Release of prisoners raises suspicion of deal between Italy, Arab terrorists


PARIS -- Amid growing fears of terrorist strikes in support of Saddam Hussein, Italian authorities have released two terrorists convicted of aiding hijackers of the Achille Lauro ocean liner in 1985, according to statements by their Italian lawyers yesterday.

Mohamed Issa Abbas and Yussef Ahmed Sa'ad, reputed members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, were released in late December, said Gianfranco Pagano, one of the lawyers who applied for the two men's release under an Italian amnesty law.

Abbas and Sa'ad were expelled from Italy after their early release and are believed to be in Algeria.

Announcement of the release, published in the Corriere Della Sera newspaper, raised suspicions among diplomats and other observers of an Italian deal with the Fatah Revolutionary Council, led by Abu Nidal, one of the most notorious Arab terrorists in the world.

Diplomats based in Western Europe suggested that Rome may have set Sa'ad and Abbas free on the understanding that Italy would be spared terrorist strikes in return. There was no comment from the Italian government yesterday.

Last month in Belgium, Said Nasser, a Palestinian convicted of tossing a grenade into an Antwerp synagogue in 1980, was released. One person was killed and 19 others were wounded in that incident.

Nasser's release came shortly before the freeing of a Belgian family that had been held hostage three years by the Fatah Revolutionary Council.

Abbas is the cousin of Abu Abbas, who an Italian court convicted in absentia to life imprisonment for masterminding the Achille Lauro hijacking.

After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Abu Nidal relocated his base of operations to Baghdad and has pledged terrorist reprisals in support of President Hussein.

Abbas and Sa'ad were serving seven- and six-year prison terms, respectively, for providing financial support and false passports to the four men who hijacked the Achille Lauro in October 1985. Each had about a year left to serve.

Abbas was arrested before the hijacking of the Italian ocean liner. He was carrying explosives that Italian authorities believed were meant for the hijackers, who held 500 passengers for three days.

During the ordeal, the hijackers shot to death an elderly American Jew in his wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer, and tossed his body overboard. The four men who seized the ship are serving prison terms ranging from 17 to 30 years.

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