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Panama May Try 4 in Castro Plot

Terrorism: Cuban exiles are being held pending extradition. They are accused of bringing in explosives to kill president.

November 24, 2000|From Associated Press

PANAMA CITY — President Mireya Moscoso said Thursday that Panama is considering trying four Cuban exiles, rather than extraditing them immediately, on charges that they plotted to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Panama is holding the men, including the group's alleged leader, Luis Posada Carriles, in jail for 60 days pending completion of an extradition request from Cuba but has not yet filed charges against them in Panama.

"They entered our country to commit damage, and they have to be judged by our laws," Moscoso told reporters. "If there is a crime, we must put them on trial. It doesn't matter if they are the biggest of terrorists."

Castro, in Panama for a summit of Ibero-American leaders last weekend, had denounced an alleged plot to assassinate him while in Panama. Panamanian authorities then detained the men who were carrying false passports and later found 17.5 pounds of plastic explosives buried near the Panama City airport.

Police are investigating whether the explosives belonged to the men. Their lawyer has said the men knew nothing about the explosives.

The explosives were to have been used to kill Castro when he gave a speech at a university after the summit, according to the most recent police investigations.

Local media have reported that Panamanian prosecutors are planning to charge the four with criminal association and attacking the government--a terrorism charge--but officials have not confirmed what the charges will be.

Panama might also have to weigh an extradition request from Venezuela, where Posada Carriles escaped from custody in 1985 while awaiting retrial on charges involving the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people.

Posada Carriles, an ex-CIA operative, was acquitted twice in Venezuela but was later convicted in absentia and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He has denied involvement in the jetliner attack.

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