On October 7, 1985, four men, including mastermind Muhammad Zaidan, aka Mohammed Abul al-Abbas, from the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) hijacked the Italian MS Achille Lauro liner off the coast of Egypt, as she was sailing from Alexandria to Ashdod, Israel. Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they directed the vessel to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons. As many of the hostages were American tourists, President Ronald Reagan deployed the Navy's SEAL Team Six and Delta Force to stand by and prepare for a possible rescue attempt to free the vessel from its hijackers.
On October 8, after being refused permission by the Syrian government to dock, the hijackers murdered Leon Klinghoffer, a retired, wheelchair-bound Jewish American businessman, shooting him in the forehead and chest. They then forced the ship's barber and a waiter to throw his body and wheelchair overboard. Klinghoffer's wife, Marilyn, who did not witness the shooting, was told by the hijackers that he had been moved to the infirmary. She only learned the truth after the hijackers left the ship at Port Said. The PLO later denied that the hijackers were responsible for the murder, and suggested that Marilyn had killed her husband for insurance money. Over a decade later, in April 1996, PLF leader Zaidan accepted responsibility, and in 1997, the PLO reached a financial settlement with the Klinghoffer family.