updated 5/9/2005 10:14:43 PM ET 2005-05-10T02:14:43

A Cuban exile long regarded as a violent opponent of Cuban President Fidel Castro has applied for asylum in the United States, a government official said Monday.

Luis Posada Carriles, a suspect in the bombing of a Cuban passenger plane in 1976, reportedly slipped into South Florida several weeks ago but the Bush administration says it cannot confirm his whereabouts. Posada, a former senior officer of the Venezuelan intelligence service, denies involvement in the bombing, which killed 73 people, including 24 members of Cuba’s national fencing team.

To be eligible for political asylum, Posada must prove that he has a well-founded fear of persecution in his native country, said a Department of Homeland Security official said.

Castro has called Posada “the most famous and cruel terrorist of the Western Hemisphere,” and he has repeatedly demanded Posada’s extradition to Venezuela, where authorities want him for the 1976 bombing.

Asylum request criteria
The official, asking not to be identified, said consideration of asylum requests includes national security and law enforcement criteria. A person who seeks asylum need not be in the presence of a U.S. government official when applying.

Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said Monday in Havana that Posada “learned to kill” during a Cold War-era stint with the CIA in the 1960’s.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Monday that no extradition request from Venezuela for Posada had been received.

U.S.: ‘We don't know’ Posada's whereabouts
“In terms of where he presently is, I think it’s fair to say we don’t know,” Casey said. Posada’s Miami lawyer, Eduardo Soto, confirmed at a news conference last month that the Cuban had arrived clandestinely into the United States.

Casey declined to discuss Posada’s past, saying only that the United States “has no interest in allowing anyone with a criminal background to enter the United States.”

Venezuela’s vice president criticized the United States on Monday. “The protection that the U.S. government is giving to a terrorist like Posada Carriles is the denial of all (President) Bush’s speeches against terrorism,” Jose Vicente Rangel said.

“Terrorism has to be fought globally, or we will fall into the ambiguity that the United States has shown, not just in the Posada case, but in the terrorist aggression of a terrorist government like the (U.S.) government when it invades countries,” he added.

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