Leon Klinghoffer's children
Leon Klinghoffer's childrenIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The ringleader of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro ship will be expelled from Italy to Syria, the Associated Press reports. Youssef Magied al-Molqui has served only 23 years of his 30-year jail sentence for his role in the hijacking and murder of wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger Leon Klinghoffer.

Italy’s Attorney General Gianfranco Pagano said that Molqui was to be flown on Saturday from his holding cell in Sicily to Rome and then onto Damascus.

Molqui's claim that he should not be expelled due to his marriage to an Italian citizen was rejected by an Italian court. Nor did his claim to being stateless - he is a descendant of Arabs who fled pre-state Israel - prevent his expulsion order.

He escaped in 1996 while on leave from prison, but was recaptured and returned to jail.

Molqui and three other members of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) terrorist group hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship off the coast of Egypt in 1985. The hijackers demanded the release of 50 terrorist prisoners in Israeli jails.

During the incident, the hijackers also murdered wheelchair-bound American citizen Leon Klinghoffer and threw his body overboard. Klinghoffer, 69, was singled out because he was Jewish.

A second hijacker, Ibrahim Abdel-Atif, was released from prison last year and is also fighting a deportation order. Abdel-Atif also has no citizenship, as his country of birth, Lebanon, refuses to grant citizenship to descendants of Arabs who fled pre-state Israel.

The Palestinian Authority chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, considered a “moderate” by the United States and Israel, has admitted to masterminding the Achille Lauro hijacking. The appeal by Abbas to rescind the expulsion order was rejected by the Italian authorities.