Though we will probably never invade, the Bush administration was correct this week in pressuring the Syrian government against harboring terrorists and members of the regime of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The porous border between Syria and Iraq was suspected of being an escape route for those wanted by the U.S. as coalition forces moved on Baghdad earlier this month. Both Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Syria and it seems to be paying some dividends.
Under the protection of Saddam, Baghdad seemed to be an open city for hijackers, terrorists and underworld goons who shared Hussein’s anti-U.S. and anti-Israel sentiments. Terrorist aficionado Abu Nidal had lived comfortably in Baghdad before he was shot and killed last year.
Now comes news that Abu Abbas, leader of the Palestinian group which hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, was captured by special forces in Iraq. It seems Iraq under Saddam was becoming the equivalent of Florida for retired terrorists. Abbas had planned the Achille Lauro hijacking which resulted in the murder of American tourist Leon Klinghoffer. The disabled Klinghoffer, vacationing with his wife, was shot twice and tossed along with his wheelchair into the Mediterranean Sea.
Abbas was captured Tuesday after several failed attempts to enter Syria. With nowhere to go, U.S. forces closed in and the jig was up. Hopefully, the U.S. has pressured Syria and other countries into realizing that the U.S. means business in this war on terrorism.
As for Abbas, he had been released by the Italian government before he was put on trial in 1986. He stayed in exile even after he was sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court for planning the hijacking.
Some Palestinian officials claim Abbas cannot be extradited to the U.S. because he falls under an amnesty decree as part of the 1995 Oslo peace accord though continued violence in Israel erodes the worth of that document with every suicide bombing.
Italy is demanding to extradite Abbas. This is probably the best route to take. But the U.S. should also gear up for an indictment and trial, just in case. If Italy’s courts bow to the threat of terrorism and slap Abbas on the wrist for his crime, then the U.S. should get ready to go to trial.