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Lawyer Says Achille Lauro Hijackers Did Not Intend to Kill

July 3, 1986

GENOA, Italy (AP) _ The Achille Lauro hijackers were fighters for a cause, not terrorists, or they would have killed more hostages after shooting Leon Klinghoffer and dumping his body overboard, a defense lawyer said Thursday.

″For goodness sakes, I absolutely am not justifying the action″ of Youssef Magid al-Molqi, his attorney Gianfranco Pagano told the jury on the first day of defense arguments in the two-week-old trial. Molqi is accused of being the hijack leader and murdering the 69-year-old invalid American.

″To kill in cold blood, Molqi would have to be a monster,″ Pagano said, calling his client ″not a monster, but a fighter″ in the Palestinian struggle for a homeland.

In summing up the state’s case Wednesday, prosecutor Luigi Carli asked the jury to convict Molqi and sentence the 23-year-old Palestinian to life in prison.

Only four of the 15 defendants in this trial are in custody, including Molqi. Among those being tried in absentia is Mohammed Abbas, a Palestinian guerrilla leader accused of planning the two-day hijacking of the cruise liner in the eastern Mediterranean.

Pagano told the jury the four young Palestinians who seized the liner Oct. 7 ″did not go on the ship to commit murder ... but to take hostages in hope of exchanging them for the release″ of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

″If they had been terrorists, they would have continued to kill hostages, one every five minutes″ he said. ″When they saw they couldn’t attain their goal, they surrendered.″

The prosecution says Klinghoffer was killed and his body and wheelchair thrown into the sea off Syria after the Syrians refused to help press the hijackers’ demands for the release 51 jailed Palestinians. The body washed ashore in Syria.

American and British passengers had been separated from the rest and the hijackers threatened to kill one every five minutes until their demands were met, according to the indictment.

Defense arguments are expected to occupy the rest of this week, with the jury of two judges and six citizens beginning deliberations next week.

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