Venezuela extradites suspected terrorist to Cuba to face bombing charges

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Venezuela extradites terror suspect to Cuba

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela extradited an alleged associate of Cuba’s most-wanted man to Havana on Wednesday so he can face trial for a series of bombings.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said Francisco Chavez Abarca was put on a plane for Cuba at Simon Bolivar International Airport — the same airport where he was detained by intelligence agents last week. Masked federal police escorted Chavez Abarca, who was wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet, to the aircraft.

“He’s a terrorist, and Cuba wants him,” El Aissami said, speaking on state television from the airport. “We are leading a comprehensive fight against terrorism.”

President Hugo Chavez announced Tuesday that the Salvadoran man would be quickly extradited to Cuba — Venezuela’s closest foreign ally.

Cuban officials say Chavez Abarca placed an explosive that damaged a hotel disco on April 2, 1997, as well as another bomb that failed to explode on the 15th floor of the same hotel later that month. Cuban officials also suspect him in a 1997 bombing of a Cuban government office.

Cuban state television showed Chavez Abarca arriving in Havana late Wednesday and then being led away as he spoke with at least one forensic examiner and security personnel on the tarmac.

Venezuela’s state-run news agency said Chavez Abarca used several fake names during three trips into Cuba during 1997, including Manuel Gonzalez, Roberto Solorzano and William Gonzalez.

Cuban officials say he is a close associate of Luis Posada Carriles, who is the is man most wanted by the communist government’s prosecutors.

Posada Carriles is accused of involvement in the hotel attacks, in the bombing of a Cuban jetliner and in a series of attempts to assassinate former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He has denied involvement in the airline and hotel attempts and at least some of the attempts on Castro.

Chavez said Tuesday that Venezuelan authorities had interrogated Chavez Abarca and suspected he was conspiring with local opposition groups to cause violence and upheaval ahead of September congressional elections.

El Aissami reiterated those allegations Wednesday.

“Chavez Abarca had made contact with fascist groups from the counterrevolution, which collaborated or attempted to collaborate with these malevolent and criminal plans,” El Aissami said.

He said investigators must determine “what were these connections and possible plans.”

Opposition leaders deny they plan to resort to violence to disrupt the vote or unseat Chavez through undemocratic means.

The predominantly pro-Chavez National Assembly passed a proposal Tuesday to create a special committee to investigate Chavez Abarca’s activities in Venezuela.

Chavez Abarca was arrested and imprisoned in September 2005 in El Salvador as part of a crackdown on a car theft ring. He was released in 2007, when a judge said the investigation against him had been botched.

He was never charged in El Salvador on charges related to the Cuba bombings and disappeared from public view following his release from prison.

Associated Press Writer Marcos Aleman contributed to this report.

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