Italy will seek to extradite Achille Lauro hijacker

ROME — Italy will seek to extradite a Palestinian convicted of the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking who was recaptured in Spain.

The chief of the Italian police anti-terrorism division said the Italian Justice Ministry was preparing an extradition request for Youssef Magied al-Molqi, adding that the request could take up to 45 days to process.

Police also were investigating several people as accomplices in Molqi's escape, according to Italian news agencies. Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department is studying 19th century piracy laws as it considers whether to ask Spain to extradite al-Molqi to the United States to stand trial.

Molqi, 33, fled a church-run shelter in Italy on Feb. 28 while on a 12-day good-conduct leave from prison, where he was serving a 30-year sentence.

He was recaptured Friday of last week in the southern Spanish resort town of Estepona in a joint action by Italian anti-terrorist police and Spanish paramilitary Civil Guards.

"He was not armed and did not put up resistance," Italian police chief Fernando Masone told a news conference Friday of last week, adding that Molqi was carrying a false Italian passport in the name of Mario La Rosa.

Molqi had been traced to Spain through a phone call he made March 16 to a female friend in the Tuscan town of Prato, near Florence.

He had been visiting the woman, Wanda Grassi, in the days before he disappeared from Rome's Rebibbia Prison, and her phone was under surveillance.

"Here we see, as never before, how women can be the ruination of men," Masone said.

Molqi was the ringleader of a four-man Palestinian commando team that hijacked the Achille Lauro off Port Said, Egypt, while it was on a Mediterranean cruise.

Molqi was convicted of shooting Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old, wheelchair-using American Jew, and then ordering his body thrown overboard.

Since he was jailed, Molqi had three previous good conduct leaves from prison, but had always returned without problem.

The Achille Lauro hijacking had strained relations between the United States and Italy, after the government of then-Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi allowed the man believed to have masterminded the affair, hardline senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Mohammed Abbas, to leave the country.

Of the four terrorists convicted in the hijacking, one was paroled in 1991. In the same year, one other escaped during a prison furlough.

Molqi's escape last month angered the U.S. government and Jewish leaders, and embarrassed Italy.