Waiter Identifies Hijacker Who Ordered Him to Dump Klinghoffer’s Body
GENOA, Italy (AP) _ A ship’s waiter testified Monday that Leon Klinghoffer was silent as his wheelchair was pushed across the deck of the Achille Lauro to a waiting Palestinian hijacker armed with an automatic rifle.
Two shots were fired, Manuel de Souza said, then he and the cruise liner’s hairdresser, Ferruccio Alberti, were ordered to dump the 69-year-old American’s bloodied corpse and his wheelchair into the Mediterranean Sea.
The Portuguese waiter told Judge Lino Monteverde he could identify the man who summoned him from the dining room, where the hostages were held, and ordered him to bring Klinghoffer out.
De Souza pointed out Youssef Magid al-Molqi, who listened from behind the steel bars of his holding cage in the chamber built like a bunker beneath a Genoa courthouse.
The trial indictment describes Molqi, 23, as the leader of the four Palestinians who seized the ship Oct. 7 off Port Said, Egypt, and subjected nearly 400 hostages to two days of terror at sea. It also says Molqi was the man who killed Klinghoffer with two bullets from a Kalashnikov assault rifle, one in the head and one in the chest.
Molqi, who confessed to the killing in pre-trial testimony, claimed in court last week that he did not kill Klinghoffer and that the American was not even aboard the ship.
Monteverde, who is presiding at the trial of 15 men charged in the hijacking, asked the waiter through an interpreter whether the invalid New Yorker said anything as de Souza wheeled him across the deck.
″No,″ he replied. It was the fourth day of the trial in this northern port city, where the Achille Lauro began its Mediterranean cruise.
De Souza said he was told to go away after he delivered Klinghoffer, and did so. He heard shots a few minutes later and was summoned again, this time to dump the body overboard into the waters off the Syrian coast, he testified.
Alberti, the hairdresser, testified earlier Monday that, when de Souza proved unable to lift the body alone, the hijacker ordered him to help.
″I saw this man and the body on the ground, and he gestured for me to throw it into the water,″ Alberti testified. ″I was so afraid.″
After that, the hijacker ordered them to throw the wheelchair overboard, he said.
The hairdresser said he could not identify the hijacker, adding: ″I didn’t even look him in the face.″
De Souza said he went inside again to clean the blood off his clothes, and Alberti testified that he also left, but was forced to return and wash the blood from the deck.
When the judge asked Alberti whether he could pick the hijacker out from among the five defendants in the room, he shook his head.
Alfredo Biondi, a lawyer representing Klinghoffer’s daughter, Ilsa, in a civil suit for damages, reminded the court that Alberti had picked out Molqi in a photograph during pre-trial questioning as the man who ordered the body dumped overboard.
Alberti replied that Molqi ″seemed″ at the time to be the man, but he could not be sure because ″two of the hijackers looked similar.″
A British member of the crew, Cheryl Herrington, pointed out Molqi as the man who entered the dining room after Klinghoffer was wheeled out and indicated someone had been killed.
″What did he do?″ Monteverde asked.
″He said, ‘Boom, boom’,″ making it clear that the American had been killed, she said.
Klinghoffer’s body washed ashore later in Syria and was identified by U.S. officials.
Only three of the four accused hijackers are involved in this trial: Molqi, Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif and Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi. The fourth, Bassam al- Ashker, will be tried separately by a juvenile court because he was only 17 when the Achille Lauro was seized.
Ten of the defendants are at large and are being tried in absentia. Among them is Mohammed Abbas, also known as Abul Abbas, who is accused of planning the hijack. Abul Abbas is a leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, one of the factions in the Palestine Liberation Organization.