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Man held in 1968 hijacking pleads not guilty

A man accused of hijacking a Puerto Rico-bound flight to Cuba four decades ago has pleaded not guilty in a New York City courtroom.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A U.S. citizen accused of hijacking a plane four decades ago and forcing it to land in Cuba pleaded not guilty Tuesday and will remain jailed.

Luis Armando Pena Soltren entered the plea through a Spanish translator in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas F. Eaton. A pretrial hearing was set for Wednesday in Manhattan.

Pena Soltren was arrested Sunday afternoon when he arrived on a flight to Kennedy International Airport from Cuba.

In 1968, Pan American Flight 281 left the same New York City airport bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico. Authorities say Pena Soltren and his accomplices used weapons hidden in a diaper bag to hijack it.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has said the hijackers wielded pistols and knives. The flight, with 103 passengers and crew aboard, was diverted to Havana.

The stocky Soltren, wearing a white shirt and casual beige pants, listened through earphones as Eaton read him his rights Tuesday. His lawyer, James Neuman, said he was not requesting bail at this time.

Outside court, Neuman was asked to speak about reports that his client was returned to the United States because he wanted to be near relatives.

“There’s some family in the area,” Neuman said. But he declined to comment further, he said, until he speaks with Pena Soltren.

The FBI and federal prosecutors said the Cuban government authorized Pena Soltren’s departure and was aware of his desire to return voluntarily.

Robert Pastor, a professor at American University in Washington, says dozens of American fugitives hiding in Cuba are watching the case. Pastor was national security adviser for Latin America during the Carter administration.