By ANITA SNOW | Associated Press
Convalescing Cuban leader Fidel Castro blamed an airliner hijack attempt on the United States, saying in a statement published Tuesday that two soldiers who seized a plane and killed an officer thought they would escape punishment if they reached U.S. soil.
Castro linked the failed attempt to the recent release of anti-communist militant Luis Posada Carriles from U.S. custody on bond. Cuba’s Foreign Ministry distributed Castro’s statement to international reporters by e-mail late Monday and it was published Tuesday in the Communist Party daily Granma.
The hijacking, 80-year-old leader declared, was “a consequence of freeing the monster of terror.”
“The impunity and the material benefits that have been rewarded for nearly half a century for all violent action against Cuba stimulate such acts,” he wrote.
Castro wrote that the two soldiers involved in the Thursday morning hijacking attempt had not yet been tried because both were wounded, one of them shot.
Although Cuba now rarely employs the death penalty, the non-governmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation on Monday urged governments around the world to petition Havana not to send the would-be hijackers to a firing squad.
Castro wrote that the Cuban people were “profoundly indignant over what has happened” and added, “A great deal of serenity and cold blood are needed to face these issues.”
The two soldiers were among three who earlier escaped from their military post, killing a sentry and wounding a second before fleeing with automatic rifles.
One was captured before the hijacking attempt. But officials said the other two commandeered a city bus with eight people aboard, forced the driver to travel to the Havana airport and marched the group onto an empty plane and demanded to be flown to the United States.
While on the craft, an army lieutenant colonel who had been on the bus was shot four times and killed when he tried to stop the defecting soldiers, Castro’s statement said.