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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Planner in Cruise Ship Hijack Dies

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Mohammed Abbas, the Palestinian mastermind of the Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking in 1985, has died of natural causes in U.S. custody in Iraq, U.S. and Palestinian officials said Tuesday.

One U.S. official said he had a heart attack.

"Mohammed Abbas or Abu Abbas, head of the Palestine Liberation Front, who has been held in American custody, has died in Iraq," an official close to President Yasser Arafat said.

He said the death of Abbas, caught by U.S. forces in April, was "related to his deteriorating health situation."

"He apparently died of natural causes. Medical efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. An autopsy will be performed," a U.S. Defense Department spokesman said.

He refused to say where Abbas died. Another defense official, who asked not to be identified, said he was being held in Iraq at the time of his death.

"Apparently he died in U.S. custody in Iraq of natural causes, a heart attack," another senior official said.

Abbas planned the hijacking of the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro in October 1985 during which a wheel chair-bound Jewish-American, 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer, was killed and thrown into the sea.

Abbas, who was not on board the ship during the attack, spent most of the past 17 years in Iraq, eluding U.S. and Italian officials. He was believed to be in his late 50s or early 60s.