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Survivors Of Airport Attack Describe Horror of Massacre

January 15, 1988

ROME (AP) _ An American journalist whose 11-year-old daughter was killed in the 1985 terrorist attack in a Rome airport testified today about how he sought to protect his child in 90 seconds of confusion and terror.

Victor L. Simpson, 45-year-old Rome news editor for The Associated Press, gave the testimony as the trial resumed for Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Nidal and two others in the attack that left 16 people dead and 80 wounded.

The trial, which began Dec. 15 and was adjourned before Christmas, resumed with testimony from travelers who were wounded or lost relatives in the attack.

Simpson said he was entering the lobby of Leonardo da Vinci Airport with his daughter, Natasha, and his son Michael, then 9 years old, en route to a family vacation in the United States, when the attack began.

″My son was behind me. I was ahead with my daughter,″ Simpson said, his back to the courtroom, speaking in slow, clear Italian, surrounded by photographers and TV cameras. ″After a few seconds, I heard an explosion ... it was all confusion.″

He said he hurled Natasha to the ground, and they lay stretched out together on the terminal floor.

″Then there was the shooting ... there was much confusion. It lasted a few minutes. Obviously my daughter was gravely injured. I was wounded but in a minor way,″ said Simpson, who was injured in the hand by a bullet. His son Michael suffered abdominal wounds in the attack.

Vincenzo Della Scala, whose father, Franco, was killed, said he was taking a baggage cart into the airport lobby while his mother and sister waited outside.

″I remember only the shots and then I fell to the ground,″ he said.

Several other Americans who survived the attack were initially asked to testify about the Dec. 27, 1985 massacre, but Italian officials decided their pre-trial statements would suffice as evidence in court, the American Embassy said.

Four Americans, including Natasha Simpson, and three terrorists were among those killed at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport. Another nine people died and 80 were wounded.

A fourth terrorist, Mahmoud Ibrahim Khaled, 20, who was wounded, is the only defendant in custody.

A virtually simultaneous attack at Vienna’s airport left four people, including one American, dead and 47 wounded.

Khaled told investigators before trial began that the attack was ordered by Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Nidal, who heads the Fatah Revolutionary Council.

Abu Nidal, whose real name is Sabri al-Banna, split with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1973. An international arrest warrant has been issued for him.

He is being tried in absentia, along with the third defendant, Rashid el- Hamieda, a fugitive described by Khaled as the coordinator of the strike.

The indictment states that the four commandos began the terrorist operation by tossing hand grenades and spraying rifle fire in the direction of the check-in counters of TWA and the Israeli airline El Al.

According to the indictment, Khaled cooperated with investigators, describing how he was trained for terrorism in a camp in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.

The trial could shed light on how Abu Nidal’s group plans attacks and Syria’s relation to terrorism.

Abu Nidal’s organization reportedly has been expelled from Damascus and is now said to be based in Lebanon with training camps in Libya.

Khaled’s court-appointed attorney, Epifanio Ales, said earlier this week that his client would not attend further sessions.

He appeared at the opening session and, in a statement from his barred holding cage, announced that he would no longer come to trial because he didn’t want to cause any more pain to relatives of the victims.

He has told investigators the strike was to avenge Israel’s October 1985 bombing of PLO headquarters in Tunisia.

According to Khaled’s statements as recorded in the indictment, the commandos planned to take American and Jewish hostages in the terminal, hijack an El Al jet to Tel Aviv and blow it up over the Israeli city, ending their suicide mission.

A strong response by security forces and the failure of a fifth and sixth terrorist to appear sabotaged the plan, Khaled said.

Khaled is accused of causing a massacre, a charge which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Unlike American courts, Italian trials do not rely on testimony and cross- examination, but instead, prosecutors present pre-trial statements to the jury and call witnesses to confirm the statements before the court.

Update hourly