Another Defendant Retracts Confession; Waiter, Cashier Testify
GENOA, Italy (AP) _ The Achille Lauro hijacking trial adjourned abruptly today after two of the Palestinian defendants started yelling menacingly in Arabic across the courtroom.
Prosecutor Luigi Carli looked shaken and refused to say whether he or any other authorities in the case had been threatened. He hurried out of the courtroom.
The court interpreter was ordered not to translate the defendants’ shouts for reporters.
But it was clear that the two Palestinians’ shouts were directed in part at a fellow defendant, Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi, who has cooperated with prosecutors. Assadi and the two defendants who began shouting, Youssef Magied al-Molqi and Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif, are charged with staging the hijacking.
Assadi, 24, had just testified that Molqi wanted to kill the wife of Leon Klinghoffer, an American passenger who was shot to death during the October hijacking of the Italian cruise ship.
Molqi is accused of killing Klinghoffer, 69, a wheelchair-bound New Yorker, and ordering the crew to dump his body overboard. On Thursday, however, Molqi retracted a confession given prosecutors a month after the hijacking.
Assadi testified that he embraced Klinghoffer’s wife after he learned of the killing and told her, ″I wasn’t involved.″
Abdelatif, 20, demanded that the court call a witness who, he claimed, would contradict the testimony just given by Assadi. The court allowed Abdelatif to question Assadi, but the exchange quickly led to an uproar.
Molqi, 23, also began screaming, and court policemen surrounded and tried to subdue him.
Earlier today, Abdelatif recanted a pre-trial statement in which he said Molqi admitted killing Klinghoffer, and said none of the hijackers killed the American.
Judge Lino Monteverde, who is conducting the trial of 15 defendants, read from a pre-trial statement by Abdelatif that quoted him as saying: ″Molqi told me he killed an American but did not tell me why.″
″No, he didn’t say this,″ Abdelatif told the judge today.
Monteverde quoted Abdelatif as saying: ″We blocked Molqi from killing Leon Klinghoffer’s wife.‴
But Abdelatif insisted today that Molqi had no such plan. ″No one of us killed″ Klinghoffer, he said.
Prosecutors say four Palestinian pirates planned to kill an American or British hostage every five minutes unless their demands that Israel release 51 Palestinian prisoners were met.
Bassam al-Ashker, who is accused of being the fourth hijacker, is to be tried later in juvenile court because he was 17 when the ship was seized and the 383 people aboard taken hostage.
Only five of the defendants are in custody. Among the fugitives is Mohammed Abbas, a Palestinian guerrilla leader also known as Abul Abbas. Prosecutors say he was the mastermind of the hijacking.
A waiter aboard the cruise ship today identified Abdelatif and Assadi as hijackers and testified that American and British passengers were separated from the other hostages.
But the waiter, Antonia Manna, said he could not positively identify Molqi as one of the hijackers.
After the hijackers announced they were seizing control of the Italian liner, ″they immediately separated the American and English passengers″ Manna testified.
An Austrian woman, Brigitte Tasch, one of the ship’s cashiers, also identified Abdelatif and Assadi as hijackers but did not identify Molqi. She said there were ″two or three″ hijackers.
Security in and around the courtroom under a Genoa courthouse was particularly heavy today, a day after a bomb exploded at an Italian trade office in Athens and another bomb was found at the Italian consulate in the Greek capital.
An anonymous telephone caller to a Western news agency in Beirut on Thursday threatened to attack Italian interests and the Italian judiciary because of the trial.
Of the 15 defendants, 14 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.
Abul Abbas helped negotiate the hijackers’ surrender at Port Said on Oct. 9 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.
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.