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Achille Lauro hijacker released

30 April 09 16:12 GMT

The leader of a Palestinian group which hijacked cruise liner Achille Lauro in 1985 and killed an American Jewish passenger has been released from jail.

Youssef Magied al-Molqui, one of four hijackers who were tried and sentenced to long jail terms in Italy, was freed early on grounds of good behaviour.

A judge has ordered Mr Molqui, who has an Italian wife, to be expelled.

He served nearly 24 years of a 30-year sentence for hijacking the Italian cruise liner.

In 1996, Mr Molqui failed to return to prison after a spell of leave.

He was later arrested in Spain. At the time, the United States put up a $2m reward for his re-capture.

Mr Molqui's lawyer, Stella Cavallo, told Ansa news agency she would fight the expulsion order on the grounds that he is married to an Italian woman, and that no country would accept him because he has no recognised citizenship.

Another convicted Achille Lauro hijacker Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif, who was released in 2008, remains in Italy while he appeals against his own expulsion order.

International incident

The Achille Lauro had been sailing the Mediterranean on 7 October 1985 when the gang of four Palestinians attacked.

They were members of the Palestinian Liberation Front, a splinter group of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

During a two-day standoff, the group demanded the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners.

One of the hijackers shot and killed US tourist Leon Klinghoffer - a 69-year-old who was in a wheelchair - before throwing him overboard. His corpse washed ashore weeks later.

The mastermind of the operation, Abu Abbas, was convicted in his absence but never spent time in prison in Italy.

The Palestinian militants initially escaped after allowing the Achille Lauro to dock in Egypt.

Later, the US military intercepted an Egyptian plane which the hijackers were using to flee and forced it to land in Sicily, where the four hijackers were arrested.

But Italy allowed Abu Abbas to escape to the then-Yugoslavia, plunging US-Italian relations into a tense period. He later escaped to Iraq where he died in US custody after being captured in 2004 following the US invasion.

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