Three Haitian soldiers could face deportation or long prison terms for forcing their way aboard a New York-bound jetliner in Haiti in a quest for political asylum, authorities said Sunday.
The three, arrested Saturday night when American Airlines Flight 658 arrived at Kennedy International Airport, will be arraigned today in U.S. District Court on air piracy charges.
The soldiers had surrendered their rifles and pistols before the airplane left the capital city of Port-au-Prince. There were no shots fired, and no one was injured during the incident.
The soldiers were arrested without incident when the Airbus A-300, with 224 passengers and nine crew members, arrived in New York. The three, identified as Edouine Noel, 24, Nicolas Mormil, 23, and Jean Charlston Beinamie, 23, are being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Their fate will turn on the question of whether they were victims or victimizers in Haiti, said Arthur Helton, director of the Political Asylum Committee of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York.
"The question is: Are they worthy of refugee protection? . . . Are they merely fugitives from justice or are they refugees from persecution?" Helton said Sunday.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Johnny Frank said the men could face maximum sentences of 20 years to life in prison if convicted of air piracy.
The men can expect to be tried before their application for political asylum is considered, Helton said, although he said the request for asylum could be granted even if the men are convicted.