Fugitive Cuban Soldiers Try to Hijack U.S. Charter

The incident began before dawn when the fugitives commandeered a regular city bus near the airport and forced it to drive inside and onto the tarmac of terminal 2, which services charter flights between the Cuban capital and the United States.

About 150 people who lined up outside the terminal for their outgoing flights, or waited for loved ones to arrive from the United States, seemed oblivious that anything may have occurred there earlier.

Two departures for Miami and one to New York later in the day were listed on time, as were the scheduled arrivals from those cities.

The incident was the first hijacking attempt reported in Cuba since the spring of 2003.

On April 1, 2003, a Cuban architect hijacked an airliner on a domestic flight from the Isle of Youth and diverted it to the United States by threatening the pilot and other crew members with fake grenades. The hijacker was later convicted in the United States and sentenced to 20 years.

The previous month, six hijackers forced a Cuban passenger plane carrying 29 passengers to fly to the U.S. at knifepoint. U.S. air force fighter jets forced the plane down in Key West.

Before that, a small Cuban plane, possibly hijacked, crashed in the Gulf of Mexico about 285 miles southwest of Key West after taking off from the south coast of Cuba in September 2000. Nine of the 10 passengers survived.

Frank Calzon, head of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press he deplored all hostage-taking but said Cuban youth are growing increasingly frustrated with the regime.

"The level of desperation of young Cubans is at an all-time high because the Cubans in both Cuba and off the island were hoping that the rule of Mr. Castro would come to an end," he said. "People can put up with a lot of things as long as they think things will get better.

"I am afraid there will be more bloodshed in Cuba if the regime does not take more steps to deal with the growing unrest. That's not necessarily to give up power, but there are some things the regime could do overnight such as allow those Cubans with money to patronize the hotels, clinics and restaurants set aside for foreigners," Calzon added.


Associated Press reporter Michael J. Sniffen contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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