An Alexandria youth was severely injured late Wednesday night by a bomb hidden inside a radio, a gift that federal investigators said could have been intended for his mother, who was employed until last year at a center for Libyan students in McLean.
The youth, Rey Catabay, 17, was listed in satisfactory condition late yesterday in Baltimore after undergoing extensive surgery on his hands, which were injured when the bomb exploded about 11 p.m. in the family's apartment at 3110 Mount Vernon Ave.
Investigators said the radio, which had been mailed to the youth's home, exploded when he plugged it into an electrical outlet. Catabay was taken first to Alexandria Hospital and then by helicopter to Baltimore's Union Memorial Hospital. No one else was injured in the blast, according to Alexandria police.
Officials of the U.S. Postal Service, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Alexandria police were investigating the explosion in the 14th floor apartment of Alan and Rebecca Brown.
"Many things are possible," said one federal official, "but they seem to be a perfectly normal family. On the surface, the Libyan connection appears to be the only thing that sticks out."
Rebecca Brown, the youth's mother, worked for several years as a receptionist at the Peoples Committee for Students of Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Inc. The organization manages the affairs of Libyan students in the United States and has been the Libyan government's only official link to Washington since the Reagan administration closed the country's embassy in 1981.
Brown was laid off last year after the U.S. government reduced to 500 the number of Libyan students allowed into the country, according to the head of the Peoples Committee, Salem Omar Zubeidy.
"My god, what now?" Zubeidy said when he was informed of the incident. "Rebecca was a sweet, wonderful person. She had nothing to do with political activity. She is not capable of antagonizing anybody."
"It's too early to tell what happened, who did it or why," said Terry Lunders, a supervisor with the Washington district office of the alcohol, tobacco and firearms bureau. "It's a strange situation, but the only thing I can say for certain is that the boy was injured."
Police said they could not be certain to whom the parcel was addressed, but one police officer, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, said that the package had been delivered "for the father or the mother" earlier Wednesday.
Both parents accompanied their son to the hospital in Baltimore yesterday and neither was willing to be interviewed.
Union Memorial Hospital has a large hand trauma and surgery unit and Catabay underwent more than six hours of surgery yesterday morning in an attempt to reconstruct his right hand, which doctors said was seriously injured.
"The patient had multiple injuries to his hand from a blast," said Dr. Ronald Stark, head of the team that performed the operation. "There were many fractures, nerve injuries and tendon lacerations."
Stark said that although he could not predict how much hand movement would be regained, he was optimistic that the youth would be able to use both hands.
"I think he will get good function back," said Stark, "but you will never completely restore a hand that has gone through an injury like this."