Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes on the Achille Lauro Hijacking Incident

October 10, 1985

At the President's direction, U.S. military forces intercepted an aircraft over international airspace that was transporting the Achille Lauro terrorists. The aircraft was diverted to the airbase at Sigonella, Italy. In cooperation with the Government of Italy, the terrorists were then taken into Italian custody for appropriate legal proceedings. Earlier today, upon learning that the terrorists would be flown from Egypt to their freedom, the President directed that U.S. forces intercept the aircraft and escort it to a location where the terrorists could be apprehended by those with appropriate jurisdiction. U.S. F-14 aircraft, flying from the carrier Saratoga, detected the aircraft in international airspace and intercepted it. They instructed it to follow them and escorted it to the military airbase at Sigonella, Italy. This operation was conducted without firing a shot. The aircraft landed with Italian consent and was surrounded by American and Italian troops. The terrorists aboard were taken into custody by Italian authorities. The Egyptian aircraft, with its crew and other personnel on board, is returning to Egypt.

We have been assured by the Government of Italy that the terrorists will be subject to full due process of law. For our part, we intend to pursue prompt extradition to the United States of those involved in the crime. This action affirms our determination to see that terrorists are apprehended, prosecuted, and punished. This episode also reflects our close cooperation with an exemplary ally and close friend -- Italy -- in combating international terrorism. The American Government and people are grateful to Prime Minister Craxi, his Government, and the Italian people for their help. We are also grateful to the Government of Tunisia for its refusal to permit the aircraft transporting the terrorists to land in Tunis.

Finally, we must at this point note our gratitude to the Government of Egypt for its efforts to end this dangerous crisis without additional loss of life. We strongly disagreed with the Government of Egypt, however, on disposition of the terrorists. From the onset, the United States Government made clear to all the Governments involved our firm opposition to negotiations with the terrorists or concessions to them. We also made clear our expectation that the terrorists would be brought to justice. We were, therefore, deeply distressed to learn that those responsible for the death of Leon Klinghoffer might be permitted to go free. We said yesterday that we were determined to see justice done and that we would use every appropriate means to that end.

The decision on ending the hijacking was an independent one by the Government of Egypt. When we were consulted, we advised strongly against any arrangements which would permit the terrorists to escape justice. Since the time the terrorists were taken off the ship, we have continued intensive contacts with the Government of Egypt to pursue that point. The United States wants to emphasize the fundamental and durable interests that the United States and Egypt share, interests which transcend this difficult incident. These have been trying times for both our governments. We will do all we can to ensure that the basic U.S.-Egyptian relationship -- in which both our countries have taken so much pride for so long -- remains unaffected.

In closing, the President wants to emphasize once again that the international scourge of terrorism can only be stamped out if each member of the community of civilized nations meets its responsibility squarely -- passing up no opportunity to apprehend, prosecute, and punish terrorists wherever they may be found. We cannot tolerate terrorism in any form. We will continue to take every appropriate measure available to us to deal with these dastardly deeds. There can be no asylum for terrorism or terrorists.

Note: Larry M. Speakes read the statement to reporters at 11:15 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.