FBI agents investigating an arson attack on a Cuba travel agency in Coral Gables have released fuzzy photos that show a “vehicle of interest” filmed by security cameras in the neighborhood around the time of the blaze.
As the images were release, Vivian Mannerud, owner of Airline Brokers Co., urged those responsible for the April 27 fire that destroyed her agency at 815 Ponce de Leon Blvd. to surrender to authorities.
“I feel very confident that the persons responsible will be caught, and it is in their interest to turn themselves in rather than wait for an arrest,” Mannerud said Thursday.
“This is a very serious crime, a federal case of arson in which someone could have been killed, including one of the firefighters who put their lives at risk,” she told El Nuevo Herald.
An FBI statement Thursday asked the public’s assistance in identifying “a vehicle of interest or for any information possibly related” to the arson. The statement included three photographs, but it gave no further details on the case.
The vehicle appeared to be a dark SUV or hatchback in the fuzzy version of the photos made public by the FBI, time-stamped within minutes of the start of the attack at around 3:30 a.m. It appeared to be on a side street near the agency’s office.
Airline Brokers is one of eight companies licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department to charter flights to Cuba. They flew an estimated 400,000 passengers, almost all of them Cuban Americans visiting the island for what are known as family reunification visits.
Mannerud said her business continued to handle its regular load of flights to Cuba after the arson attack, with help from other charter agencies.
A report by the Coral Gables Fire Department said a chunk of pavement was thrown through a window of her ground-floor offices, and then the fire was started inside in three separate areas.
Investigators found a shattered green bottle in a spot where a K-9 dog alerted to accelerants, and a disposable lighter in a doorway outside the southeast corner of the company’s building, according to the report.
The case is under investigation by FBI counter-terrorism agents as well as the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Coral Gables Fire Department, and the State Fire Marshal Bureau. The Miami-Dade Police Department and the Miami Police Department also provided support, according to the FBI.
Anyone with information on the blaze should contact the FBI at 305-944-9101, the ATF at 305-597-4800, the Coral Gables Fire Department at 305 471-TIPS or the State Fire Marshal at 877-662-7766.
There has been no indication of those responsible for the attack, although that has not stopped the Cuban government from blaming radical Cuban exiles in South Florida, or Cuban exiles from blaming Havana’s spies in the region.
Cuban exiles in the past have violently attacked companies that handle flights to the island, accusing them of pumping dollars into Cuban government coffers.
Mannerud said that she had received no threats on the day of the attack at her agency. She said she didn’t even receive threats during her well-publicized charter for the more than 300 Miami pilgrims who flew to Cuba for Pope Benedict XVI’s island visit in March.