Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Jordan J. Paust

First Page



On October 7, 1985, members of a Palestinian group hijacked the passenger ship Achille Lauro. Not only did the hijackers hold more than one hundred passengers and crew members hostage for several days, but they murdered one of the passengers, Leon Klinghoffer, a United States national. On October 9 the hijackers released the vessel and remaining hostages. On October 10 the hijackers and an alleged mastermind of the operation, Mr. Abbas, were on board an Egyptian aircraft flying over the high seas in the Mediterranean when United States military aircraft intercepted the Egyptian aircraft and forced it to land in Italy.'

Italy took the hostage-takers into custody and eventually prosecuted and convicted them. Nevertheless, Italy allowed the alleged mastermind of the hijacking to escape to Yugoslavia on October 12 despite a United States request to arrest Mr. Abbas provisionally pending a formal extradition request. According to certain Italian officials, Italy did not have sufficient evidence to detain Mr. Abbas further and, in any case, his diplomatic passport in an assumed name entitled him to immunity. While Mr. Abbas was in Yugoslavia, the United States requested the Yugoslavian government to arrest him provisionally until the United States could extradite him under a United States-Yugoslavia extradition treaty, but Yugoslavian officials refused, apparently on the basis that Mr. Abbas was entitled to diplomatic immunity. Later in 1986, however, Italy formally indicted and convicted Mr. Abbas in absentia. Today he remains at large.