Probably Magid al Molqi's name means little to you - until it is coupled with that of Leon Klinghoffer and the cruise ship Achille Lauro. Al Molqi was one of four Palestinian terrorists who commandeered the ship in 1985 and, among other crimes, shot and pushed the wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer over the side.

Al Molqi is most identified with the killing of the American tourist.During these recent days of renewed terrorism against Israel, it is not without significance that al Molqi, under a 30-year sentence in Italy for his crimes, has escaped and remains at large.

More shocking, three of the four Palestinians sentenced for the Achille Lauro hijacking have escaped.

The U.S. government wasted little time before asking Italy how this has come to be. "How is it possible for a convicted terrorist, a man responsible for the death of an American citizen, to be out of prison?" asked State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.

The answer, while not acceptable, is simple.

The responsibility for it, if you disallow natural suspicion of complicity by authorities, is Italian law, which authorizes temporary exit permits from jail if prisoners display a record of good conduct. Al Molqi was on such a pass, 12 days' worth, when he disappeared.

So were Ahmad Maruf Assadi and Bassam Ashker, two others convicted in the Achille Lauro debacle who earlier vanished.

Italy doesn't just hand the prisoners a pass and wish them good stead. When al Molqi took off, he was under the charge of Roman Catholic charity workers. Ashker was assigned to the Italian Red Cross. It is not clear to which organization Assadi was assigned when he fled.

But what constabulary safeguards do those altruistic groups maintain? What position are they in to make certain the prisoners abide by the rules of their temporary release? Why they accept such responsibility only can be attributed to that long-mistaken social-minded notion that there is no such thing as a really bad boy.

Clearly Italy needs to re-examine its laws. Terrorists, or any other murderers, do not warrant humane covenants. For killing Robert Kennedy in 1968, Sirhan Sirhan remains locked up in California after 28 years despite countless attempts at parole. There's no thought of a three-day pass for him. If America's criminal justice system can be perceived by some as feeble, what can be said about Italy's?

Likely, the escaped terrorists already have or soon will reach friendly anti-Western territory - such as Libya, which, because of its geographic proximity, has a relationship with Italy that at times can be alarming.

Perhaps the escaped terrorists will once more serve their fanaticism and strike again - at Israel, at the United States, at anyone seen as the enemy of fundamentalist Islam.

Italy errs. But who will pay for it?