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Rescue 'planned to the millimeter,' Fujimori says

In this story:

April 23, 1997
Web posted at: 11:49 p.m. EDT (0349 GMT)

LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- It was a daring risk, but a precisely calculated one that nearly accomplished its goal of freeing all 72 hostages safely.

"This operation was planned down to the last millimeter," President Alberto Fujimori said of Tuesday's lightening raid on the Japanese ambassador's house.

Speaking in a news conference Wednesday, Fujimori said meticulous preparation and swift action were essential in the mission to free the captives. The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement seized the hostages December 17 and demanded the release of some 400 of their imprisoned comrades.


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Fujimori stressed that timing was also a major factor in his decision. The president told reporters rebel leader Nestor Cerpa had said he would allow doctors to visit the hostages only once a week. With several hostages said to be suffering from health problems, Fujimori said he interpreted that as a threat.

"We thought that the situation was deteriorating very quickly," Fujimori said. "All possibilities of a peaceful solution were exhausted."

'Almost made it'

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"We almost made it," Fujimori said, adding that he would not have approved the attack if he had anticipated hostage casualties.

Fourteen rebels, two soldiers and one hostage, Supreme Court Justice Carlos Giusti, died in the rescue. Giusti reportedly died of a heart attack. The remaining 71 hostages were freed.

The key factor was surprise. Commandos had been positioned since Sunday in tunnels beneath the booby-trapped compound. Microphones and infra-red sensors gave security forces a precise picture of the inside of the residence.

explosion

They burst into the building on command, catching Cerpa and a half-dozen stunned rebels off guard, playing a four-on-four game of soccer in the downstairs reception area.

The soldiers knew the location of their targets and were primed to shoot on sight. Sporting T-shirts of their favorite Peruvian soccer teams, the stunned rebels scrambled to grab their weapons and ran upstairs. But they were no match for 140 well-prepared Peruvian troops.

'More intense than expected'

"There was a shoot-out a little more intense than we expected," Fujimori said.

But within minutes it was over, and the hostages were rushed to safety.

Although there were fewer casualties than many experts predicted, the attack was as ruthless as it was efficient. "I doubt they went in with the Geneva Convention on their minds," said Sandy Marwick of Control Risks Group in McLean, Virginia.

The raid "was nothing like cinema or television" and much more terrifying, freed hostage Juan Julio Wicht, a Catholic priest, said. "I don't know how I got out alive."

Cardinal weeps

The Catholic archbishop who tried in vain to mediate a peaceful end to the four-month crisis wept Wednesday for the dead, including the slain rebels.

Cipriani

"In truth, I carry with me a great suffering and I pray to God for their souls and for their families," the Rev. Juan Luis Cipriani said, breaking into tears at a news conference.

"All those who died were human beings, Peruvians and "our brothers," he said. He asked forgiveness for all "so our society can learn to walk in peace and respect human life."

Judge Giusti, the only hostage who died in the raid, was to be given a formal wake at the Palace of Justice in Lima.

On Wednesday, police carried out the bodies of the rebels who died in the attack. They will be handed over to their families.

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