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Fugitive US Air Hijacker Returns After 30 Years in Cuba

William Potts speaks to reporters outside Havana's Jose Marti International Airport, before boarding a plane to the U.S., Nov. 6, 2013.
A one-time U.S. militant who hijacked an airliner to Cuba nearly 30 years ago has returned to his homeland, with the hope of resolving criminal charges that he still faces in the United States.

William Potts was a member of a black nationalist group called the Black Panthers when he commandeered a plane with 56 passengers on it at gunpoint in 1984 and ordered the pilot to fly to Havana. It was an era when airline security was lax and U.S. hijackers frequently sought passage to communist Cuba.

Potts, now 56 years old, thought he would be welcomed in the island nation a short distance from the southern coast of the U.S. Instead, he was quickly convicted of air piracy and served 13 years in a Cuban prison. Once freed, he married a Cuban woman with whom he had two daughters.

The couple has since divorced and his daughters now live in the U.S., prompting Potts to negotiate with U.S. authorities to arrange a charter flight Wednesday from Havana to Miami in the southern U.S. state of Florida. Upon landing, he was arrested.

Before leaving Havana, Potts said he was looking forward to a reunion with his family in the U.S.

"To go home, to my family, to my daughters, that's what I'm hoping, that's what I'm expecting,'' he said.

But Potts acknowledged that he has made no deal with American authorities about his fate back in his homeland. He said he was hoping that the prison sentence he served in Cuba would limit further punishment in the U.S.

"We have not coordinated anything, that same uncertainty we have to resolve today is that I committed a crime, paid my dues and that's it, it's over. I was condemned to 15 years in prison, not life.''

Potts said he intended to return to live in Cuba once the U.S. criminal charges are resolved.