Puerto Rican terrorists, with low grass-roots support, change tactics

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional) - the Puerto Rican terrorist group believed responsible for the bombings here recently and more than 125 such incidents in the United States since 1974 - is regrouping and shifting targets.

So say leading experts on the FALN in the US and in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

But the FALN, which uses violent tactics to seek independence for Puerto Rico , continues to have very little popular support among either Puerto Ricans in their island home or from the growing number emigrating to the US mainland, these same experts contend.

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A major concern, however, is that the terrorist group will continue to receive financial support from Cuba's Fidel Castro. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local law-enforcement officials are again stepping up the campaign against the group, which some say constitutes the greatest internal terrorist threat to the United States.

In the past several years, some law-enforcement efforts have proved quite successful. Two years ago, 11 FALN members were arrested, including Dylcia Morales, the wife of fugitive FALN terrorist leader William Morales. Mrs. Morales received a 55-year prison term for conspiracy and armed robbery.

Following bombings here New Year's Eve which injured three policemen, the New York City Police Department and an FBI task force launched an investigation, including the use of informants from Puerto Rican and other ethnic communities in New York City. Some $250,000 in reward money has been offered by business leaders, government officials, and police unions for information on those responsible for the bombings.

On Wednesday an indictment was issued for a suspected FALN member, Luis Rosado Ayala, who is reportedly fleeing kidnapping and armed-robbery charges in Chicago.

The bombings here occurred at government buildings and police headquarters. In the past, the FALN has targeted public buildings such as airports. On Jan. 24 , 1975, the FALN claimed responsibility for a bombing at Fraunce's Tavern in lower Manhattan, which resulted in four deaths.

But the group is now changing its tactics and targeting government buildings, according to William Sater of the Rand Corporation, a leading expert on the FALN. This shift, he says, is aimed at giving the terrorists some kind of legitimacy as a quasi-military group, as opposed to one merely bent on death and destruction to attain its ends. Some other experts say this change is also meant to evoke sympathy for their cause.

As Dr. Sater sees it, the ''FALN and its supporters represent a very, very small segment of the Puerto Rican population.'' Even the minority Puerto Rican Independence Party, which favors independence and not statehood for the island, is categorically opposed to using violence to achieve independence from the US. The party gained less than 6 percent of the vote in 1980 elections.

A knowledgeable source who lives in Puerto Rico but requested his name not be used says that ''not only does the FALN not have support in Puerto Rico; it has been widely condemned (there).''

But unfortunately, this source adds, the FALN's terrorist activities tend to give many Americans the wrong impression of Puerto Ricans in general. And this image may adversely affect the commonwealth's chances of eventually becoming a state.

A plebiscite on statehood will probably occur before 1985. Puerto Rico Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo favors statehood but has low support in the commonwealth's Legislature.

President Reagan is on record as favoring a policy of self-determination, but some administration officials are opposed to statehood because of the burden the island's staggering economic problems would bring. But many officials and experts outside government favor statehood as the only plausible means of making sure the island doesn't go the way of Castro's Communist Cuba.

The frequency of the FALN attacks has generally declined over the last several years along with the decline in overall domestic terrorist incidents. FBI figures show the total number of bombings attributed to terrorists dropped from 52 in 1978 to 17 in 1981. But as of last November, the total number of terrorist bombings in 1982 was up to 19, not counting the three bombings on New Year's Eve.

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