An Israeli lawyer who twice failed to convince Israel, the United States and Italy to demand the arrest and extradition of Abu Abbas fears the Palestinian terrorist leader will again escape justice.
But Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said she will appeal for a third time to the High Court of Justice in Israel to have Abbas extradited there.
Darshan-Leitner, whose Israel Law Center in Jerusalem is dedicated to protecting Jewish rights and interests, called Israel, the U.S. and Italy "hypocrites."
"We asked several times for these governments to extradite and arrest him," she said, "and none of these three would do anything."
Darshan-Leitner said the U.S. has an agreement with the PLO not to arrest and charge any of its members for crimes committed before the September 1993 Oslo Accords.
Abbas allegedly masterminded the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, during which a Jewish New Yorker, Leon Klinghoffer, 69, was murdered in his wheelchair and his body was thrown overboard.
U.S. special forces captured Abbas last week in a house on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Darshan-Leitner said that on two occasions (in 1996 and 1999) she appeared before the High Court of Justice to demand the arrest and prosecution of Abbas, who was freely traveling through the country.
In 1996, Darshan-Leitner said she asked Italy to demand his arrest by Israel and his extradition. But Italian authorities told her there was not enough evidence to prosecute Abbas, even though he was tried and convicted in absentia in Italy and sentenced to five life prison terms for his role in the hijacking.
That year Abbas was traveling through Israel to attend a meeting of the Palestinian National Congress in the Gaza Strip. The court dismissed her action after the Israeli government said it was allowing Abbas free passage because it promised not to arrest any member of the congress.
When Abbas established a Gaza office in 1998, Darshan-Leitner appealed again to the High Court. Eight months later, the court held a hearing and dismissed the action, citing its "96 decision."
"Two times the Israeli government had the opportunity to arrest him, and two times the U.S. and Italy could have asked for his extradition," Darshan-Leitner lamented. "I look at the stories [of Abbas’ arrest] today. They say they have been looking for this terrorist for 18 years and I just laugh. He was in the Old City [of Jerusalem], at a cocktail party at Orient House [the former offices of the Palestinian Authority]. If the U.S. had wanted to get its hands on him, it could have done so long ago."
But with arrest of Abbas on April 14, the attorney said she will head back to the High Court late this week to ask that the Israeli government seek Abbas’ extradition for training the Palestinian terrorists who killed Jerusalem teenager Yuri Gushchin in Ramallah in July 2001, and for planning a bombing in Haifa that injured five.
In recent years Abbas, who was said to have renounced violence in the 1990s, has reportedly been training Palestinian terrorists at a camp in Iraq run by his Palestine Liberation Front. It is this group that was also said to have been used by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to transfer money to the families of Palestinians who carried out suicide attacks against Israeli targets.
An Iraqi magazine in 2000 quoted Abbas as saying his organization had decided to carry out "big suicide operations" against Israel "for the sake of liberating Palestine." His group remains on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.
"The blood of Yuri Gushchin is on the hands of those Israeli law enforcement officials who continuously allowed Abbas to enter the Palestinian Authority to organize terrorist attacks against us," Darshan-Leitner said. "Twice the High Court gave Abbas the benefit of the doubt and permitted him to advance his terrorist campaigns from within the PA. We now call upon Israel’s attorney general to finally prosecute Abbas for the 2001 murder and to ensure that he spends the rest of his life in prison."
A spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York said he knew of "no plans" for Israel to seek Abbas’ extradition.