by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
February 27, 2002
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Leon Klinghoffer. Do we even remember his name?
I didn't. I knew him only as the handicapped man killed and callously tossed overboard in what became known as the Achille Lauro incident. And now, we're dealing with the Daniel Pearl incident.
With a generation and a couple of continents between these men and these "incidents," we note one thing they had in common: they lived and died as Jews.
In the Fall of 1985, I was making travel arrangements for the keynote speaker at an International Convention of Surgical Oncologists in Rome, Italy. It was after the Achille Lauro incident and about the same time gunshots were sprayed through Fiumiccino Airport in Rome.
In our land where we acknowledge anti-Semitism exists, most of us have never met an anti-Semite. And, actually, I was alarmed to see my boss's fear mounting as he weighed the option of cancelling the trip. It would mean foregoing the honor of being recognized for his contribution to the cure for cancer. His surgical procedure was adopted around the world and saved tens of thousands of women's lives, and for a million more, saved them from the need for radical mastectomy.
The threat of hijackers taking over the flight was real. Singling out Jewish passengers, however, was new. He was worried about that. The skyjackings to Cuba during those months were mostly carried out by criminals escaping prosecution than by terrorists making political/religious statements.
From what we knew then, as now, terrorists are obedient to a cause and able to follow simple instructions to carry out a mission. However, they are not schooled in negotiating -- in fact they are usually uneducated in general.
The Achille Lauro incident involved four young zealous Arabs who left Lebanon for the first time in their lives, only one of whom spoke a second language, travelled to Italy to set things in motion, carried Scandinavian passports, then boarded a ship carrying senior tourists from Europe and the United States.
Once they began carrying out their plan, having had very limited instructions, they got responses from government officials that didn't match their script. Probably something like, "Who the Hell are you guys?" Well, they couldn't adapt, had no Plan B, and fell into a general panic. Thus, the murder of Leon Klinghoffer.
In an FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Thomas Strentz notes, "While ones hould never consciously underestimate adversaries, neither should one make them into supermen. They are a force to be reckoned with, but must be viewed within the perspective of reality." (April, 1987)
In looking for the name of the victim of the Achille Lauro, I came across reports of previous attacks on civilians caught in the middle of these so-called holy wars. It's easy to see the terrorists more as the gang that couldn't shoot straight than as the master minds who plotted to... ."
For the most part, extremists (particularly Middle Eastern) have generated great interest in their activities among law enforcement officers in the West. If you kill one, you influence a thousand, so said former Chinese Communist party leader Mao Tse Tung. Some radical groups have done just that for the same reason.
We need a more accurate picture -- profile, if you will -- of aterrorist. There is a difference between being "willing" to die for the cause and "wanting" to die for the cause.
We have seen them as worldly sophisticates. That simply is not true. During the hijacking of a Kuwaiti flight, Beirut International Airport controllers refused landing clearance and blocked all runways. The terrorists communicated with sign language and pointed to the card demonstrating passenger safety in the event of forced landing over the ocean. The plane would float, allowing passengers to exit along with flotation equipment. The hijackers mistakenly held that as proof the plane could land on water and then drive to land.
In another "incident" terrorists ran to the front of the plane expecting to take over the crew in the cockpit. Surprise! The cockpit is not in the nose of a Boeing 747 but is reached by climbing a staircase in the rear of first class. In the extra time it took them to reach them, the cockpit crew was able to escape.
Allowing for the exceptions, the existing psycho social profile describes hostage takers/terrorists as undisciplined, illiterate, unemployed,unskilled and uneducated. Does this mean they can't carry out a deviousplot? Don't bet your life on it.
The doctor arrived early one morning and I asked him if I could speak with him privately. Once in his office, I showed him a thin black leather folder smaller than a passport. He opened it and saw my "travelling Rosary" -- a silver crucifix surrounded by Braille-like buttons designed for praying the devotion privately, especially on a long flight or train ride.
He knew exactly what I was suggesting. He looked up at me from behind his desk and I stammered, "I'm not asking you to deny your faith or heritage, Doctor -- just providing an easily recognizable symbol that any terrorist would understand is non-Jewish."
He smiled and accepted it without comment.
A few weeks later, his journey behind him and the appointment as American Cancer Society's Man of the Year in his pocket, he dropped the case on my desk.
"I didn't need this, Connie. Thank God."