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US Takes 35 Cubans into Custody After Apparent Hijacking - 2003-03-20

Thirty-five Cubans are in American custody after the apparent hijacking of a Cuban airliner which landed in Key West, Florida, late Wednesday. U.S. military jets intercepted the DC-3 airliner over the Florida Straits and escorted the Cuban craft to the civilian airport at Key West.

Earlier, Cuban air traffic controllers alerted their U.S. counterparts that the flight, which departed from Cuba's Isle of Youth, had failed to make its scheduled landing in Havana and may have been hijacked.

U.S. aviation officials say the aircraft carried 29 passengers and six crewmembers. An FBI spokesperson says the suspected hijackers surrendered shortly after the plane landed at Key West, and that the situation is under control.

In years past, Cuban asylum seekers have either stolen or hijacked planes, in hopes of reaching the United States.

The unscheduled flight across the Florida Straits came amid heightened U.S. domestic security measures authorized as the United States prepared for war with Iraq. The measures include heightened vigilance of U.S. airspace.