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US Authorities Detain Cuban Exile

A Cuban-exile sought by Cuba and Venezuela for his alleged involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban Airways passenger jet has been taken into custody by U.S. authorities. The case has created an international uproar.

U.S. Immigration authorities seized Luis Posada Carriles after the 77-year-old Cuban exile gave an impromptu news conference in Miami, ending weeks of speculation about his whereabouts.

A statement from the Department of Homeland Security says authorities will determine his immigration status within 48 hours. The statement gave no indication about whether Mr. Posada will be extradited to Venezuela, where authorities say he is the mastermind behind the bombing of a Cuban Airways jet in 1976 that killed 73 people. Homeland Security Department officials say generally the U.S. government does not return people to Cuba or any country acting on Cuba's behalf.

Speaking through a translator at his news conference, Mr. Posada denied any involvement in the attack. "The act of the downing of that airplane is an act that I did not have any participation," he said.

Mr. Posada has also denied involvement in the bombings of several hotels in Havana in 1997 that resulted in the death of an Italian tourist.

Mr. Posada escaped from a minimum security prison in Venezuela in 1985, where he had been held on charges of involvement in the airliner bombing. Speaking at a recent news conference, Eduardo Soto, Mr. Posada's lawyer said his client would face certain death if sent to Caracas.

Attorney Eduardo Soto
"It is my utmost and absolute belief that should Mr. Posada Carriles be extradited from the United States that he would be found dead," he said.

Mr. Soto has filed an application for political asylum for his client, which could complicate any extradition request.

There were scattered demonstrations in support of Mr. Posada in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood when news of his detention was announced.

Damien Fernandez, the Director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University in Miami, says because of his long history of violence, Mr. Posada is unlikely to generate the sort of support for his cause that was given to Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban boy who was returned to his father in Cuba, by U.S. Immigration authorities in 2000.

"I think the U.S. government has more political space on this issue than in other past issues in the Cuban-American community. Few Cuban-American leaders have sided with Mr. Posada Carilles," he said. "The general public seems to be undecided and unsure as to the moral character of this man. We do not know enough about him, and therefore there seems to be an attitude of wait and see."

A senior Cuban official, Ricardo Alarcon, the Speaker of the Cuban Parliament, said he welcomed Mr. Posada's detention, but he said Cuba would keep up its campaign against Mr. Posada until he was extradited to Venezuela. Cuban President Fidel Castro led a massive demonstration past the U.S. Interests Section in Havana on Tuesday criticizing Mr. Posada's presence in the United States.