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Last Updated: Friday, 4 May 2007, 00:55 GMT 01:55 UK
Cuba thwarts attempted hijacking
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC News, Havana

Map showing location of Havana, Cuba
A Cuban military officer has died after being taken hostage in an attempted hijacking at Havana airport, the interior ministry has said.

The officer was killed by two army deserters who had boarded a plane, officials said.

The operation to end the attempted hijacking reportedly involved a fierce gun battle.

The two deserters were among three conscripts who escaped from their barracks. All three are now in custody.

According to a statement from the Cuban government, early on Thursday morning two Cuban army recruits commandeered a local bus, seizing several hostages.

They drove the bus to Havana's main airport and managed to board a empty plane.

The Cuban government says that inside the plane the hijackers killed one of their hostages, an unarmed lieutenant colonel in the Cuban army.

In the operation to end the attempted hijacking, which according to local residents involved a fierce gun battle, none of the other hostages were apparently harmed.

Breakout

The two hijackers were part of a group of three conscripts who deserted their base on Saturday, having stolen automatic weapons.

The Cuban government says that during the breakout an army watchman was killed by the escaping soldiers.

The two hijackers have been taken into custody.

The third soldier was captured earlier in the week.

This is the first reported hijacking attempt in Cuba since 2003.

In March that year, two planes were seized in separate incidents, one of which was flown with 31 people on board to Key West in Florida.

The following month, three men hijacked a small ferry boat in Havana in an attempt to cross the Florida Straits.

They were captured, tried and executed by firing squad in a matter of days.

Cuba says that the US policy of giving near automatic asylum to Cubans is a incitement to those who resort to extreme means to leave Cuba.

The American government says it does not offer asylum to hijackers.


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Footage of the plane involved in the attempted hijack



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