South Florida Sun-Sentinel
April 10, 2003

Government loses bail appeal on 6 accused of hijacking Cuban airliner

Associated Press

MIAMI -- The government lost an appeal on bail Thursday in the politically sensitive case of six men accused of hijacking a Cuban airliner to Key West at

U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King refused to overturn a magistrate's ruling setting $100,000 bond for each of the men facing possible sentences of 20 years
to life in prison on an air piracy indictment.

The question of the men's release from jail may be academic because immigration officials could detain them indefinitely, even if they satisfy the bail requirements in
the criminal case.

The decision by a Key West judge to allow bail sparked outrage in Cuba and worries on both sides of the Florida Straits about more hijackings and the potential to
spark a mass exodus from Cuba.

A copycat Cuban hijacking suspect who arrived less than two weeks after the first is being held without bail, and a boat hijacking ended with its return to Cuba last

Cuban government television took the unusual step of broadcasting a warning from the top U.S. diplomat that hijackers would be prosecuted, imprisoned and then

After King's decision, the possibility of bail for the hijackers brought tears to the eyes of Rita Velez, a relative by marriage to three of the accused hijackers, who
waved and blew kisses to relatives as they left the courtroom.

``We're very happy about this. We have a lot of faith in the system,'' she said. ``The situation in Cuba is sad. I hope the court takes that into consideration.''

The men are accused of using five knives and the aircraft ax to commandeer an Aerotaxi DC-3 and break down the cockpit door during a Cuban domestic flight
March 19.

The defendants were ``escaping what is arguably an oppressive regime in Cuba,'' said prosecutor John Delionado.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Stewart Abrams, who represents accused ringleader Alexis Norneilla Morales, said the defendants were ``desperate to leave the
political regime'' in Cuba.

After the hearing, the pilot and a flight attendant, who have stayed in the United States since the hijacking as part of the investigation, gave their first statements to
defense attorneys.

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