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Witness against militant Posada reports a bomb under his pickup

A Hialeah man helping prosecutors go after anti-Castro militants is an FBI informant who said he found a pipe bomb under his truck.

by Alfonso Chardy and Jay Weaver
Jan. 18, 2007
Reprinted from the Miami Herald

An FBI informant who is a key witness against anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles discovered a pipe bomb attached to the bottom of his pickup truck Sunday and drove it to the Hialeah Police Department, law-enforcement authorities say.

Gilberto Abascal -- whose testimony also helped convict anti-Castro activists Santiago Alvarez and Osvaldo Mitat on weapons charges -- somehow spotted the device strapped to the undercarriage of his red 2005 Ford F-150 truck while he cruised around Hialeah, two federal investigators familiar with the incident said.

Despite finding the explosive device, Abascal drove several blocks to the Hialeah police station.

Hialeah police and Miami-Dade bomb squad officers shut down the area and detonated the device. The police picked up the bomb scraps, which included wires and gun shells. The FBI is now investigating, although spokeswoman Judy Orihuela declined to comment.

Sunday was not the first time that Abascal -- who is supposed to be in a witness protection program well outside Miami-Dade County -- has claimed an attempt on his life. Last August, he told police that an unknown gunman pulled alongside his pickup at a Hialeah eatery, Rancho Grande, and shot at him, according to a police report. Abascal told police he pulled a 9mm pistol from his glove box and shot back.

WORK FOR THE FBI

Abascal did not return calls to his cellphone or home phone. He has worked off and on as an FBI informant on probes involving Cuban exile militants since at least 2001. Abascal has received more than $25,000 from the FBI for his testimony, expenses and relocation.

Defense attorneys for the Cuban exiles implicated in recent criminal investigations called Abascal a ''double agent'' whose clients are the FBI and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Abascal -- along with federal authorities -- has repeatedly denied that he is a double agent, although Coast Guard officers found him among a small group that was illegally trying to motor a boat to Cuba in 1999.

Last fall, Abascal was the main federal witness who helped convict ant-Castro militants Alvarez and Mitat on weapons-conspiracy charges in South Florida, and in last week's indictment of former CIA operative Posada on fraud offenses.

A federal grand jury in El Paso, Texas, charged Posada, 78, with lying about how he sneaked into the United States in March 2005.

The same grand jury also charged Alvarez, 65, and Mitat, 64, with contempt of court for refusing to testify about Posada's entry. Three other associates have been charged with contempt.

Attorneys for Posada, Alvarez and Mitat -- all in federal custody -- said their clients were not involved in any attempt on Abascal's life.

''My client had nothing to do with it,'' Posada's immigration attorney, Eduardo Soto, told The Miami Herald.

One defense lawyer questioned why Abascal, after spotting a pipe bomb, would drive several blocks to the police instead of just calling them to come and get him.

''If your information is correct, I caution law enforcement to be very careful in verifying the claim,'' said attorney Ben Kuehne, a member of Alvarez's legal team. ``Abascal, we believe, has an active history of being an agent for the Castro government and engaging in his own brand of wrongdoing.''

Kuehne also said Alvarez had nothing to do with the alleged bomb threat: ``As much as Mr. Alvarez has spent his life trying to bring democracy to his native land, he remains governed by the rule of law in the United States. He would not attempt self-help remedies against any Castro operatives in the United States.''

Many in the exile community have dubbed Abascal a traitor for informing on Alvarez, Mitat and Posada.

HOW POSADA ARRIVED

Posada has long maintained that he came into the United States by crossing the Mexican border with the assistance of a migrant smuggler, not by sea -- as prosecutors now allege. By charging Posada, the Justice Department signaled its willingness to target a man who has been in investigators' cross hairs since 1997, when he was first suspected of masterminding tourist-site bombings in Cuba.

A grand jury in New Jersey is looking at evidence gathered anew by the FBI, which is focusing on money wire transfers and a reporter's tape in which Posada allegedly confesses to plotting the Cuba bombings, which killed one Italian tourist.

Last week's indictment is built on a statement given to the FBI by Abascal, who said Posada entered the country on a shrimping boat called Santrina manned by Alvarez, Mitat and others, including the informant himself. He said the crew on the Santrina picked up Posada on the Mexican island of Isla Mujeres and took him to the United States.

''I have always told the truth and have not lied about anything,'' Abascal told a Miami Herald reporter by telephone last week, before the pipe-bomb event. ``Even if they insult me or kill me, I'll continue telling the truth.''

Posada supporters have scheduled a rally for noon to 6 p.m. Friday at Little Havana's Bay of Pigs monument, Southwest Eighth Street at 13th Avenue. The monument honors exiles who died trying to overthrow Castro in 1962.

Miguel Saavedra, an organizer of the rally, said the demonstration is designed to send a message to the White House that Posada and other ''Cuban exile patriots in American jails'' should be pardoned.

Related story: Posada ally Santiago Alvarez surrenders arms cache

 

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