Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Miami Herald, July, 23, 1983, "FBI Agents Arrest Omega 7 'Mastermind'" by Jim McGee and Bob Lowe

Eduardo Arocena, the man authorities say is America's most dangerous anti-Castro terrorist, was arrested Friday in connection with a 1980 bombing attempt on a Cuban diplomat.

At 12:45 p.m., shotgun-wielding FBI agents knocked at the door of a small, sparsely furnished apartment in Little Havana where Arocena has apparently lived for several months.

The man known as the "Omar" in the commuinques of Omega 7, the most feared anti-Castro group, answered the door himself, clad only in his underwear.

Told he was under arrest, Arocena surrendered quietly.

His one-room apartment abuts the parking lot of Sorrento's, a popular Little Havana restaurant on Southwest Eighth Street. Inside, agents saw several machine guns.

Clad in a blue pullover shirt and designer jeans, Arocena was taken to the Miami FBI office and later to a magistrate's hearing in federal court.

He was held without bond on a single charge of illegally receiving explosives and transporting them interstate during a 1980 attempt to murder the Cuba's representative to the United Nations.

As federal agents led Arocena to his court hearing, a reporter called out in Spanish, "Why did you do it? Was it for the revolution?"

"Of course," replied Arocena as he walked calmly with his hands cuffed behind his back. "All for the liberation of my country."

During the Friday afternoon hearing, a federal prosecutor told U.S. Magistrate Peter Nimkoff that Arocena had changed his "location, appearance and identity" to hide from authorities since October.

Officials consider Arocena one of the most elusive figures in the anti-Castro terrorist underground.

Believed to be the mysterious "Omar" who writes cryptic communiques on behalf of Omega 7, the 40-year-old Arocena disappeared 10 months ago after he was accused in an arrest warrant of trying to kill Cuba's representative to the United Nations, Raul Roa Kouri.

An FBI affidavit accused Arocena and four associates of the 1980 assassination attempt, one of more than 30 bombings and two murders that have been under investigation by a federal grand jury in New York.

The bombing attempt failed when Kouri's car hit a bump, jarring loose a bomb of C4 plastic explosives attached underneath, according to an FBI informant.

The informant, described in court documents as being involved in the March 1980 bomb plot, said the device was to have been detonated later during the ambassador's trip.

According to the informant, Arocena brought the explosives from New Jersey to New York in a rented car and, along with the others, tailed the ambassador with a remote-control detonation device.

The paunchy Arocena scowled and chewed gum in the federal courtroom while awaiting his hearing. His once close-cropped, brown hair was combed past his shirt collar. He sported a mustache.

He said nothing in court. Attorney Jose Villalobos said that FBI agents had tried to talk to Arocena and that his client "wishes not to speak to them anymore." The hearing was continued until Tuesday at 2 p.m. to give Arocena time to find permanent legal counsel.

"The FBI says he is one of the most dangerous people in the U.S.," Villalobos told The Herald. "The person I knew was a gentle person, a business person, far from being a wild-eyed revolutionary."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick Mann said the government plans to move Arocena to New York, where the explosives charge was orginally filed. He said he expects Arocena to fight the move.

During the ten months that Arocena was the subject of an intensive federal manhunt, he apparently melted into a quiet life in Little Havana, avoiding FBI agents and Miami police investigators.

"We believe a majority of his time probably has been spent in this area," said Joe Corless, head of Miami's FBI office. "...It is likely he received assistance from some individuals to avoid apprehension."

He apparently lived in a one-bedroom apartment behind a home at 3034 SW 7th St. Lime trees grace the backyard of the small, brown and white apartment. Two garbage cans were stacked against one outside wall.

Friday afternoon, while neighborhood children played nearby, FBI agents waited outside the apartment for a search warrant that would allow them to seize and examine Arocena's belongings.

They are especially interested in the high powered machine guns and what appeared to be bombmaking components they think are inside the room, law enforcement sources said.

The arrest of Arocena in Miami is a major break for the FBI's terrorism task force in New York, which has directed the Omega 7 investigation. It came after dogged, tedious stakeouts by Miami FBI agents.

Law enforcement sources and neighborhood residents gave this account of Arocena's arrest:

Acting on a tip about 2 a.m. Friday, FBI agents staked out several locations in Little Havana where Arocena was thought to be staying.

At some point, one agent thought he saw a person resembling Arocena walk to the room behind the home at 3034 S. W. 7th St. He and other agents took up surveillance positions and waited.

Arocena remained inside the apartment throughout the morning. FBI agents waited nearby, at one point distrubing a neighborhood guard dog.

At 12:45 p.m., agents decided to move in. They knocked on the door. Arocena answered, looking down the barrel of a shotgun.

"They [the FBI agents] jumped over the back fence, with guns in their hands, with walkie talkies," said Madelina Ramos, 24, a neighbor.

Arocena formerly lived in New Jersey, and worked as a longshoreman on the Newark docks. During the late 1970s, the focus of Omega 7 attacks was the New York-New Jersey area.

Apparently under the heat of an FBI and New York Police Department investigation, Arocena moved to Miami in 1980.

He and his wife bought a $90,000 home at 10001 SW 14th Terr. and set up the Beta Import-Export firm in downtown Miami. Authorities believe the move explained the resurgence of Omega-7 activity in South Florida.

Investigators say that the quiet, studious Arocena has been the strategist behind the group's eight-year campaign of terror directed at symbols of Castro's Cuba and those perceived to be the country's friends.

They also believe Arocena has actively participated in some of the attacks -- building and detonating bombs -- while presiding over the small but volatile terrorist group.

[Herald Staff Writers Jay Ducassi, Sandra Dibble and Jennifer Schenker contributed to this report.]

Copyright (c) 1983 The Miami Herald