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Palestinian Denies Killing Klinghoffer

June 19, 1986

GENOA, Italy (AP) _ The Palestinian who had confessed to killing Leon Klinghoffer denied in court Thursday that he did it and claimed the 69-year-old invalid American was not even aboard the hijacked cruise liner Achille Lauro.

Youssef Magid al-Molqi, 23, declared that the report of Klinghoffer’s death ″was a frame-up between the Americans and the Syrians.″ U.S. officials identified the body after it washed up on the Syrian coast.

Judge Lino Monteverde, who is conducting the trial of 15 people charged in last October’s two-day hijacking, read from a confession Molqi gave a prosecutor Nov. 8.

In it, Molqi said the four Palestinians who seized the ship off Port Said, Egypt, decided to kill a hostage because Syria refused to help press their demands that Israel release 51 Palestinian prisoners. The liner was off the Syrian port of Tartus at the time but was denied permission to enter.

Monteverde read from the confession: ″I remember that it was 3:12 (p.m.). I went down where the hostages were and I forced a Portuguese waiter to bring the American to the stern of the ship. I shot twice, once to the head and once to the chest.

″I and Bassam agreed that the first hostage to be killed had to be American. I chose Klinghoffer, an invalid, so that they would know that we had no pity for anyone, just as the Americans, arming Israel, do not take into consideration that Israel kills without discrimination women and children of our people.″

Bassam al-Ashker, accused of being the fourth hijacker, is to be tried separately in a juvenile court because he was 17 when the ship was seized and the 383 people aboard taken hostage.

When he had finished reading, Judge Monteverde asked Molqi, ″How do you defend yourself?″

″I did not kill him, this is not true,″ said the young Palestinian described as the leader of the pirates. Klinghoffer ″was not on the ship and I did not see him.″

″Not one of us killed an American, not even I,″ Molqi said in Arabic, through an interpreter.

Monteverde pointed out that an Italian hairdresser and a Portuguese waiter in the crew had said Molqi forced them to dump Klinghoffer’s body overboard.

He read from the part of the confession in which Molqi told prosecutor Luigi Carli that he first told the waiter to throw the corpse into the sea:

″But he (the waiter) wasn’t able to do it. So then I stopped an Italian and together with the Portuguese I ordered them to throw the body in the water.″

Molqi testified for two hours in the heavily guarded chamber built ike a bunker under a Genoa courthouse. He sat before the judge with an armed policeman at either side.

Prosecutors say the pirates planned to kill an American or British hostage every five minutes unless their demands were met.

Molqi insisted they intended to leave the Achille Lauro in Ashdod, Israel, the next stop after Port Said, attack the customs office and ″take as many Israelis as possible″ hostage.

He said they seized the ship only because a waiter became suspicious. Monteverde replied that the waiter told investigators Molqi’s story was false.

The other two accused hijackers in this trial are Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif, 20, of Lebanon, and Ahmed Marrouf al-Assadi, a 24-year-old native of Damascus, Syria.

Only five defendants are in custody. Among the fugitives is Mohammed Abbas, a Palestinian guerrilla leader also known as Abul Abbas. Prosecutors say he planned the hijacking.

Abul Abbas helped negotiate the hijackers’ surrender at Port Said and was with them on an Egyptian airliner that U.S. warplanes forced down in Sicily. Italian authorities released him on grounds of insufficient evidence but subsequently issued an indictment.

Fourteen defendants are charged with the actual hijacking, hostage-taking and murder or as accomplices. The missing defendants are being tried in absentia.

Mohammed Issa Abbas, a cousin of Abul Abbas, is among those in custody. He testified Thursday that Abul Abbas gave him a letter to deliver to Palestinians in Genoa.

He said he did not read the letter but concluded that it contained instructions for a suicide mission.

The 15th defendant, and the other man in custody, is Mowffaq Said Gandura, a 37-year-old Syrian facing a lesser charge of helping the defendants travel in Italy before the hijacking.

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