Fifteen people planning to invade Haiti were being escorted back to Miami Beach today after FBI agents arrested them en route to the Caribbean nation, authorities said.
Federal agents, hitchhiking on a Coast Guard cutter, arrested the 15 shortly before nightfall Tuesday, charging them with violating U.S. neutrality laws by setting sail from the United States to invade a friendly nation. The suspects' arrival in Miami was delayed because one of their invasion boats began sinking and had to be towed by the cutter.
"That's some invasion," said one Coast Guard officer. "Their boat starts sinking after we intercept them. I doubt if they would have made it to Haiti."
It was the second alleged attempt this year to overthrow the regime of Haitian President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as "Baby Doc." The first attempt, in January, also was stymied.
The Coast Guard cutter moved in after the Wanderlust III and the Sassoon, both 35-foot boats, left the Florida Keys. FBI and U.S. Customs agents, who had been waiting several days for the boats to leave, ordered them intercepted south of Marathon Key, said William Nettles, an FBI agent in Miami.
The federal agents had been following up tips in Miami and Key West, Nettles said. Customs spokesman Jim Dingfelder in Miami said six handguns, three rifles and four shotguns were among the weapons seized.
Nettles said officials weren't sure if the incident were linked to the January invasion attempt led by Bernard Sansaricq. Sansaricq denied the latest attempt was connected with his Parti Populaire National Haitien.
Sansaricq and six followers have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami on the same charges of violating U.S. neutrality laws. His trial is scheduled for March 22.
The Cooper City, Fla., gas station owner mustered 35 Haitian exiles at South Caicos, in the British Turks and Caicos Islands, for his planned overthrow, officials say.
A day after his advance party clashed with Haitian government troops, Sansaricq led his group from South Caicos Jan. 10 with the announced intention of joining the fight.
But two days later, the boat's motor died 28 miles north of Haiti, Sansaricq later said. The Coast Guard responded to the boat's distress signal and ferried Sansaricq's forces to the United States.