updated 4/30/2009 6:08:18 PM ET 2009-04-30T22:08:18

One of the Palestinians who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and killed an American passenger in 1985 has been released after more than 23 years in jail, officials said Thursday.

Youssef Magied al-Molqui left prison in Palermo, Sicily, on Wednesday and was transferred to a holding center for immigrants in nearby Trapani while officials work to expel him, police in the Sicilian capital said.

Al-Molqui, a member of the four-man team that hijacked the Achille Lauro off the Egyptian coast, had been serving a 30-year sentence, which was reduced for good behavior.

He was convicted of shooting Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jewish man from New York, and ordering him to be dumped in the sea while in his wheelchair.

Klinghoffer's family condemns release
Klinghoffer's daughters and the Anti-Defamation League condemned Al-Molqui's early release.

"We are outraged at the news of the release of Youssef Magied Al-Molqui for good behavior. He is the terrorist who was responsible for actually shooting our father, Leon Klinghoffer, in cold blood, in his wheelchair," daughters Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer said in a statement.

"We were furious with the Italian court's short sentencing at the time, and we are outraged to now learn that he will be leaving prison early for 'good behavior.' There should be no good behavior clause for terrorist murderers," the statement said. "This is a travesty."

Italy customarily reduces inmates' sentences, often by several years, for model behavior in prison.

The Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League is dedicated to educating the world about the deadly realities of terrorism, working to combat the threat of terrorism through educational, political and legal means.

Spent three weeks on the run
In 1996, al-Molqui disappeared during a furlough, but he was recaptured in Spain after three weeks on the run.

Al-Molqui's lawyer, Stella Cavallo, was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying she would fight the expulsion order. She said her client had married an Italian woman and had no recognized citizenship, and therefore no country would accept him. No one answered the telephone at the lawyer's office on Thursday.

Another convicted Achille Lauro hijacker, Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif, was released last year. Italian authorities have tried to expel him, but his lawyers have appealed the decision, arguing he should be allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons because he, too, has no citizenship.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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