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A little perspective: For their March 2004 Madrid subway blasts, all 10 of them, that killed and maimed almost 2,000 people, al-Qaeda used a grand total of 100 kilos of TNT. Castro and Che’s agents planned to set off five times that explosive power in the three biggest department stores on earth, all packed to suffocation and pulsing with holiday cheer on the year’s biggest shopping day. Macy’s get’s 50,000 shoppers that one day. Thousands of New Yorkers, including women and children—actually, given the date and targets, probably mostly women and children—were to be incinerated and entombed.
At the time, the FBI relied heavily on “HUMINT” (Human Intelligence.) So they’d expertly penetrated the plot. One by one the ringleaders were ambushed. The first and most important was named Roberto Santiesteban and he was nabbed while walking down Riverside Drive. As the agents closed in, Santiesteban saw them and –took off! And as he ran, Santiesteban was jamming paper in his mouth and chewing furiously.
But six FBI agents were after him, all fleet of foot themselves. Finally they closed the ring and “triangulated” the suspect. Santiesteban fell, raging and cursing, flailing his arms and jabbing his elbows like a maniac. They grabbed his arm and bent it behind his back just as he was reaching for his pistol.
While this group got their man (and a vigorous workout), another FBI squad had the much easier task of arresting a couple named Jose and Elsa Gomez-Abad as they left their apartment on West 71st Street. These two gave in without a struggle. The FBI speculated that as many as 30 others might have been in on the plot, but these were the head honchos. Had those detonators gone off, 9/11 might be remembered as the SECOND deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Santiesteban and the Gomezes belonged to the Castro-Cuban Mission to the U.N., and plead “diplomatic immunity.” Other plotters belonged to the New York Chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, an outfit that became MUCH better known a year later on that very week.
“We greeted each other as old friends!” (Jimmy Carter describing his visit with Fidel Castro last month.)
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