The hijacking of the Achille Lauro

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)

In the mid-'80, an official statement from the Ministry of Interior of the Italian Republic, whose then owner was Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, announced that the Police Forces were now fully operational about the fight against terrorism, both domestic and foreign , also because the phenomenon had drastically reduced.

Almost wanting to refute this positive vision, the 7 October 1985, came the news of the hijacked Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, off the Egyptian coasts. A commando of four terrorists, from the Palestine Liberation Front, had taken control of the large passenger ship, carrying on board 500 people including tourists - including many US citizens - and crew members.

Panic spread among the Palaces of power in Rome, issuing the pressing request to the Defense of do something right away.

However, the Defense activated itself as it could. Off the coast of eastern Sicily there was a cruiser for helicopters Vittorio Veneto, which was sent urgently to the eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, the only two departments of Special Forces of the Italian Armed Forces were activated: the 9 ° Battalion of Assault Col Moschin of the Army Base in Livorno and the Operating Group Raiders of the Navy based at Varignano.

The Italian military summits they sailed blindly as the only precedent of a hijacking of a passenger ship concerned a Portuguese vessel in the 1961, and no one had ever thought of elaborating an operational doctrine for such an emergency.

The 46ᵃ Aerobrigata of Pisa was also alerted, where the detachments of the Special Forces arrived, escorted by the Carabinieri. Waiting for them two C-130H Hercules transport aircraft with their engines on, once taken off they headed for the British base of Akrotiri on the island of Cyprus. During the transfer, the commanders of the departments tried to draw up an operational plan. As far as it is possible to know, it was developed one that provided the use of helicopters boarded AB-212, which should have approached from astern to Achille Lauro, brushing the surface of the water, stationing in hovering over the bridges higher, infiltrating Special Forces operators with the technique of fast rope.

Obviously the action was full of unknowns, because the number of terrorists was not known or what kind of weapons they had at their disposal.

The hijacking was resolved through a grueling negotiation, however the terrorists had killed an American tourist of Jewish religion, forced into a wheelchair. Under the hostage release arrangements, the terrorist group was transported by an Egyptian aircraft to Tunisia, but soon after take-off it was intercepted by a pair of F-14 Tomcat of the 6ᵃ Fleet and forced to land on the military airport of Sigonella, where shortly thereafter landed a transport plane, carrying elements of the 1ᵃ Detachment of Special Operations Delta (Delta Force) of the US Army. The comparison that ensued, about the jurisdiction on the Egyptian plane, touched the diplomatic crisis between the two allies. In the end, the then Prime Minister Bettino Craxi succeeded in winning the campaign and the terrorists were embarked for Belgrade.

The Americans did not forget the story and when in the 2003 invaded Iraq they managed to track down and capture Abu Abbas - the head and founder of the Palestine Liberation Front since the time of the seizure of theAchille Lauro - who enjoyed the protection of Saddam Hussein. Locked up in an Iraqi prison he died in unclear circumstances in the 2004.

(photo: web)