After two days of fearful uncertainty the Italian liner Achille Lauro has been set free by its Palestinian hijackers, but not before the terrorists first won a promise for their own safe departure from Egypt. While this brings to a welcome end the ordeal of the more than 500 passengers and crew members aboard the ship, it also virtually removes any chance that the terrorists will face proper judicial punishment for their crimes. Among those crimes was the senseless murder of an elderly and wheelchair-bound American passenger. If it was intended as a grandiose political gesture, the ship's seizure was a fiasco. But in demonstrating once again that heinous acts can be committed almost risk-free, the episode represents yet another sordid victory for terrorism.
The terrorist mind is not necessarily a rational mind, but presumably those who took control of the Achille Lauro anticipated some conclusion to their venture more impressive than simply being able to escape with their lives. It may be that the hijacking fell apart and had to be considerably shortened when the nations of the Mediterranean showed a rare degree of international cooperation. No state, including Syria, whose hands have long been bloodied by association with terrorism, would permit the liner to sail into its territorial waters. With all ports closed to them the ship's captors had little to gain from prolonging their escapade.