U.S. fugitive raised family in Portuguese town

Militant, now 68, fled in 1970; sought for jail break, hijacking

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ALMOCAGEME, Portugal — A 1970s militant who carried out one of the most brazen airplane hijackings in U.S. history lived for decades in a Portuguese hamlet near a beach with his Portuguese wife and two children, neighbors said Wednesday.

George Wright, 68, was taken into custody by local police Monday at the request of the U.S. government, which is seeking his extradition for escaping from a New Jersey jail after being convicted of killing a gas station attendant.

The Portuguese news agency Lusa, citing unnamed police sources, reported Wednesday that the former Black Liberation Army member plans to fight extradition.

Until his arrest, life was sweet for Wright in Almocageme, 28 miles west of Lisbon. Fluent in Portuguese, he had no apparent profession but worked odd jobs, two neighbors said.

Wright married a Portuguese woman, identified by neighbors as 55-year-old Maria do Rosario Valente. They had two children - Portuguese-born Marco and Sara - now in their early 20s, who used their mother’s last name when they registered for swim classes at the local pool.

Wright possessed a Portuguese identity card - believed to be a fake - that said he was born in Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in West Africa. The document, shown to the AP, bore the name Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos, an alias that U.S. officials said. The identity card puts the man’s age as 68. It was issued in 1993 and expired in 2004.

A fingerprint on a Portuguese ID card was the break that led a U.S. fugitive task force to Wright, who was arrested by Portuguese authorities and is being detained in Lisbon.

Portuguese police said they would not disclose any information about the case. The U.S. Embassy in Lisbon referred all questions to the FBI.

Wright was convicted of the 1962 murder of gas station owner Walter Patterson, a decorated World War II veteran who was shot during a robbery at his business in Wall, N.J.

Eight years into his 15- to 30-year prison term, Wright and three other men escaped from the Bayside State Prison farm in Leesburg, N.J., on Aug. 19, 1970.

The FBI said Wright became affiliated with an underground militant group, the Black Liberation Army (BLA), and lived in a “communal family” with several members in Detroit.

In 1972, Wright - dressed as a priest and using an alias - hijacked a Delta flight from Detroit to Miami with four other BLA members.

After releasing the 86 other passengers in exchange for a $1 million ransom - delivered by an FBI agent wearing only swim trunks, as per the hijackers’ demands - the hijackers forced the plane to fly to Boston. There, an international navigator was taken aboard, and the plane was flown to Algeria, where the hijackers sought asylum.

The group was taken in by U.S. writer/activist Eldridge Cleaver, who had been permitted by Algeria’s socialist government to open an office of the Black Panther Movement in that country in 1970. The Algerian president at the time professed sympathy for what he saw as worldwide liberation struggles.

At the request of the U.S. government, Algerian officials returned the plane and the money to the United States. They then briefly detained the hijackers before allowing them to stay.

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