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Suspected bomber of Cuban airliner indicted

The anti-Castro exile is charged with violating U.S. immigration law, but another court has scheduled his release.

January 12, 2007|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted militant Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles on immigration violations that could send the 79-year-old to prison for at least 10 years.

But those charges may not be enough to keep him locked up beyond another federal court's Feb. 1 release order.

Posada is wanted in Cuba and Venezuela for his alleged role in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner in which all 73 aboard perished, as well as for a string of hotel bombings on the Communist-ruled island in the late 1990s that killed an Italian tourist.

The indictment by a West Texas grand jury alleges Posada lied on his application for U.S. naturalization and during subsequent immigration proceedings. A New Jersey grand jury is investigating the terrorism issues and has yet to issue any action.

A former CIA operative and veteran of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Posada made a career of trying to bring down the regime of Cuban President Fidel Castro, allegedly with the help of U.S. intelligence forces also opposed to the Communist leader.

Posada served four years in a Panamanian prison for a 2000 assassination plot against Castro. He was freed in a gesture of support to President Bush during his 2004 reelection battle, when Miami's powerful exile community was lobbying the White House to help fellow anti-Castro fighters.

Posada has been in a federal immigration lockup in El Paso since his May 2005 arrest on charges of illegally entering the U.S. He told an immigration court in September of that year that he had made his way into Texas in March 2005 with the help of a smuggler.

But Cuban media alleged as soon as he surfaced in Miami later that month that Posada had been picked up from Mexico's Yucatan peninsula by four fellow exiles on a shrimp boat owned by influential Cuban American developer Santiago Alvarez and brought to a Florida Gulf Coast marina.

Alvarez and another Cuban militant, Oswaldo Mitat, pleaded guilty last year to reduced charges of amassing weapons for a strike on Castro. Both were summoned to testify before the West Texas grand jury last week and are believed to have supplied information incriminating Posada on one count of naturalization fraud and six of making false statements to immigration authorities.

Posada was convicted in late 2005 of immigration violations and was ordered deported. But a federal judge ruled that he couldn't be extradited to Cuba or Venezuela because of the possibility he would be tortured or abused in the custody of those governments.

U.S. efforts to deport him to other countries failed.

Posada's attorney, Eduardo Soto, filed a writ of habeas corpus in August challenging his client's continued detention. After U.S. Magistrate Norbert Garney recommended a month later that Posada be released, Department of Justice authorities urged U.S. District Judge Philip Martinez in El Paso to keep Posada jailed, claiming he is "an admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks."

Thursday's grand jury indictment "shows that the Justice Department is serious about pursuing Posada but still leaves his case in the immigration courts instead of addressing his terrorist background," said Peter Kornbluh of the independent National Security Archive at George Washington University.

Kornbluh suspects the Bush administration is reluctant to put Posada on trial for sabotage or acts of terrorism because of his close ties to U.S. security and intelligence operations over the years.

Soto has also alluded to his client's knowledge of clandestine activities and their potential to embarrass past Republican administrations.

President George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, was CIA director during the Iran-Contra affair in which Posada played a key role.

Whether the immigration charges will be sufficient to keep Posada in jail beyond Feb. 1 depends on the outcome of his first court appearance, expected next week, when bail and other pre-trial conditions are determined.

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