Recapture of Klinghoffer killer is a high U.S. priority

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WASHINGTON D.C. — U.S. and Italian officials have stepped up efforts to recapture a Palestinian hijacker of the Achille Lauro cruise ship who escaped during leave from an Italian prison.

The United States offered a reward of up to $2 million for information leading to the capture of Youssef Magied al-Molqi, who was convicted of the 1985 murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew who was shot in his wheelchair and thrown off the deck of the hijacked cruise ship.

Molqi fled a church-run shelter in Italy on Feb. 28 while on a 12-day good-conduct leave from prison, where he was serving a 30-year sentence.

The State Department also announced that it is prepared to resettle informants and their families in the United States — signaling the high priority Washington is assigning to the case.

Italian authorities, who also offered an unspecified reward for information about Molqi, reportedly are investigating six people in connection with his escape.

Molqi was the third Achille Lauro hijacker to escape while on leave from an Italian prison.

Only one of the hijackers remains in custody. U.S. officials have criticized the Italian law that permits cooperative inmates to spend time out of jail, regardless of the crime they committed.

The U.S. reward was offered under the State Department's Heroes program, which designates payments to informants in terrorist cases.

The program has been credited with leading to the 1995 capture in Pakistan of Ramzi Ahmed Youssef, wanted in connection with the Feb. 26, 1993, World Trade Center bombing.

A similar reward was offered for two Libyan suspects sought in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.