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When was the last time that Italian forces leveled their weapons at American soldiers? If you are thinking of 1945, read on...


October 7, 1985: the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro is hijacked by four terrorists: Magied El Molqi, Al Asker Bassan, Fataier Abdelatif and Marouf Al Assadi. An old American jew, Leon Klinghoffer, is murdered and thrown overboard. He was completely defenseless and wheelchair-bound.

October 11, 1985: after a few tense days, the terrorists surrender to Egyptian authorities and are immediately flown out of the country. They are escorted by two palestinian negotiators appointed by Jasser Arafat, an Egyptian ambassador and some members of the Egyptian secret service.

The plane is supposed to land in Tunisia, but it is intercepted by four American F-14 fighters and diverted towards the NATO base of Sigonella, Sicily. Admiral Fulvio Martini, head of the Italian secret service (SISMI), is briefed by the Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, and grants permission to land shortly after midnight.

October 12, 1985, early morning: the plane is surrounded by Italian forces belonging to the VAM, the Air Force police. The Sigonella base is on Italian soil, so the plane and its occupants fall under their jurisdiction. A few minutes later, two American C-141 land near the Egyptian plane. Troops of the Delta Force, led by General Steiner, surround the VAM.

Their orders are to take custody of the passengers of the plane; according to their intelligence sources, one of the negotiators - Abu Abbas - is actually the mastermind who planned the Achille Lauro hijack. Their evidence is not shared with the SISMI.

Admiral Martini orders the Carabinieri to surround the Delta Force; the situation is very tense, weapons are drawn, and the stalemate lasts for five hours. General Steiner orders a retreat only when armored vehicles appear on the scene.

October 12, 1985, evening: the Italian police arrests the four known terrorists (Abbas is treated as a negotiator) and the diplomats agree to fly to the airport of Ciampino in Rome. As an afterthought, Admiral Martini orders a fighter escort for the plane; his suspicions are well founded, since an American F-14 takes off a few minutes later from an unlit, secondary runway of the Sigonella base, trying to interfere with the escort and to divert the Egyptian plane once again.

October 12, 1985, late night: immediately after the arrival at Ciampino airport, another plane of the USAF requests permission for an emergency landing. When the permission is granted, the American pilot blocks the runway to stop the taxiing Egyptian plane. The Colonel in charge of the airport issues a five-minutes ultimatum, threatening to call bulldozers to clear the runway. The USAF plane takes off shortly after.

Aftermath: the four terrorists are jailed; Abbas, along with the other negotiator, is treated as a witness (Italian authorities have no evidence against him) and afterwards flies to Belgrade on a Yugoslavian plane.

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