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After a "deliberate" fire ripped through one of just 8 travel agencies that book charter flights to Cuba Friday morning, the Coral Gables firm's devastated owner immediately suggested it was an act of terror.
"There's people that do not agree with the charter flights to Cuba and will go to any lengths to stop them," said Airline Brokers' Vivian Mannerud, shortly adding: "In my 32 years of business, I've seen this happen to many other people."
WSVN reports that in 1996 alone, 3 Miami companies doing business with Cuba were attacked by firebombs; a string of bomb attacks attributed mostly to anti-Castro radicals haunted the city in the 1970s and 1980s. The violence recently earned Miami a rank among the nation's top 5 terrorism "hot spots" by researchers studying the last 40 years of attacks on American soil.
Is that what happened in the pre-dawn hours at 815 Ponce de Leon? Mannerud made it clear she was only speculating about the cause of the fire, but the FBI, ATF, and Florida State Fire Marshal's office have joined the investigation, according to the Miami Herald, and anonymous law enforcement officials told the paper the fire was "deliberate."
One FBI agent present at the scene is a member of a South Florida counter-terrorism task force, according to the Herald report. FBI spokesman Michael Leverock told Reuters the agency was working with police "to determine how the investigation will proceed."
A State Fire Marshal dog on the scene alerted several times, indicating the presence of accelerant in the now-blackened office building, and Local10 reports a brick had been thrown through a window.
Mannerud said she had been previously targeted by radicals in the 1990s, though she did not specify how. Last month, she helped charter 300 people to Cuba on behalf of the Archdiocese of Miami for Pope Benedict XVI's widely publicized, historic visit.
"I just did the big papal visit," she told Local10. "That put me in the news a lot, and that's the only other thing that's happening."
The alarm company's call came in at 3:15 a.m. as a break-in, Mannerud said, but as she drove to check on the office a second call informed her it was in flames.
"I got a call that it was a fully engulfed fire, and I immediately knew in my mind what it was," she told NBCMiami. "It was an instinct. If you look in there...it has been pulverized. It's not just a fire."
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