A Haitian exile has been arrested here and charged with smuggling submachine guns and explosives into Haiti as part of a failed attempt to overthrow the authoritarian government of President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier.
The accusation filed in U.S. District Court against Joel Deeb, 28, came three days after Thomas O. Enders, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, and the Haitian government issued a communique in Port-au-Prince reiterating U.S. determination to prevent Haitian exiles from launching "terrorist acts" against Duvalier's rule from south Florida.
It underlined Miami's role as a base or way station for a variety of Latin American and Caribbean political exile groups seeking the overthrow of their home governments.
Hours before Deeb was picked up in Miami's Little Haiti section, for example, bombs exploded in a cigar factory and travel agency in the Little Havana area, attacks later claimed by an anti-Castro Cuban terrorist group called Omega 7.
The FBI and the U.S. Customs Service, in a joint complaint, accused Deeb of joining a group last April "whose purpose was to overthrow the Haitian government." As part of his work with the group, the complaint charged, Deeb participated in the purchase of nine M16, MAC10 and MAC11 submachine guns, 7,000 rounds of ammunition and explosives and timers.
Deeb and four others flew the weapons and explosives to Haiti last July 29, taking off from Opa Locka Airport near Miami and landing on an isolated stretch of mountain road near Gonaives, Haiti, it said. They unloaded the weapons but fled the next day after failing in their plan to set off bombs in government buildings, it added.
Reports from Haiti said the group then tried, and failed, to blow up a bridge and electricity pylons. They injured an American woman, Melissa Martin of Cary, N.C., in an unsuccessful attempt to hijack a car, but later managed to get a vehicle that took them back to their plane for the escape, the complaint said.
A Haitian government spokesman, Guy Mayer, said by telephone from Port-au-Prince that Deeb "from all appearances" belongs to the Brigade Hector Riobe, a tiny Miami-based group seeking Duvalier's overthrow through commando strikes.
The group left leaflets tying it to the July operation and to a bombing earlier this month that the government described as a bungled attempt to assassinate Duvalier, Mayer added. "This Deeb's arrest is a result of an investigation under way since July," Mayer said.
The Haitian government announced after the Jan. 1 bombing, which killed three persons outside Duvalier's palace, that the FBI had been asked to help investigate. Mayer said the request for FBI assistance grew from his government's belief that the exiles responsible were based in Miami.
Although Enders' visit was planned for other reasons, Mayer said, the Haitian government expressed concern about the July and January attacks, particularly because they were launched from Miami.
This was what led to a paragraph in the communique in which the United States "reaffirms its engagement in the framework of American law to block terrorist actions directed against Haiti by individuals operating from U.S. territory."
A spokesman for the FBI in Miami, Chris Mazzella, said it was "merely a coincidence" that Deeb's arrest followed so closely the Enders communique.
Deeb was released today on $50,000 bond pending a preliminary hearing Feb. 3. He was accused of violating the Arms Export Control Act, which requires State Department approval for export of military firearms, and the Neutrality Act, which prohibits conspiring on U.S. soil to attack a nation at peace with the United States.