WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said today that the United States has "hard evidence" to support its charge that Palestine Liberation Front official Abul Abbas was "a principal in the hijacking" of the Achille Lauro cruise liner.
Meese refused to divulge the nature of the evidence in U.S. hands. But at the White House, a senior Administration official disclosed that Israeli intelligence gave the United States transcripts of ship-to-shore conversations between hijackers aboard the Achille Lauro and Abbas.
That official, who demanded anonymity, said the United States has other evidence against Abbas as well, including references to Abbas' being known personally by the four Palestinians, now in Italian custody, and information showing that they accepted instructions from him.
Negotiated From Egypt
Abbas negotiated from Egypt with the four Palestinian hijackers of the Italian cruise ship 20 days ago. He was with them on the EgyptAir flight carrying the four to freedom when it was intercepted by U.S. jet fighters and forced down in Italy.
Italy allowed Abbas to go free, saying it had no reason to hold him.
Meese, at a midday news conference, said the United States is "making as much headway as we possibly can" in efforts to apprehend Abbas, who remains at large.
Meese revealed that the FBI is involved in the search for Abbas, although the attorney general said he did not want to discuss the specifics of any law enforcement strategies.
'Hard Evidence' of Complicity
"We do have hard evidence as to complicity of (Abul) Abbas, which is the basis for the complaint that was filed and the warrant that has been issued," Meese said.
At the White House, the official who demanded anonymity described the ship-to-shore conversations as "virtually public broadcasts," suggesting that it was relatively easy to overhear the four Palestinians who seized the Italian cruise ship.
The official said the hijackers apparently planned to carry out an attack when the Achille Lauro docked at Ashdod, an Israeli port city, but "botched" the operation.
Abbas, 38, is an associate of Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat. But the official said the United States did not know if Arafat had been involved.