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January 15, 2003

Our pals, for two billion per year: The Egyptians Abu Abbas confirms he held talks in Cairo

Achille Lauro
A Palestinian guerrilla leader who masterminded the 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship was quoted Tuesday as saying he had attended Palestinian talks in Egypt but left after he was informed of a threat on his life.

The United States has said it asked Egyptian and other Middle Eastern governments if Abu Abbas was in their territory, but Egypt has told Washington he was not in Cairo.

Abu Abbas is the leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, which hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in the eastern Mediterranean in 1985. A disabled elderly American, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed in the operation.

Abbas told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that he had joined talks in Egypt attended by key Palestinian factions on an end to Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, but had left after a few days.

"I was told there was U.S. pressure and fears over my personal security but I did not understand what the source of this threat on my life was," he said.

The United States had told Egyptian authorities it might want to pursue a court case against Abu Abbas. "There is no legal justification to resume chasing me after the American justice minister closed the case in 1996 and I have been moving freely since," Abu Abbas said, accusing Israel and the United States of trying to scuttle the Palestinian talks.

He blamed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for renewed American attention in his case. "Sharon is targeting realize quick electoral gains and he is looking for a Palestinian target to stop the dramatic drop in his popularity," he said. (