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Palestinians Shout Threats in Courtroom

June 20, 1986

GENOA, Italy (AP) _ Two Palestinians charged with hijacking the Achille Lauro cruise ship shouted angrily in Arabic from their courtroom cages Friday, causing the prosecutor to pale and rush out. ″They have made threats,″ he told reporters.

Judge Lino Monteverde hastily adjourned the day’s trial session of 15 men charged in the two days of terror aboard the Italian liner last October during which 383 people were held hostage and a 69-year-old invalid American was killed. Only five of the defendants are in custody.

Prosecutor Luigi Carli refused to say whether the threats were directed at the court. The Arabic-language reporter appointed by the court, clearly nervous, refused requests for a translation.

Security measures were strictly enforced at the courtroom, a bunker-like chamber built under a courthouse in this northern port city. They include searches with X-ray and metal-detecting devices, and a bomb-sniffing dog was added Friday.

Increased emphasis on security followed a report Thursday by the Italian news agency ANSA that its Beirut office received an anonymous telephone call threatening reprisals if the Achille Lauro defendants are convicted.

Three court police grabbed Youssef Magid al-Molqi and tried to make him sit down in his steel-barred cage when he began screaming at Ahmad Marrouf al- Assadi, who was testifying in front of the judge’s bench.

Assadi, who has cooperated with authorities, is accused of being one of four young Palestinians who seized the Achille Lauro near Port Said, Egypt, on Oct. 7.

He stuck by his pre-trial statements to prosecutors, angering Molqi and Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif, the third accused hijacker involved in the trial, who have repudiated their pre-trial testimony.

The fourth accused hijacker, Bassam al-Ashker, will be tried separately in juvenile court later because he was only 17 when the Palestinians seized the ship.

Molqi’s outburst followed one by Abdelatif, who challenged Assadi’s version of the hijacking.

″Carli, you are false 3/8 Assadi you are false 3/8″ Molqi screamed in Arabic from his cage. Abdelatif then resumed shouting, repeating Molqi’s words.

An editor at RAI state television, which taped the courtroom testimony, said a private interpreter provided that translation.

He added, however, that the court microphone was turned off when Molqi and Abdelatif shouted the threats and no reliable translation was available.

Assadi told the court Friday that Molqi, the alleged pirate leader, also wanted to murder Leon Klinghoffer’s wife after the American was killed and thrown overboard along with the wheelchair to which he was confined.

Court documents, including Molqi’s pre-trial confession, say he shot Klinghoffer in the head and chest, then forced two crew members to dump the body into the sea. It washed ashore in Syria.

Assadi said he wept, embraced Klinghoffer’s wife after he learned of the killing and told her ″I wasn’t involved.″

Abdelatif testified earlier that the terrorists took over the ship because they feared a waiter who entered their cabin without knocking had become suspicious and would say something to authorities.

He and Molqi claim their original plan was to get off at Ashdod, Israel, the next port of call, and seize Israeli hostages.

Assadi told the court Friday that the waiter always knocked before entering.

Abdelatif then stood up, thrust his handcuffed hands partway through the bars and demanded that the court summon the waiter to testify. That began the first screaming bout.

Prosecutors say the hijackers planned to kill an American or British passenger every five minutes until Israel released 51 Palestinians jailed there.

Abdelatif and Molqi have denied killing Klinghoffer and claim he was not even aboard the ship.

Among the 10 defendants who are at large and being tried in absentia 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 Oct. 9 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 later indicted him.

Mohammed Issa Abbas, a cousin of Abul Abbas, is among those in custody. He testified Thursday that his cousin 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 fifth defendant in custody is Mowffaq Said Gandura, a 37-year-old Syrian facing a lesser charge of helping the hijackers travel in Italy before the Achille Lauro was seized.

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