- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

FBI agents did not violate Justice Department guidelines on deadly force when they fatally shot the leader of a Puerto Rican terrorist organization in September, according to a report released yesterday.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said Filiberto Ojeda Rios fired 19 rounds at FBI agents as they attempted to serve a warrant. Eight of Ojeda’s bullets struck the agents, seriously wounding one of them, and the agents, members of a specialized hostage-rescue team, were justified in returning fire, the inspector general concluded.

Ojeda, 72, was wanted as a fugitive in a 1983 Wells Fargo robbery in West Hartford, Conn., during which he also shot at FBI agents, seriously wounding one of them. In 1992, while a federal fugitive, he was convicted of the robbery.

After years of hiding, Ojeda was killed Sept. 23, when FBI agents sought to serve an arrest warrant after surrounding a “safe house” in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, where he was hiding. The operation raised questions in Puerto Rico, and the inspector general’s review was conducted at the request of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

Ojeda was described by U.S. authorities as a Cuba-trained terrorist and a leader of the terrorist group Los Macheteros, which aims to end U.S. control of the island.

His death was mourned by members of the Puerto Rican independence movement and questioned by Puerto Rico’s statehood movement and supporters of the commonwealth. In March, the Puerto Rico Justice Department sued federal authorities, including Mr. Mueller and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, seeking an injunction to force them to provide information on the FBI operation that led to Ojeda’s death.

Although the inspector general’s report said the agents’ use of force, including the shot that killed Ojeda, did not violate the Justice Department deadly-force policy, it called the daylight assault “extremely dangerous and not the best option available.”

The report said that if Ojeda had been more heavily armed, several FBI agents likely would have been killed or seriously wounded, adding that the daylight raid was “based on the unrealistic assumption that the FBI would still retain the advantage of surprise.” It said the FBI “should have expected that the noise from the helicopter airlift” would have alerted Ojeda to their presence.

“The FBI had sufficient information to expect that Ojeda would be prepared to resist an arrest attempt with violence, as he had done in the past,” the report said, adding that a strategy of surrounding the residence and calling for Ojeda to surrender, with the option of using tear gas to force him outside, would have been “a safer and more effective strategy.”

The FBI said that although careful planning and preparation are a part of every arrest scenario undertaken by the FBI, shooting incidents are sometimes “an unfortunate result, given the nature of the FBI’s mission.”

“After any shooting incident, there are important lessons to be learned, and the [inspector general’s] review will contribute significantly to a better understanding of this case and planning for future operations,” the FBI said.

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