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Car of Activist’s Lawyer Firebombed

January 5, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A car belonging to the lawyer of Jennifer Harbury, who has crusaded against abuses by the Guatemalan military, was firebombed Friday in the driveway at his home.

Jose Pertierra, who has represented Harbury for three years, blamed the Guatemalan military for the 5 a.m. incident at his northeast Washington home.

Harbury, in a telephone interview from Guatemala, also held the Guatemalan military responsible. ``They are sending us a message,″ she said. ``Terrorism slowly but surely is edging its way into the U.S.″

In Guatemala City, army spokesman Col. Guillermo Caal Avila denied involvement by the Guatemalan military. ``The armed forces are not involved in the attack Pertierra suffered, because they do not undertake activities outside the law,″ Caal said.

He suggested the incident ``could be an orchestrated event″ by Pertierra and Harbury.

Rep. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., a congressional supporter of Harbury, sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno demanding an immediate investigation.

``If this attack was indeed perpetrated by agents of a foreign military power against an American citizen, it would have grave consequences on our national security,″ Torricelli wrote.

In a telephone interview, Torricelli said preliminary inquiries by the FBI indicate the bombing was a ``rather sophisticated operation.″

``The fire was caused by some sort of accelerant, such as gasoline or kerosene, being placed on or thrown into the car,″ FBI spokeswoman Susan Lloyd said.

She said nobody had claimed responsibility for the crime. ``Perhaps it was retaliation for Pertierra’s legal work on behalf of Jennifer Harbury, but it may have had nothing to do with that,″ Lloyd said.

The fire engulfed Pertierra’s 1994 Acura and destroyed it in minutes. He said firemen were at the scene within five minutes and doused the blaze as it neared his frame home.

Pertierra, at home with his wife at the time, said the FBI sent about 25 agents to the scene. He said the FBI was treating the case as an act of domestic terrorism, but the FBI officially listed the probe as an ``uncategorized firebombing investigation.″

Pertierra was certain the Guatemalan military was involved. ``I have no enemies, but I do have one high-profile client _ Jennifer Harbury,″ he said.

Harbury is the widow of Guatemalan rebel leader Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, believed to have been captured in a fire fight in 1992 and slain by Guatemalan military personnel while in custody.

The U.S. government has information linking Bamaca’s death to Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, a CIA agent at the time. Last March, Torricelli said Alpirez was responsible.

In the letter to Reno, Torricelli said he and others involved in the case have received numerous threats. He said he is convinced the bombing was meant to intimidate those attempting to investigate the Bamaca death in Guatemala and in the United States.

Harbury believes her husband’s remains are buried at a military camp in northwest Guatemala. She has sought permission to have the body exhumed and has staged hunger strikes in Guatemala City and Washington demanding information on her husband’s fate.

Terrorist incidents in the United States involving foreign governments have been rare. The most significant was a 1976 car bombing in which a former ambassador from Chile, Orlando Letelier, and an American colleague were killed. The military government then in power in Chile was held responsible.

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