Elaph.com, an Arabic-language Web site, published Saturday what it said were private admissions by Mr. Hosny that when he was the Egyptian cultural attaché in Rome, he helped to organize the escape from Italy in 1985 of the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. In that episode, a retired American Jewish tourist in a wheelchair was shot and pushed into the sea, horrifying much of the world.
Indications of his involvement in the escape of Abu Abbas appear to be widely available in the Arabic literature:
Farouk Hosny was the Director of the Egyptian Academy in Rome when he was tapped, two years after the Achille Lauro affair, to become Minister of Culture. According to Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council on Antiquities, while in Rome
Farouk Hosni was not well known by the public, but he was known and respected as a talented artist within the cultural community. Several reporters visited Farouk Hosni in Rome including my friend Mostafa El Nagar and Ahmed Abu Kaf. When they were interviewing Farouk Hosni he confided in them that Atef Sedky wanted him to be Egypt’s minister of culture but he did not want the job. Upon hearing this Abu Kaf said to Mustafa that Farouk Hosni was dreaming and there was no way he could be the minister of culture. Many people wanted to be the minister of culture including famous writers and journalists.
On October 7, 1985, led by Abu Abbas, men representing the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) took control of the liner off Egypt as she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said. After being refused permission to dock at Tartus, the hijackers killed disabled American passenger Leon Klinghoffer and then threw him overboard. The ship headed back towards Port Said, and after two days of negotiations, the hijackers agreed to abandon the liner in exchange for safe conduct and were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner.
United States President Ronald Reagan ordered that the plane be intercepted and directed to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella, a N.A.T.O. base in Sicily, where four hijackers were arrested by the Italians after a disagreement between American and Italian authorities. The other passengers on the plane (possibly including the hijackers' leader, Abu Abbas) were allowed to continue on to their destination, despite protests by the United States. Egypt demanded an apology from the U.S. for forcing the airplane off course. Italy refused extradition of the prisoners to the United States and they were tried in Italy.
The fate of those convicted of the hijacking was varied:
- Bassam al-Asker was granted parole in 1991. He died on February 21, 2004.
- Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi disappeared in 1991 while on parole.
- Youssef Majed al-Molqi, convicted of killing Leon Klinghoffer , was sentenced to 30 years, left the Rebibbia prison in Rome on February 16, 1996, on a 12-day furlough, and fled to Spain, where he was recaptured and extradited back to Italy. On April 29, 2009, Italian officials released him from prison on good behaviour. In June 2009, however, al-Molqui's attorney told the Associated Press that the Italian authorities had placed his client in a holding cell and were about to deport him to Syria.
- Abu Abbas left the jurisdiction of Italy and was convicted in absentia. In 1996, he made an apology for the hijacking and murder, and spoke out in favor of peace talks between Palestinians and Israel; the apology was rejected by the U.S. government and Klinghoffer's family, who insisted he be brought to justice. Abbas was captured in Iraq in 2003 by the U.S. military during its 2003 invasion of Iraq. He died in U.S. custody March 8, 2004.
- Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. He served 20 and three more on parole and on July 7, 2008, he was expelled from an illegal immigrant detention center in Rome. He plans to appeal this arguing that he has nowhere else to go since Lebanon will not allow his return as he was born in a refugee camp and is thus not a Lebanese citizen.