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Klinghoffer daughters: 'We were elated'

Ilsa, left, and Lisa Klinghoffer
Ilsa, left, and Lisa Klinghoffer

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- U.S Special Forces in Iraq captured Abu Abbas, a convicted Palestinian terrorist who masterminded the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. The hijackers killed a 69-year-old wheelchair-bound American named Leon Klinghoffer, who was on the cruise with his wife of 36 years. They then dumped his body into the sea.

CNN anchor Paula Zahn spoke on Wednesday with the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer, Lisa and Ilsa, about the feelings accompanying the capture of Abu Abbas.

ZAHN: What was your reaction when you heard the news?

ILSA: We were elated that this murderous terrorist was finally captured. On a personal note, this meant a tremendous amount to us. You can imagine, it's been a long 18 years. Some people have long memories. Many people do. And now that he's captured, we'll feel even better if he is brought to a place where he can serve a sentence and be put behind bars for the rest of his life.

ZAHN: You were both involved in this 18-year-long crusade to bring this man to justice. Was there a point where you thought he would never be found?

LISA: There have been ups and downs for us, but we've always had the hope and prayer that he and all the other people involved would be brought to justice. Not just as a personal thing, but for the broader scope of terrorism and what it means today. It's an important victory for our family, but it's also a statement that terrorists, no matter how many years go by, can't run and can't hide. They're going to be sought and they're going to be made to be held accountable for their deeds.

ZAHN: Has this reopened terrible, terrible wounds for your family?

ILSA: Well, those wounds are always there and it's something that is sort of part of our life. I mean, the capture of Abu Abbas personally helps us to do what our mother tried to do when she came back from the cruise, which was to bring all of the terrorists to justice. So we've been persevering to that end.

All of these years, we have not been sitting idly by. We've been lobbying our government, and the Italian government, to pursue the terrorists. It's hard, but we try to keep a balance in our personal lives and also our mission to try to capture terrorists and educate people about the dangers of all this.

I think in our father's case, it was a milestone situation. Countries didn't really pay attention to it at that time. It seemed far away from America, but now we know what's happened over these past 18 years and I think the reality of the situation is very apparent.

ZAHN: We know how tirelessly your family worked as you've just described to nab this man. Without your efforts, do you think we'd hear about his arrest overnight? I mean what of a difference do you think it has made?

LISA: I hope it makes a difference. That's what we do -- we try to make a difference every day, in any way that we can. I know that's what our mother would want us to do if she could be here to do it. We feel it's part of her legacy, that we can do this for her, as well as for our families now.

Nine-eleven was a wake-up call to the world, but the wake-up call for us was 18 years ago when our father, who was just a regular person, got murdered in his wheelchair and thrown overboard. It could happen to anyone. It happened to our family but it could be you, it could be anyone, anywhere, at any time.

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