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Leon Klinghoffer (September 24, 1916 – October 8, 1985) was a wheelchair-using American appliance manufacturer who was murdered and thrown overboard by Palestinian terrorists in the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985.[1]

Contents

Hijacking and murder

Leon Klinghoffer, 69, a retired businessman who used a wheelchair, and his wife Marilyn (née Windwehr), were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary with a cruise on the Achille Lauro. On October 7, 1985, four hijackers from the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) took control of the liner off Egypt as it was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said, Egypt. Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they ordered the captain to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons, including the Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar.

The next day, after being refused permission to dock at Tartus, the hijackers singled out Klinghoffer, a Jew, for execution, shooting him in the forehead and chest as he sat in his wheelchair. They then forced the ship's barber and a waiter to throw his body and wheelchair overboard. Marilyn Klinghoffer, who did not witness the shooting, was told by the hijackers that he had been moved to the infirmary. She only learned the truth after the hijackers left the ship at Port Said. PLO Foreign Secretary Farouq Qaddumi said that perhaps the terminally ill Marilyn Klinghoffer had killed her husband for insurance money. The Leon Klinghoffer Murder was one of the first terrorist attacks affecting US Citizens. [2]

Initially, the hijackers were granted safe passage to Tunisia, but U.S. President Ronald Reagan ordered a U.S. fighter plane to force the get-away plane to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy. After an extradition dispute Italian authorities arrested and later tried the Palestinian terrorists but let Abu Abbas, the Palestinian who had served as a mediator, fly to Yugoslavia.

Klinghoffer's body was found by the Syrians on October 14–15 and returned to the United States around October 20. Leon Klinghoffer was buried at Beth David Memorial Park in Kenilworth, New Jersey. Four months after her husband's murder, Marilyn Klinghoffer (October 5, 1926 - February 9, 1986) died of colon cancer, aged 59. The Klinghoffers are survived by two daughters, Ilsa and Lisa Klinghoffer.

Legacies

After his death, their daughters established the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation with the Anti-Defamation League.[1] The foundation combats terrorism through educational, political and legal means. The foundation is funded by an undisclosed settlement paid by the PLO to the Klinghoffers to settle a lawsuit seeking damages for the PLO's role in the hijacking (Klinghoffer v. PLO, 739 F. Supp. 854 (S.D.N.Y. 1990) and Klinghoffer v. PLO, 937 F.2d 44, 50 (2d Cir. 1991)). This lawsuit spurred passage of the Antiterrorism Act of 1990 which made it easier for victims of terrorism to sue terrorists and collect civil damages for losses incurred.

The hijacking was made into a television movie in 1990, Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair starring Burt Lancaster and Eva Marie Saint.

American minimalist composer John Adams' second opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, based on the events of 1985 opened to great controversy in 1991. The concept for the opera was suggested by director Peter Sellars and it featured a libretto by Alice Goodman. The Los Angeles Opera shared in the works' commission but never presented it. A Prix Italia-winning television version of the opera, starring Sanford Sylvan and Christopher Maltman, and directed by Penny Woolcock, was screened by United Kingdom's Channel 4 in 2003.

References

External links

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