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Alleged anti-Castro terrorist Posada arrested

Wanted in Venezuela for 1976 downing of Cuban airliner

From Susan Candiotti

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Cuban exile leader Luis Posada Carriles is in U.S. custody.

Cuba would like Carriles to be extradited to Venezuela.
Gallery: Cuban Protests

• Castro leads rally against Posada
• Castro defends U.S. fugitive
• U.S. denies being haven for Posada
Acts of terror
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Federal agents arrested notorious Cuban exile leader Luis Posada Carriles near Miami Tuesday afternoon. He is reported to have been planning to leave the country.

Posada was legendary among south Florida's Cuban exile community for his plots to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

He is wanted in Venezuela to face charges that he blew up a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 people.

Castro has called Posada a terrorist and a monster and even staged a rally early Tuesday outside the U.S. Mission in Havana to demand his arrest. (Full story)

Posada, a onetime CIA operative, had been in hiding since he was smuggled into the United States via Mexico.

He had been seeking asylum in the United States, but told CNN earlier Tuesday he might withdraw that request because of the furor surrounding his presence in Miami.

Posada was seized near Miami by agents from the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Santiago Alvarez, who had helped pay Posada's legal bills during his bid to remain in the United States, said agents picked up Posada as he was planning to leave the country.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez -- a Castro ally -- has demanded the United States extradite Posada to face charges in the airliner bombing.

Posada adamantly denies any role in the attack. He was jailed for nine years in Venezuela, but he was never convicted and escaped in 1985.

The Associated Press reported he also served as a senior officer of the Venezuelan intelligence service and holds citizenship there.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Venezuelan authorities had asked the federal government to arrest Posada and the request was referred to the Justice Department.

Posada said he was smuggled over the Mexican border into Texas and came by bus to South Florida.

He said he had been hiding but that in recent weeks people in Miami had begun to recognize him.

Posada's presence in the United States has presented a problem for U.S. officials, who want to support anti-Castro Cubans but are sensitive to terrorist charges against Posada.

Posada said he has not renounced violence, but declared, "I am not a terrorist."

When asked about Havana hotel bombings in 1997 that killed one Italian tourist, however, he refused to take any questions or make any comment.

Now in his late 70s, Posada was convicted in Panama of plotting with three Cuban exiles to kill Castro during a visit to Panama in 2000.

He later received a presidential pardon and has surfaced in Guatemala and Mexico before heading to the United States.

Asked if he would still like to kill Castro, Posada said, "He's rotting away."

The Homeland Security Department issued a statement after Posada's arrest that said the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has 48 hours to rule on his immigration status.

"As a matter of immigration law and policy, ICE does not generally remove people to Cuba, nor does ICE generally remove people to countries believed to be acting on Cuba's behalf," the statement said.

Posada received CIA training in explosives and sabotage at Fort Benning, Georgia, after helping to organize the failed Bay of Pigs operation to oust Castro in 1961.

He said he stopped working for the CIA in 1968 but in the 1980s helped the U.S.-backed secret Contra supply network in Central America.

A senior official familiar with Posada's career said the CIA considers him "radioactive" and said he is no longer linked to the agency.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.

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