Explains Rejection of U.S. Extradition Request With AM-Italy-Hijacking, Bjt
VICTOR L. SIMPSON
Oct. 15, 1985
ROME (AP) _ Premier Bettino Craxi said Monday he personally told President Reagan that Italy would not hand over the four men who hijacked the Achille Lauro and are accused of murdering an American, nor the two PLO officials who flew with them to Italy.
Craxi denied reports of tension between U.S. and Italian soldiers at the Sigonella NATO base on Sicily, where U.S. Navy planes forced the Egyptian 737 carrying the hijackers and the Palestine Liberation Organization officials to land early Friday.
He also tried to put distance between his government and the departure to Yugoslavia of PLO official Mohammed Abbas, whom the United States sought to arrest on charges of piracy, hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit both crimes.
The United States has rebuked Italy for letting Abbas and an aide leave, and Craxi has come under fire over that from his defense minister, Giovanni Spadolini.
Craxi's version of events, related in a five-page statement released by his office, said he first spoke to Reagan about the hijacking at about midnight Thursday, when the Sigonella radar picked up the approaching planes.
He said the base first denied permission for the Egyptian airliner to land, then granted it ''because of the situation of emergency declared by the pilot.''
During a later telephone conversation with Reagan, ''I had refused his request to transfer the four hijackers and the two Palestinians to the United States and communicated to him the intention to bring the hijackers to trial and acquire useful elements on the affair from the two Palestinian officials.''
Published reports, quoting White House sources, have said Craxi promised Reagan he would detain the hijackers and the two Palestine Liberation Organization officials.
About 50 Italian soldiers took control of the Egyptian Boeing 737 when it landed at Sigonella, Craxi said. About 50 U.S. soldiers got out of one of two C-141 transports that followed the airliner and also surrounded it, he said.
But he said that after his second telephone conversation with Reagan, the American soldiers returned to their plane. ''There was no tension between American soldiers and Italian soldiers.''
Craxi said Abbas and the second Palestinian, who has never been officially identified, did not leave the airliner until boarding a flight for Yugoslavia on Saturday evening.
He said both men were protected by diplomatic immunity and were ''under control of Egyptian military'' aboard the plane. Abbas had an Iraqi diplomatic passport, he said,
Abraham Sofaer, the U.S. State Department's legal adviser, said Sunday on U.S. television: ''My understanding is Craxi told our president that the six would be kept in jail, and these two (Palestinians), particularly Abbas, were put in the Egyptian cultural center and were sneaked out of there, as far as we understand.''
Craxi said Egypt demanded the return of the airplane and all passengers except for the four hijackers, and at the same time refused to let the cruise ship leave Port Said. The plane subsequently flew home Saturday, and the Achille Lauro sailed the same day. It was reported on its way back to Italy Monday.
Craxi said Italian authorities obtained statements from Abbas about the hijacking and the surrender that he helped negotiate.
During the long night, Craxi said, U.S. Ambassador Maxwell Rabb asked that Abbas be detained under the U.S.-Italian extradition treaty. But he said Italian judicial officials did not find sufficient legal grounds to hold him.
At 3 p.m. Saturday, Craxi said, Italy notified the U.S. Embassy there was no reason to further hold the Egyptian plane and its passengers.
''In the meantime, the Egyptian ambassador informed the Italian government that Abbas and his companion, for reasons of security, were believed to have left Italian territory on board a Yugoslav airliner.''
He said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak expressed fears that the plane might be intercepted again if the PLO officials remained aboard.
The statement did not mention the airliner's flight from Sigonella to Ciampino military airport at Rome, or its brief flight from Ciampino to Rome's commercial airport, Leonardo da Vinci, where authorities had kept the Yugoslav jetliner waiting for the Palestinians.