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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 May, 2003, 21:49 GMT 22:49 UK
Cuban hijackers jailed
A Cuban passenger plane hijacked in March
Cuba has blamed the US for a string of recent hijacks
A court in Cuba has ordered life imprisonment for five men who attempted to hijack a passenger plane last month.

A judge in Havana said the men had been found guilty of acts of terrorism when they tried to force a plane on a domestic flight to head to the United States, an official statement said.

Three other defendants received jail terms of between 20 and 30 years, it said.

Last month, three Cubans were executed by a firing squad for their part in a foiled attempt to hijack a ferry.

The executions - and imprisonment of 75 Cuban dissidents - have been condemned by governments and human rights groups around the world.

But Cuban President Fidel Castro says the strict measures by Havana are justified and blames the United States for trying to destabilise his country.

President Castro said that the spate of recent hijackings in Cuba was all part of a sinister attempt by the US to encourage a mass exodus.

Foiled plot

In the latest hijacking attempt - on 10 April - the eight men boarded the plane on Cuba's Isle of Youth with a an AK-47 assault rifle taken from a soldier.

Hijacked ferry
The ferry hijacking stand-off ended with no-one hurt

But only two hours later, four of the hijackers were arrested in a local airport's parking lot.

Police said the men were armed with the rifle and two knives, and also had exercise weights.

The government later said the hijacking plot consisted of waiting for a flight to arrive from Havana and using the weights to break a glass wall, allowing the gang access to the runway.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs
"It's all brought a deluge of international condemnation on Fidel Castro"

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Country profile: Cuba
11 Mar 03  |  Country profiles

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