The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

34 MARCH 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL did we have the problem of taking care of the hostages, but now the Egyptians were really on the spot because the hijackers, who had been taken into custody, were now clearly guilty of murdering an American. On the way back to Port Said, my primary mission was to try to take care of the hostages as best I could, and that meant trying to give them assurances that now they had U.S. government representatives there to help them, that their needs would be taken care of, that Klinghoffer’s murder would be pursued. … One thing that I decided would be good to do to fill the time would be to have all of them sit down with pen and paper and to write out an account of their experiences. That would give something written for the Egyptian investigators. … When we finally got in Port Said … we were joined by the regional psychologist from Embassy [Cairo]. We … boarded a C-130 to be flown to Germany for medical examinations. I accompanied the hostages. In midair, we had news that American military aircraft had intercepted the Egyptian airplane that was taking the terrorists from Egypt to Tunisia, which at the time was the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization. President Reagan had made the decision that we would intervene and force the Egyptian airplane down at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Sicily. … We were diverted from Germany to Sigonella to give some of the hostages the opportunity to identify the terrorists, and that process took place at the military base. We were joined there by the team from [U.S.] Special Operations Command, which had been shadowing the Achille Lauro at sea. So, we had an interesting situation in which the hostages, the terrorists, the U.S. special operations personnel, and U.S. diplomats were colocated and to some extent could discuss the incident. At that time, I learned the special ops team had been prepared to storm the vessel. The hostages … expressed relief that it had not occurred. … At least some of the hostages believed that if the storming had occurred, the hijackers would have opened up with automatic weapons, and there would have been many casualties. After medical examinations at a U.S. base in Europe, Americans held hostage aboard the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro depart for the U.S. aboard a military aircraft. Right: The Achille Lauro. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE AJAX NEWS & FEATURE SERVICE/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO I had my list of American passengers, so I systematically went around knocking on cabin doors. I found all but one passenger. —Edmund James Hull