WASHINGTON - President Bush might have been able to say it was simply a slip of the tongue when he confused two terrorists in a campaign speech Monday in New Hampshire. Trouble is, he's made the same misstatement at least 10 times before.
During remarks in Derry, N.H., Bush said the late terrorist Abu Nidal killed Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old Jewish American who died after being tossed - along with his wheelchair - off a hijacked cruise liner named Achille Lauro in 1985.
"Do you remember Abu Nidal?" Bush asked the crowd. "He's the guy that killed Leon Klinghoffer. Leon Klinghoffer was murdered because of his religion. Abu Nidal was in Baghdad, as was his organization."
He repeated the mistake Monday evening at a campaign event in New York City: "Abu Nidal was a cold-blooded terrorist killer who killed Leon Klinghoffer."
Actually, it was Abul Abbas, the leader of a violent Palestinian group, who killed Klinghoffer.
The White House had no immediate comment on the mix-up.
Abbas, who was captured in Baghdad last year, was the mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking. His faction of the Palestinian Liberation Front operated out of Tunisia until the cruise ship attack, then relocated to Iraq. U.S. officials say Abbas died of heart disease on March 10 while in U.S. custody in Iraq.
Abu Nidal, a Palestinian renegade, died in Baghdad in 2002. His terrorist organization had been blamed for scores of atrocities, including the 1985 attacks on Rome and Vienna airports in which 20 people were killed and the 1986 attack on a synagogue in Istanbul in which 22 Jewish worshippers were massacred.
Bush's mistake, overlooked for weeks, is buried in his stump speech - in the section where he makes a case that Saddam Hussein had links to terrorist groups. Indeed, Abu Nidal is believed to have had connections to the former Iraqi leader. But he didn't kill Klinghoffer.