Review: ‘An Innocent Bystander,’ by Julie Salamon

"An Innocent Bystander: The Killing of Leon Klinghoffer" by Julie Salamon; Little, Brown (349 pages, $29)

Sandwiched between the terrorist attacks that killed 11 Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 Munich Games and the Sept. 11 attacks that killed 3,000, there was a terrorist incident that resulted in a single death, but which claimed international attention and even spawned an opera.

Leon Klinghoffer was shot to death during an ill-planned Palestinian terrorist attack on a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in the Mediterranean in 1985. What made Klinghoffer's death so horrific is that the 69-year-old New Yorker, a stroke victim, was shot in his wheelchair. Then his body and wheelchair were tossed overboard.

"An Innocent Bystander: The Killing of Leon Klinghoffer" examines the case and its prolonged aftermath – personal, legal and artistic – in journalistic fashion. Author Julie Salamon gained the trust not only of Klinghoffer's daughters, but also of the wife and ex-wife of the Palestinian terrorist leader, Abu al-Abbas, who was responsible for plotting the cruise ship attack. Salamon tells all their stories with an even hand.

Three days after Klinghoffer was killed, a peaceful Arab-American anti-discrimination activist was killed in a bombing at his California office, a terrorist attack that drew far less notice. Salamon weaves in details about that slaying. In chronicling the impact of both these killings on all three families – those of the two victims and the terrorist mastermind – Salamon provides a 360-degree view of the tragic, endless cycle of the killing of innocents.