Body Identified as That of Klinghoffer
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ A U.S. Embassy spokesman said today there appeared to be two gunshot wounds in the body of Leon Klinghoffer, the American passenger who died aboard the hijacked Italian cruise liner.
Klinghoffer’s body arrived in Rome today after a special flight from Damascus, airport officials reported. U.S. officials and Italian authorities are to conduct an autopsy to determine how Klinghoffer died.
″We have confirmed that the body is that of Leon Klinghoffer,″ U.S. Embassy spokesman John Burgess told reporters. ″There apparently were two gunshot wounds in the corpse.″
Syrian pathologists, a medical examiner retained by the embassy and an FBI agent who arrived in Damascus on Tuesday night identified the body ″based on dental X-rays, fingerprints and physical characteristics,″ Burgess said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Joe Reap said this morning, ″We have positive identification.″ He said the body had ″two apparent gunshot wounds,″ but said he could not elaborate and had no information on a CBS News report that the body had been mutilated.
Klinghoffer apparently received one gunshot wound in the head and one in the back, said Daniel Lawler, another State Department spokesman. The Syrian death certificate will state the cause of death as unknown because no autopsy was performed, he said.
Klinghoffer’s body, in a wooden coffin draped with the U.S. flag, was put in a police van, which joined a motorcade of police vehicles as it sped toward the Institute of Legal Medicine in Rome for the autopsy. U.S. And Italian officials were on hand when the casket was unloaded from the Alitalia jetliner.
The four Palestinians who hijacked the Achille Lauro Oct. 7 have been charged by Italian officials with murdering the partially paralyzed 69-year- old man from New York, but judicial sources have quoted them as denying the charge.
Burgess stressed that ″there still has been no autopsy to determine the cause of death,″ noting that Klinghoffer could have died before he was shot.
The Palestine Liberation Front, to which the hijackers claimed to belong, has said Klinghoffer, who was confined to a wheelchair, could have died of a heart attack.
The body was brought to Damascus from Tartus on Tuesday and Western diplomatic sources and a physician said it appeared to have been in the sea for at least a week before washing ashore Monday. They said it had been ravaged by fish and the effects of the Mediterranean salt water.
In other developments Tuesday:
- President Reagan speaking in Boise, Idaho, said the United States had nothing to apologize for in its interception of the Egyptian jetliner carrying the terrorists who hijacked the Italian cruise ship. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had demanded an apology to the Egyptian people.
- In Rome, Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini’s Republican Party decided today to withdraw from the government in disagreement over Premier Bettino Craxi’s handling of the Achille Lauro hijacking, a party spokesman said. Withdrawal of the Republicans appeared certain to lead to the fall of the 26- month-old coalition of five parties.
- Investigators in Genoa, Italy, issued arrest warrants for two more Palestinians, bringing to seven the number of people charged in the Oct. 7 hijacking.
- Mohammed Abbas, the Palestinian guerrilla leader whom the United States says masterminded the hijacking, but who was released by Italy, said in an interview broadcast in Italy that he had nothing to do with the hijacking.
The Achille Lauro, which was expected to return to Genoa late today, set sail from the Italian port Oct. 3. It was hijacked by four Palestinians who held more than 500 people hostage for two days before surrendering in Egypt Oct.9 to Palestine Liberation Organization officials.
Klinghoffer was reported killed and his body thrown overboard Oct. 8 when the ship was off Tartus.
Lebanese radio monitors intercepted exchanges between the hijackers and Tartus port authorities at that time in which a hijacker who called himself Omar was heard to say: ″We have thrown him in the water. We have shot him once in the head. His wife is wailing.″ They did not identify the victim.
The Washington Post in today’s edition quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying the body that washed ashore in Syria had a bullet hole in its head and was missing both legs and an arm.
The body was expected to be vital evidence for Italian authorities who have the four hijackers in custody. Beside the murder charge, the four have been accused of kidnapping, hijacking and possessing arms and explosives.
They were taken into custody Friday in Siracusa, Sicily, after U.S. Navy jet fighters intercepted an Egyptian jetliner that flew them out of Egypt and forced it to land at a NATO air base.
Reagan, appearing in Boise, Idaho, for a political appearance, was asked if the United States had anything to be apologize for, and replied, ″Never 3/8″
Earlier, aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan had told Egypt and Italy officials that he was ″confident he did the right thing″ in ordering the interception of the airliner.
Speakes also said the United States would continue in its efforts to extradite Abbas, the Palestinian leader who was aboard the intercepted jetliner, but allowed to leave Italy for Yugoslavia. The PLO and the Yugoslav news agency say Abbas has left Yugoslavia for an undisclosed location.
Abbas is the leader of the Palestine Liberation Front.
In an interview broadcast Tuesday in Italy, the 38-year-old guerrilla leader said he had nothing to do with the hijacking and ″was only responsible for the mediation and freeing the ship.″
The interview was obtained by TG-1 radio and broadcast by RAI television, both of which are owned by the Italian government. Spokesmen for the radio station would not say where Abbas was at the time of the interview.
The four accused hijackers have been transferred from a city jail in Sicily to a maximum security prison in Spoleto, north of Rome.