of the messages was not released to the public on the grounds the evidence was ″sealed″ in order not to prejudice any future legal proceedings.
The messages were intercepted while the hijackers were still on the ship, said the U.S. official, who demanded anonymity.
Abbas and the others were forced down in Sicily after the Egyptian plane carried them from Cairo in search of sanctuary. The Reagan administration is urging Italy to extradite the four Palestinians to try them in the murder of Klinghoffer.
At a meeting Thursday at the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is expected to ask Reagan to rule out any role for the PLO in Mideast peace negotiations.
Israeli sources speaking only on condition of anonymity said Peres will cite the Achille Lauro hijacking as evidence ″the PLO cannot be transformed.″