The text of a statement issued early yesterday by Larry Speakes, deputy White House press secretary, in response to Italy's decision to free Mohammed Abbas, accused by U.S. authorities of masterminding the hijacking of the liner Achille Lauro:

The United States government finds it incomprehensible that Italian authorities permitted Mohammed Abu el Abbas to leave Italy despite a U.S. government request to the Italian government for his arrest and detention.

Abbas is one of the two Palestinians who accompanied the four Achille Lauro hijackers on the plane that was intercepted after leaving Egypt Thursday night.

A U.S federal judge Friday issued a warrant for Abbas' arrest charging him with violation of 18 USC 1203 hostage taking as well as piracy, and conspiracy to commit both offenses.

The Italian government was notified and the United States requested Italy to arrest Abbas provisionally pending transmission of a formal request for extradition.

Abbas, also known as Abu Khaled, is one of the most notorious Palestinian terrorists and has been involved in savage attacks on civilians. Evidence at hand strongly suggests that Abbas was criminally implicated in the hijacking of the Achille Lauro -- indeed that he planned and controlled the operation.

The Italian government has informed us, however, that its judicial authorities did not consider this evidence legally strong enough to support provisional arrest of Abbas while awaiting a formal U.S. request for his extradition.

The United States government is astonished at this breach of any reasonable standard of due process and is deeply disappointed.