PUERTO RICAN MILITANTS WALK OUT OF PRISON
By MARILYN RAUBER
WASHINGTON - Eleven jubilant Puerto Rican militants left jail yesterday
- one in a gaudy, gold
Mercedes - after getting the key to freedom from President Clinton.
The radical members of the FALN terror group - tied to 130 bombings in
the '70s and '80s - were
headed for celebrations in Puerto Rico or Chicago, with Uncle Sam probably picking up
some of the travel tab, federal prison officials said.
None is coming to New York.
"I'm sickened ... I was hoping it wouldn't come to this," said Joe Connor,
33, whose dad was killed
in an FALN bomb that exploded at Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan.
Connor warned the president will be to blame if the radicals, some of whom
were caught making
bombs but were never charged with any of the bombings, return to violence.
"I have more animosity toward him than I do toward them ... If anything
goes wrong, the blood
of our father is on his hands," Connor said.
Clinton sparked a furor - and speculation that he was trying to help his
wife win Puerto Rican votes
for her New York Senate bid - when he offered the clemency deal a month ago to 16 FALN
Aside from the 11 freed yesterday, one still has more time to serve and
two were already out of
Two others refused to renounce violence as a condition of clemency and remain in prison.
"I'm elated that I'm free, here with my family," declared Ricardo Jiminez,
as his sister waited
inside a gold Mercedes near the Terre Haute, Ind. prison where he was serving a 90-year term.
Jiminez was one of the nine inmates going back to the island, where sources
said families were
organizing a welcoming rally - although under Clinton's clemency deal, the inmates, including
two sisters, are not allowed to mingle with each other.
White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said it was "in their best interests" to abide by the rules.
The inmates were given 72 hours to report a federal probation officer,
who will decide how
often they have to check in, said Tom Kowalski, of the U.S. Parole Commission.
Prison officials said they won't be under any tougher restrictions than
any other parolee
convicted of similar crimes, and that if they violate parole, the commission would decide whether to
send them back to jail.
Rep. Vito Fossella (R-Staten Island) fired off a letter to the commission
demanding to know "how
these terrorists will be monitored to reassure the American people that the proper controls are in
place to protect them."
"It's a tragic day - the president has opened the prison gates to let terrorists free," Fossella said.
Asked about the radicals' lack of remorse for the FALN bombings, Guillermo
Morales Pagan, who
was waiting outside a California prison for his mother, Dylcia Noemi Pagan, to be freed, told
"They were never charged with those crimes. I don't know if they feel guilty
or not. They're not
responsible for those victims."
Freed militant Edwin Cortes, 44, said he was heading for a big party in Puerto Rico.
"I'm sure that we'll be recognized as patriots in our country, not the
criminals we've been labeled as in
the United States," Cortes said. "I hope to follow the examples of Nelson Mandela, Gerry Adams
and Yasser Arafat."
The Senate is expected to vote Monday on a tough resolution condemning
Clinton for making
"deplorable concessions to terrorists" - after the House voted on a similar resolution, opposed by
only 41 Democrats.
"I don't see how many Democrats [will] stand with Clinton on this," said
one Democratic aide -
as party leaders angled for a bipartisan compromise to soften the resolution.
Two Senate panels and one House committee will hold separate hearings into
the clemency flap next
Meanwhile Mayor Giuliani cried "cover up" - blasting Clinton for refusing
to release White
House documents to show why he granted the clemency.
"Even though the act itself may seem irresponsible, very often the problems
are compounded by a
desire to cover up whatever is involved by concealing documentary evidence," Giuliani told reporters.