• U.S.

Hijackings: Seeking Haven in Havana

2 minute read

When the lanky prisoner aboard a New Year’s Eve flight from St. Croix to New York City complained of feeling sick, one of his three guards escorted him to the lavatory. The prisoner emerged brandishing a snub-nosed handgun. He disarmed his guards–two of whom had black belts in karate–and ordered the pilot to fly the American Airlines DC-10 to Cuba. Thus Ishmail Muslim Ali, 37, formerly known as Ishmael La Beet, once again made headlines as the Virgin Islands’ most notorious criminal.

Ali sent shock waves through the Virgin Islands in 1972 when he and four accomplices mowed down eight people at a golf course in St. Croix. Because of the Virgin Islands’ inadequate prisons, he was jailed at the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa. He had returned to the Virgin Islands two months ago to settle an old legal matter.

Ali was not in handcuffs during his return flight; American Airlines, among others, does not permit such restraints because it considers them unsafe in an emergency. Law-enforcement officials believe Ali’s gun was planted in the restroom by an accomplice, probably before takeoff. Once the plane landed in Havana, Cuban officials took away the hijacker. A few hours later, the plane was back on its way to New York; there were no injuries. The U.S. has asked Cuba to return Ali, but the Castro government has not extradited a hijacker since 1980.

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