South Florida Sun-Sentinel
April 11, 2003

Cuba foils new airline hijacking, blames U.S.

By Marc Frank

HAVANA - Cuba said Friday it had foiled an attempt to hijack an airliner to the United States, the third in less than a month, and said U.S. leniency toward those
who successfully commandeer planes and boats was to blame.

The government said it had stopped the suspected hijacking of an airliner at the airport on the Isle of Youth about 75 miles south of Havana when four armed men
were arrested in the parking lot.

The men were part of a group of eight who had planned to take over an airliner after it landed and passengers began to disembark, hold those still on the plane
hostage, and demand to go to the United States, the government statement said.

A rifle and knives were found in the car, along with weights that the government said were to be used to smash through a waiting room window. Authorities said they
were searching for the four suspects not in custody.

``The plan was to enter the waiting room just before he last flight from Havana arrived, wait until 6 to 10 people got off, and at that moment break the glass wall
separating the room from the runway and board the plane by force,'' the government said.

Cuba has been angry over U.S. handling of hijackers, and particularity Washington's policy of granting residency to Cubans who reach U.S. shores. It has also
complained about what it sees as other violations of immigration agreements between the two countries.


U.S. authorities blame the Cuban communist-run government, including a recent crackdown on dissidents by President Fidel Castro.

Seven hijackings have taken place in the past seven months, including the hijacking of two airliners and a ferry since mid-March, according to the Cuban

In the first four, individuals who stole small planes were allowed to stay in the United States after reaching Florida.

In the two airline hijackings in recent weeks, those who commandeered the planes, six men with knives on March 19, and a man with two phony grenades on March
31, were taken into U.S. custody. Those involved in the March 19 incident have been granted the right to post bond.

The majority of passengers in both cases returned to Cuba, but of those who remained in the United States, Cuba suspects some were accomplices. None of the six
planes were returned to the United States.

Last week a group of men armed with a pistols and knives hijacked a Havana ferry and headed for the United States. The ferry ran out of fuel and they were forced
to return to Cuba, where they were captured and their hostages freed.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque charged Wednesday that the Bush administration wanted to scrap immigration agreements and promote hijackings as
part of a drive to destabilize the country.

Cuba said Friday that Thursday's incident was ``part of a sinister plot of provocations against Cuba by the extreme right of the U.S. government and terrorist Mafia
of Miami (anti-Castro exiles).''

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