Man who tried to kill Castro is in hiding and waiting on Bush

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The Independent US

Is he an international terrorist - or a patriotic freedom fighter? At the age of 77, Cuban-born Luis Posada Carriles may seem a bit old to be either. But he certainly was one or the other for most of his life, dedicated to getting rid of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Is he an international terrorist - or a patriotic freedom fighter? At the age of 77, Cuban-born Luis Posada Carriles may seem a bit old to be either. But he certainly was one or the other for most of his life, dedicated to getting rid of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

How to classify the former CIA agent, convicted in the past of trying to assassinate Mr Castro and of killing 73 civilians by bombing a Cuban airliner, is proving a major dilemma for George Bush. The outcome could affect the President's credibility in his proclaimed war on terrorism.

Posada, a Venezuelan citizen who has also been linked by conspiracy theorists with the assassination of President John F Kennedy, is reported to have slipped across the Rio Grande from Mexico to the US in March. He had been in hiding, apparently in Honduras, since he was pardoned in Panama last August from an eight-year jail term for plotting to kill the Cuban leader during a summit meeting in that country in November 2000.

Posada is now widely thought to be underground in Miami, hiding among the city's many sympathetic anti-Castro Cuban exiles. His Miami lawyer, Eduardo Soto, says he should be granted political asylum in the US "because of his service to the country" while working for the CIA in the 1960s and '70s.

Officially, the US government has so far said it does not know whether Posada is in the country. That brought derision a few days ago from Mr Castro himself, who poured scorn on US immigration officials, the FBI and Miami police. Mr Castro also scoffed at reports that the US would refuse to arrest and extradite Posada to Venezuela - where he was convicted of masterminding the 1976 bombing of the Cuban airliner but later bribed his way out of jail - because he faced a firing squad in Cuba. President Castro said: "We don't want to execute him. We want him to stand trial for the airliner bombing and many other acts of terrorism. In actual fact, we would prefer to see him tried by an international court."

He has called for a mass demonstration in Havana next week to demand Posada's extradition to Venezuela. "It will not be a march against the US. It will be a march against terrorism. We join with the people of the US in their fight against terrorism," the Cuban leader said.

Posada was born in Havana in 1928. He fled the Communist regime after the 1959 revolution and worked, according to US documents released a few days ago, for the CIA in the 1960s and '70s. After gaining Venezuelan citizenship in the 1970s, Posada headed its intelligence service.

The documents say he was present at two meetings in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, to plan the bombing of Cubana de Aviacion's Flight 455 off Barbados on 6 October 1976. All 73 people on board were killed, including 24 members and officials of Cuba's junior fencing team, most of them teenagers.

Another member of the bombing team, Orlando Bosch, has always said the plane was a "legitimate target" because it belonged to Mr Castro. Despite such comments, Bosch was pardoned by then President George Bush senior and granted US residency. Posada was convicted of masterminding the bombing and served more than eight years before escaping in 1985. He did not lie low for long. Within weeks, he was helping Colonel Oliver North secretly ship weapons to anti-Communist Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua.

Then, in the 1990s, he claimed to have been behind a series of bombings of tourist hotels in and around Havana.

In 2000, Posada was arrested in Panama City after a plot was uncovered to assassinate President Castro during an Ibero-American summit. He was eventually sentenced to eight years but last August was pardoned by Panama's President Mireya Moscoso in her last week in office. Her decision caused outrage around Latin America.

In an editorial last week headed "A Single Standard for Terrorists," The New York Times called for Posada to be extradited to Venezuela. George Bush, whose post 9/11 promise was "no deals with terrorists," has a tough decision to make.

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