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Cuba hands over U.S. parents accused of abducting their sons

A combination photo shows Joshua Michael Hakken (L) and wife Sharyn Hakken in Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office photos released on April
A combination photo shows Joshua Michael Hakken (L) and wife Sharyn Hakken in Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office photos released on April

By Saundra Amrhein

TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Cuba allowed U.S. authorities to land a plane in Havana and retrieve an American couple accused of kidnapping their two young sons and sailing to the communist island with them, Florida officials said.

The FBI plane returned to Tampa, Florida, early on Wednesday with Joshua Michael Hakken, his wife, Sharyn Hakken, their sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase, and the family dog, a Hillsborough County Sheriff's spokesman said.

The parents, who had lost custody of their children, were jailed on kidnapping and other charges. The children were returned to their maternal grandparents, from whose home they were allegedly abducted last week.

The boys were "happy but sleepy," sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said.

Cuba's Foreign Ministry issued a terse statement on Tuesday saying the family had arrived by boat at the Hemingway Marina near Havana on Sunday and would be turned over to U.S. authorities.

The FBI plane flew from Tampa to Havana, picked up the family and then returned to Tampa, McKinnon said.

A State Department official said earlier that the United States was receiving "very good cooperation from the Cuban authorities."

Washington and Havana have no extradition agreement and tensions flared between the two Cold War enemies during the Elian Gonzalez child custody battle more than a decade ago.

But there were few if any parallels between the Hakken case and Gonzalez saga, which involved a boy plucked from an inner tube off the Florida coast after his mother and others drowned while fleeing Cuba. He was ultimately returned to his father in Cuba.

Joshua Hakken is accused of breaking into his mother-in-law's home north of Tampa a week ago, tying her up and fleeing with his sons, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

Hours later, Hakken, his wife, and the children left from a dock in Madeira Beach, Florida, aboard the Salty, their recently purchased 25-foot (7.6-meter) sailboat, investigators said.

The seller of the boat tipped off sheriff's investigators, who had issued an alert about the missing children, McKinnon said.

The boys had been placed in the legal custody of their grandparents, Patricia and Robert Hauser, after the Hakkens attended an "anti-government" rally in June in Louisiana, where police said they found Hakken in the family's hotel room with a gun, marijuana and a knife, talking about a "journey to Armageddon," according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Joshua Hakken, 35, was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail in Tampa on Wednesday on charges of burglary with assault, false imprisonment, stealing his in-laws' car, child neglect, interference with child custody and kidnapping.

Sharyn Hakken, 34, was jailed on charges of kidnapping, burglary with assault, child neglect and interference with custody.

They were scheduled to appear before a judge via videolink from the jail on Thursday.

(Reporting by Saundra Amrhein in Tampa and Jane Sutton in Miami; Editing by Eric Beech)

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