US hijacker sentenced to 20 years in prison

2014-07-18 11:55
William Potts explains his arrest in Cuba during an interview at his home in Havana. (Ramon Espinosa, AFP)

William Potts explains his arrest in Cuba during an interview at his home in Havana. (Ramon Espinosa, AFP)

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Miami - A former Black Panther who hijacked an airplane in 1984 and diverted it to Cuba was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Thursday in Miami.

William Potts, aged 57, will be eligible for early release on parole after seven years.

US District Judge Michael Moore took into account the 13 years Potts spent in a Cuban jail after he forced the crew of a Piedmont Airlines flight from New York to Miami to change course to Cuba on 27 March, 1984.

Upon arriving on the communist island, where he hoped to be welcomed as a revolutionary, Potts was jailed.

After prison, he began a new life in Havana, where he married and converted to Islam.

The former militant Black Panther surrendered to US authorities on his return to the country in November, saying that he wanted to reconnect with his two daughters living in the US.

Hijacking 'haunted him'

By declaring himself guilty in May of kidnapping, Potts avoided being sentenced for air-piracy, which carries a 20-year minimum prison sentence and up to life behind bars.

During the hijacking, Potts requested $5 million and threatened to shoot passengers and blow up the plane with two explosives he claimed to have on board.

He gave a note to flight attendants calling for his brothers and sisters in South Africa to be freed and criticizing US policy toward Nicaragua's socialist-leaning Sandinistas.

Potts told CNN in November that he regretted the hijacking, saying it had haunted him every day.

"If you just give me a chance, judge, I'll do you proud," Potts said on Thursday, according to local media.

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