Date: 16 Sep 1997 19:48:30
Accused bomber makes calm TV confession in Cuba
12:28 a.m. Sep 16, 1997 Eastern
HAVANA, Sept 16 (Reuter) - A Salvadorean man arrested by Cuban police on charges of planting hotel bombs which killed an Italian tourist was presented on television on Monday night and calmly confessed to the attacks.
he man, who identified himself as Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon from El Salvador, said he placed the bombs which exploded at two Havana hotels July 12 and at three more hotels and a restaurant in the city Sept. 4. An Italian businessman was killed in one of the Sept. 4 blasts.
"There in El Salvador, I was given the mission to come (to Cuba) and plant explosive artifacts in a certain number of tourist sites -- they gave me a list -- generally hotels, to create panic among tourists,'' Cruz Leon said. He was speaking on a special TV program broadcast by the Cuban authorities about the recent bombings, which targeted tourist installations on the communist-ruled island.
Dark haired, casually dressed in black jeans and a grey- green shirt, Cruz Leon, who appeared to be in his twenties or early thirties, spoke clearly and showed no signs of nervousness or fear. He seemed remarkably calm for a man caught and accused of carrying out fatal bomb attacks, which under Cuba's penal code could mean a death sentence.
But in his brief televised appearance, Cruz Leon did not reveal exactly who had sent him on his bombing mission.
This information was provided by the Cuban counter- intelligence officer in charge of the case, Colonel Adalberto Rabeiro, whose testimony occupied most of the one-hour TV program.
Rabeiro said the Salvadorean was part of a "network of drug-traffickers and terrorists'' in El Salvador which was "organized, supplied and paid by the (Cuban American National) Foundation'' to carry out the bomb attacks in Cuba.
The Cuban American National Foundation, a leading Cuban exile group based in Miami and fiercely opposed to Cuban President Fidel Castro and his one-party communist rule, has already denied any links to the bombings. Rabeiro said Cruz Leon had used sophisticated electronic equipment to plant and detonate the bombs.
In his testimony, the accused Salvadorean said he acted entirely alone inside Cuba, traveling to the island on two separate occasions to carry out the July and September bomb attacks. "They sent me with sufficient modern methods to guarantee my security so I didn't have to contact anyone in Cuba,'' he told the interviewer.
Asked to give evidence of the alleged link between Cruz Leon and the Miami-based CANF, Colonel Rabeiro said during the program: "We have elements that leave no room for doubt.''
But he immediately added: "It is not convenient for the moment, for our work, to reveal to the enemy all that we know and how we know it.'' He did not elaborate.
Rabeiro said Cruz Leon was accused of serious crimes of "terrorism and sabotage'' and comfirmed these carried penalties ranging from long imprisonment to death.
During the program, the Cuban security officer said Cruz Leon had smuggled C-4 plastic explosives into Cuba. The explosives were hidden in the soles of his shoes and also wrapped in insulating material and concealed inside a TV set.
According to Rabeiro's lengthy explanation, Cruz Leon had employed a sophisticated electronic device hidden inside a mini-calculator to set the timing of the detonators used in the explosions. The detonators were smuggled into the country inside false marker pens and a clock radio, the officer said.
Cuban TV showed pictures of this equipment. Cruz Leon was shown unscrewing the back of a TV set to point out where the explosives were hidden. Rabeiro said Cruz Leon had displayed intensive training to place the bombs, often checking out the sites the day before.
The colonel said the recent bombing campaign included a blast at a Spanish-run Havana hotel Aug. 4 and at Cuban tourist offices in Mexico and Bahamas May 24 and Aug. 3 respectively.
He said the aim of the attacks and the methods used were similar to an earlier attempted bombing campaign in Cuba foiled by Cuban police in March 1995.
On that occasion, two Cuban exiles, Santos Armando Martinez Rueda and Jorge Enrique Ramirez Oro, were arrested and jailed after they arrived by sea on Cuba's northern coast carrying C-4 explosives and traveling with Costa Rican passports.
Rabeiro said that failed attempt had also been organized and financed by the Cuban American National Foundation.
The Cuban counter-intelligence officer said Cuba's people needed to remain alert to the possibility of further attacks.
MIAMI, Sept 16 (Reuter) - The Cuban American National Foundation, a powerful Cuban-American exile organization, denied on Tuesday that it had anything to do with recent bombings of tourist sites in Cuba.
On Monday night, a Salvadorean man identified as Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, who was arrested by Cuban police on charges of planting hotel bombs, confessed on television to the bombings, one of which killed an Italian businessman.
"There in El Salvador, I was given the mission to come (to Cuba) and plant explosive artifacts in a certain number of tourist sites -- they gave me a list -- generally hotels, to create panic among tourists,'' Cruz Leon said. In his appearance, Cruz Leon did not reveal exactly who had sent him on his bombing mission. But the Cuban counter- intelligence officer in charge of the case, Col. Adalberto Rabeiro, said the Salvadorean was part of a "network of drug-traffickers and terrorists'' in El Salvador "organized, supplied and paid by the (Cuban American National) Foundation'' to carry out the bomb attacks in Cuba.
In a statement issued after the broadcast, the foundation denied the allegations, saying the bombings likely were carried out by someone inside Cuba.
"(Cuban President) Fidel Castro must lie about the bombs, because he cannot afford to tell the Cuban people the truth: that some inside Cuba are defying him, his notorious State Security apparatus, and he is obviously powerless to stop them,'' it said.
The Miami-based foundation had previously dismissed as absurd any charge that it organized and financed the recent campaign of bombings on the island targeted against tourist installations like hotels.
Havana, September 16(RHC)-- Cuba's Interior Ministry has reiterated charges that terrorist attacks against the island's tourist centers are planned, organized and financed by a network of criminals in El Salvador with ties to Miami's ultra right-wing Cuban-American National Foundation. During a special television program aired Monday evening, Interior Ministry Colonel Adalberto Rabeiro provided more details of the terrorist attacks, while at the same time presenting the Salvadoran mercenary arrested in connection with the bomb explosions: Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon. Cruz Leon admitted -- coldly and impassively -- to having entered Cuba on two occasions from Guatemala and Costa Rica and detonated bombs that exploded at the National and Capri Hotels on July 12th and those at the Copacabana, Chateaux and Triton Hotels -- and the Bodeguita del Medio Restaurant -- on September 4th.
During the 60-minute, prime-time TV program, Colonel Rabeiro explained that the Salvadoran mercenary had carried in C-4 explosives and sophisticated electronic devices by hiding them in his shoes, a clock-radio and a television.
The Cuban Interior Ministry official said that following his capture, Cruz Leon agreed to cooperate by calling those in El Salvador who had recruited him -- and that those conversations were recorded by Cuban State Security. He reiterated, however, that it still was not convenient to reveal to the enemy all that Cuban authorities know and exactly how the information was obtained.
The Salvadoran mercenary said that he acted alone at all times and was instructed to refrain from making any contacts in Cuba. Colonel Rabeiro said the Salvadoran mercenary's modus operandi was similar to that used in the August 4th bomb explosion at Havana's Melia-Cohiba Hotel and in attacks against Cuban tourism offices in Mexico and the Bahamas. The Cuban official also pointed to the 1996 arrest in Cuba of a U.S. citizen -- Walter van der Veer -- currently on trial, accused of terrorism and subversion.