US forces detain Abu Abbas in Baghdad; PA demands his release
Abu Abbas, a Palestinian who led the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985, has been captured by US-led forces in Baghdad, a US official said.
"He has been captured by coalition forces in Baghdad," the official said, according to AFP. Abbas was taken by American special operations forces during a raid Monday night on the southern outskirts of the capital city, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
Several of his associates were also detained during raids at several sites around Baghdad, defense officials said.
An elderly American tourist, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed during the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship.
Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), was sentenced in absentia to five life terms in Italy for the hijacking. Ten years later, Abbas apologized for the slaying. "The killing of the passenger was a mistake. ... We are sorry," he said.
US Marines in Iraq discovered bomb-making facilities at a facility that was described as a training camp operated by a faction of the PLF, a US military spokesman said Monday.
President Bush mentioned Abbas in an October speech in which he outlined the United States' argument for removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power.
"Iraq has ... provided safe haven to Abul Abbas, who was responsible for seizing the Achille Lauro and killing an American passenger," Bush said. "And we know that Iraq is continuing to finance terror and gives assistance to groups that use terrorism to undermine Middle East peace."
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority demanded on Wednesday the United States free Abu Abbas, saying his detention by U.S. forces in Iraq violated a Middle East peace deal signed by Washington.
"We demand the United States release Abu Abbas. It has no right to imprison him," Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told Reuters.
"The Palestinian-Israeli interim agreement signed on September 28, 1995 stated that members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation must not be detained or tried for matters they committed before the Oslo peace accord of September 13, 1993," Erekat said.
"This interim agreement was signed on the U.S. side by President Clinton and his secretary of state, Warren Christopher," Erekat added.
In 1998, the Israeli Supreme Court declared Abbas immune from prosecution in Israel over the ship's hijacking. He was allowed to return to the Gaza Strip by an Israeli Security Committee which concluded he had renounced violence. (Albawaba.com)
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