US murderer fugitive caught in Portugal after 40 years

A 1970s militant who escaped from a murder sentence in New Jersey and carried out one of the most brazen hijackings in US history has been captured in Portugal after more than 40 years as a fugitive, authorities say.

After decades of stagnancy, there was a sudden break in the case when police matched his fingerprint to a resident ID card.

George Wright, 68, was arrested on Monday by Portuguese authorities in a town near Lisbon at the request of the US government, said a member of the fugitive task force that had been searching for him for nearly a decade.

Wright was convicted of the 1962 murder of a gas station owner in Wall, New Jersey.

He received a 15-to-30-year sentence and had served eight years when he and three other men escaped from the Bayside State Prison farm in New Jersey in 1970.

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

 On July 31, 1972, Wright, dressed as a priest and using the alias the Reverend L Burgess, hijacked a Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit to Miami accompanied by three men, two men and three small children from his communal group, including Wright’s companion and their two-year-old daughter, according to Associated Press reports at the time.

When the plane landed at the Miami airport, the hijackers demanded a $US1 million ($A1.01 million) ransom – the highest of its kind at the time – to free the 86 people on board. After an FBI agent delivered a 32kg satchel full of money – wearing only a pair of swim trunks, per the hijacker’s instructions – the passengers were released, according to AP accounts.

The hijackers then forced the plane to Boston, where an international navigator was taken aboard, and the group flew on to Algeria, where the hijackers sought asylum.

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

Algerian officials returned the plane and the money to the US at the request of the American government, and briefly detained the hijackers before letting them stay. Coverage of the hijackers’ stay in Algeria said their movements were restricted, and the president ignored their calls for asylum and requests to return them the ransom money.

The group eventually made its way to France, where Wright’s associates were tracked down, arrested, tried and convicted in Paris in 1976.

But Wright remained at large until Monday, when the New York-New Jersey Fugitive Task Force tracked him down with the help of Portuguese police.

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