Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Miami News, May 6, 1976, "Three Suspects Arrested in Little Havana Bomb Try" by Milt Sosin.

Three men were arrested early today as they allegedly tried to bomb a building in Little Havana in what may be the first crack in an 18-month wave of terrorist bombings here.

FBI Agent-in-Charge Julius Mattson said, "The investigation and these arrests are expected to lead to the solution of some other bombings, including those last December (when seven bombs exploded in a 24 hour period.)"

Federal and local officials refused to link the men arrested to any specific bombing or attribute any motive, and Mattson added it was too early to tell if any of these cases were related to the murders of four Cuban exiles and the attempted murder of three others in the past two years.

In addition to the three arrested in Little Havana last night, federal and local officials were questioning several others in connection with the bombing wave, and said further arrests were expected later today.

FBI agents Metro and Miami police said the arrests of the three in the 3400 block of SW 8th Street resulted from a stakeout that followed a six-month surveillance of a suspected terrorist group.

The FBI identified the suspects as Antonio Raphael de la Cova, 25, of 960 SW 42nd Ave; Blas Jesus Corbo, 21, of an unknown address; and Gary Edward Latham, 22, of 1721 NW 15th Vista, Boca Raton.

They were nabbed after 25 officers from the three agencies had converged upon the scene at 1:30 a.m. while maintaining strict radio silence.

Miami police said the suspects drove to the 3400 block of SW 8th Street and parked their car. Officials said de la Cova got out carrying a small length of pipe packed with dynamite, while Corbo and Latham remained in the car.

As de la Cova walked along the block - composed of stores at the street level with offices on the upper floors - FBI agents and police sprang out of hiding and converged on him.

De la Cova, police said, dropped the bomb in the doorway of a TV appliance store. One police source said the actual target was an "adult book store" and mini-movie establishment at 3458 SW 8th St., but a press conference later in the morning, police spokesmen said they are not positive of the intended target.

Within minutes after the bomb was found, Tom Brodie, head of the Metro bomb squad and one of the nation's leading experts in the field, was at work disassembling it.

"The way we figured it," said one of Brodie's associates at the scene, "Tom had only a minute or so to defuse the bomb. He took it apart right then and there."

Police cordoned the block while detectives combed the area using a metal detector to locate scraps of possible evidence.

The wave of bombings date back to January 1975. There have been 47 bombs that have exploded and 33 that didn't. Federal officials have made no arrests in those cases and frequently blamed the "lack of co-operation" of the Cuban community.

Last December seven bombs exploded in a 24 hour period, one at the Miami police department, another in the State Attorney's office, and others at federal buildings.

The men arrested today were charged under both federal and state laws.

De la Cova was described by neighbors as a quiet, self-effacing man who frequently ran short of money, drove a battered old Volkswagen and a motorcycle, and taught at Inter-American Military Academy, a private elementary school in Little Havana. A secretary at the academy, at 3525 NW 7th St., said de la Cova had worked there but "left three of four months ago."

Latham was said by the FBI to be student at Florida Atlantic University.

His mother, Mrs. John Latham, said her son was a physics major at Boca Raton University and had a 4.0 grade average. "We're baffled," she said. "My son was the quiet type, the kind who just went off to his room and studies." She said he had no involvement in radical politics.

Corbo was studying at Miami-Dade North Community College. Police gave his address as 660 Collins Ave. but the owners of an apartment building there said he had never heard of Corbo. All three suspects are single.

"The surveillance has been going on since last November," a Metro source said today. "Last night, based on certain activities, it became apparent that some kind of a bombing attempt would be made within a few hours.

"The surveillance was stepped up but the exact target did not become known until shortly before the attempt was made. However, we had time enough to move the FBI agents, the Metro Organized Crime detectives and the Miami police into position, and at 1:30 a.m., the suspects showed up and we grabbed them."

A number of other persons were picked up and questioned by the FBI and two of them were taken to the FBI headquarters on Biscayne Boulevard. Their identities were not immediately disclosed.

The structure housing the apparent target of the bomb is an L-shaped, two-story building, with offices above the stores, on the south side of SW 8th Street. In the block of stores, most of which cater to a Latin clientele, are a printing shop, a mini-market, a party service, a physician's office, a beauty shop, an income tax service, the TV appliance store and the adult book store.

Just hours before the arrests, U.S. Sen Lawton Chiles had criticized the FBI in a speech in Miami for its failure to quell terrorist activities in Miami. Chiles could not be reached this morning for comment on the arrests early today.

Chiles also visited Emilio Milian, the news director of radio station WQBA, who last week had both legs blown off by a bomb. Milian is at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Copyright (c) 1976 The Miami News