U.S. to Aid Salvadoran Search for Killers of 13
President Reagan ordered the U.S. government Thursday to give El Salvador “whatever assistance is necessary” to track down the terrorists who killed six Americans in a machine-gun attack on outdoor cafes in San Salvador.
Four off-duty U.S. Marines and two American businessmen were among the 13 people slain Wednesday night when half a dozen or more gunmen dressed in camouflage uniforms opened fire with automatic weapons in the city’s restaurant district.
The attack, which came as the Administration struggled to win the release of Americans being held hostage by Muslim terrorists in Beirut, prompted Reagan to meet for more than an hour Thursday with his top advisers.
Afterward, as Administration officials ruled out the use of retaliatory U.S. military force in El Salvador, Reagan issued a statement saying that he has instructed the State Department, Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies to help the government of Salvadoran President Jose Napoleon Duarte “find and punish the terrorists who perpetrated this attack.”
He specifically directed the accelerated delivery of military hardware already ordered by the Duarte government and said he is prepared to use his emergency powers to give the Salvadoran armed forces “additional military assets” to “prosecute their campaign against the Communist guerrillas.”
The guerrillas’ hope “that terrorism will weaken our resolve or support for the revitalization of democracy in El Salvador is futile,” Reagan said. “If other U.S. military assets can be effective in this regard, then I shall provide them.”
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that Reagan’s mention of “assets” did not include U.S. troops but referred instead to equipment.
Robert C. McFarlane, Reagan’s national security adviser, said the U.S. objective is to “assist the Salvadoran government and make sure we bring a halt to this kind of outrage.”
“I think it is a time of testing,” McFarlane said when asked if the attack appeared linked to the Beirut crisis. “This kind of thing is not unprecedented in El Salvador, but it is the kind of thing that may be seen in the current climate as a time to test the United States, and I think action is justified.”
Both Speakes and Pentagon spokesman Michael I. Burch said the four Marines apparently were the initial targets of the attack.
“They sought out the Americans and fired at them first,” Speakes said. Burch, citing the accounts of witnesses and cabled reports from the U.S. Embassy, said “the Marines were fired on first, and then the attackers moved to killing and wounding others.”
The Marines, who were unarmed and dressed in civilian clothes, were identified by the Pentagon as Sgt. Thomas T. Handwork, 24, of Boardman, Ohio; Sgt. Bobby J. Dickson, 27, of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Cpl. Gregory H. Webber, 22, of Cincinnati, and Cpl. Patrick R. Kwiatowski, 20, of Wausau, Wis. Two other Marines were in the cafe but escaped unharmed, Burch said.
The two slain American civilians were identified as George Viney, 48, of Coral Gables, Fla., and Robert Alvidrez, 47, of Lexington, Mass., both employees of Wang Laboratories of Lowell, Mass. They were in the Salvadoran capital on business.
None of El Salvador’s insurgent groups, locked in a five-year-old guerrilla war with the U.S.-backed government, immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. But Pentagon spokesman Burch said that “it has all the appearance of the leftist terrorism that has been on the increase in recent months.”
While declining to link the San Salvador attack with the Lebanon hostages, Burch noted that a U.S. Navy diver had been killed by the hijackers in Beirut and said:
“I think it is a sign that American service personnel everywhere in the world, whether in uniform or not, need to be cautious. . . . Various factions in the world perhaps feel that American service personnel are symbols of U.S. policies that they disagree with and so attacks are carried out on these men and women.”
Burch said the four Marines killed were among 18 assigned to guard the embassy.