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One Raid That Worked : Daring federal maneuver frees hostages in Talladega standoff

At a time when public safety officials hear more consternation than praise, it is easy to forget the dedication and professionalism of law enforcement officials whose first priority is to protect and serve. A noteworthy example of that commitment occurred Friday at the Talladega federal correctional facility in Alabama. In a daring pre-dawn raid, federal law enforcement officers, in a SWAT-team-like maneuver, rescued nine hostages--safely ending a harrowing standoff between prison officials and a group of Cuban nationals.

The confrontation began Aug. 21 when inmates, who were scheduled to be deported, took 10 prison workers hostage at a high-security cellblock. The hostage-takers were among 121 Cuban prisoners who were convicted of crimes after they came to the United States in the Mariel boatlift of 1980.

The standoff was similar to earlier anti-deportation uprisings that occurred in November, 1987, in Oakdale, La., and Atlanta. Both transpired after the State Department announced that Cuba had agreed to take back more than 2,500 of the 3,800 Mariel refugees who were imprisoned nationwide.

Just as before, Cuban prisoners demanded an end to all deportations of Cuban inmates, as well as permission for any to return to Cuba if they wish. Federal officials negotiated feverishly for 10 days, urging the captors to release hostages with medical ailments. Authorities were sanguine Wednesday when the inmates released a hostage after meeting with a Miami reporter. But when negotiators reached the conclusion that “the detainees had intentions to kill one or more of the hostages,” they acted swiftly and decisively.

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The jubilation was summed up by the simple words of the father of one of the hostages: “I think it’s wonderful that they got everyone out.” The police did the job this time.


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