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U.S. plane hijacker returns home from Cuba after 30 years

William Potts speaks to reporters outside Havana's Jose Marti International Airport, before boarding a plane to the U.S. November 6, 2013. R
William Potts speaks to reporters outside Havana's Jose Marti International Airport, before boarding a plane to the U.S. November 6, 2013. R

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - A former U.S. militant who hijacked a plane to Cuba almost 30 years ago flew home to the United States on Wednesday and was arrested by the FBI on air piracy charges, federal authorities said.

William Potts, also known by the aliases William Freeman and Lieutenant Spartacus, was arrested at the Miami International Airport, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said in a statement.

Potts is scheduled to appear before a U.S. judge in Miami on Thursday and faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted on the U.S. charges of hijacking a Piedmont Airlines flight to Havana in 1984, the prosecutor said.

Earlier accounts said the hijacker concealed a handgun in a cast on boarding the Miami-bound flight, and that it left from Newark, New Jersey.

The U.S. indictment against Potts said the plane left from New York and that he handed a flight attendant a note claiming to have planted explosives on board and demanding to land in Havana.

Potts thought he would be welcomed in Cuba but was instead arrested and convicted of air piracy. After serving 13 years in a Cuban prison, he stayed in Cuba, got married and fathered two young daughters who have lived in the United States since 2012.

"I'm very anxious to return, this has been going on too long. I'm hoping for a just solution," Potts, 56, told reporters before entering the Jose Marti International Airport for Wednesday's flight from Havana to Miami.

He said he expected the United States to take into consideration his time in a Cuban prison.

"I committed a crime, paid my dues and that's it," he said.

He is thought to be one of the last of more than a dozen members of the Black Panthers, a militant black nationalist group, who hijacked planes and are still alive in Cuba. Others have returned home to face long prison terms or died. Cuba has regularly returned U.S. fugitives since 2006, but Washington says dozens remain in the country.

Potts had tried to return home for a number of years. In 2009, he asked President Barack Obama for a pardon.

Potts arrived at the airport in a U.S. Interests Section vehicle and was escorted inside. The United States and Cuba do not have diplomatic relations, but maintain lower-level interests sections in each other's capital.

(Reporting by Marc Frank in Havana and Jane Sutton in Miami; Editing by Vicki Allen and Peter Cooney)

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