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

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 to face air piracy charges on Wednesday and was taken into FBI custody in Miami, an FBI spokesman said.

William Potts was scheduled to appear before a U.S. judge in Miami on Thursday, FBI Special Agent Michael Leverock said.

Potts' saga began in 1984 when he concealed a handgun in a cast upon boarding an airplane in Newark, New Jersey, headed for Miami. He hijacked the plane with 56 passengers aboard and forced the pilot to land in Havana, where he thought he would be welcomed.

Instead, Potts was arrested and convicted of air piracy and served 13 years in a Cuban prison. After his release, he remained in Cuba, was married and has 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 the 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 others' capitals.

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

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