| MIAMI, April 27
MIAMI, April 27 State and local officials were
investigating a suspicious fire on Friday that gutted the Miami
offices of a travel agency specializing in flights to Cuba.
Fire rescue officials responded to a fire at Airline Brokers
before dawn. The ground floor suite of offices was destroyed and
an acrid smell hung in the air as police cordoned off the street
outside. Investigators searched through the ashes assisted by
dogs that are trained to detect accelerant.
"There is an investigation currently underway," said Deborah
Cox, a spokeswoman for the state Fire Marshals Office. She said
no details were being released because the probe was ongoing.
The FBI is also working with local police "to determine how
the investigation will proceed," said the FBI's Miami spokesman,
Airline Brokers owner Vivian Mannerud said she suspected
arson by Cuban exile militants upset over her role in organizing
a special charter flight for 340 Cuban-American pilgrims who
went to Cuba last month for the visit by Pope Benedict XVI.
"I'm afraid it was intentional, because of the indignation
over the pope's visit," Mannerud said. "But we can't conclude
anything until we see the results of the investigation. Maybe it
Mannerud said she had not received any recent threats to her
business, but she said she was targeted in the early 1990s by
Cuban exile extremists.
"If it was intentional, that would be a big blemish on the
city. I thought we had moved past the era of terrorist acts,"
she added, referring to attacks on Cuban exile moderates in
For decades after Cuba's 1959 revolution, Miami was the
scene of politically motivated arson attacks and car-bombings
targeting perceived Cuba government sympathizers and people
doing business with the island.
The fire destroyed the contents of the office, Mannerud
said, raising the suspicion that an accelerant might have been
involved. "It looks like an atomic bomb exploded. It's
pulverized and the furniture is ashes. There's not even a leg of
a desk," she said.
None of the company's 18 employees were in the office when
the fire started.
Airline Brokers is one of a number of charter companies that
fly to Cuba from airports in Miami, as well as a growing number
of other U.S. cities, including Tampa, New York and Los Angeles,
under special Treasury Department licenses.
Mannerud said her company has seven flights a week from
Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Despite losing all the office
computers, she said she planned to continue taking bookings,
adding that the company's Cuba flight schedule would not be
(Editing By Tom Brown and Stacey Joyce)