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With no evidence, Cuba links a church, activists and Miami politicians to attack against its embassy

The Cuban flag flies in front of the country's embassy after 54 years on Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Washington, DC. The embassy was closed in 1961 when U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower severed diplomatic ties with the island nation after Fidel Castro took power in a Communist revolution. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez demanded on Tuesday that the United States investigate what he said are links between a man accused of attacking the Cuban Embassy in Washington and groups and individuals promoting hate and terrorism against Cuba.

The minister, however, did not present any evidence that the man who opened fire against the embassy, identified as Alexander Alazo, has ties with known terrorist groups.

Alazo, who was born in Cuba and had no prior criminal record, was arrested on April 30 after attacking the Cuban Embassy in Washington with an AK-47 assault rifle. No one was injured.

According to his confession to the police and his wife’s statements, Alazo has mental disorders and has recently received medical treatment. In court documents reviewed by the Herald, Alazo said he heard “voices” and feared that “criminal” groups serving the Cuban government were persecuting him.

The Cuban government has insisted that the shooting was a terrorist act driven by President Donald Trump’s “aggressive” policy toward the island.

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At the Tuesday press conference, Rodríguez said that Alazo, who lived in Miami for a while after coming to the United States from Mexico in 2010, had joined the Doral Jesus Worship Center, which the foreign minister called a gathering spot for people who are known to promote “aggression, hostility, violence, and extremism against Cuba,” he said.

The church is a popular meeting point for Venezuelan exiles from Doral.

The founder of the center, Pastor Frank López, maintains close relations with “figures of known extremism against Cuba and promoters of aggression against our country,” Rodríguez said.

He then showed images of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Vecchio, the Washington ambassador of the interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó.

Rodríguez also noted that Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech full of “frank hostility against Cuba” in that church last year.

But Alazo has not attended the church since 2018, Pastor López said in a statement.

“All we know is that he attended the church for a few months in 2018. Later, we learned that he had moved away from our city,” López said. “We regret very much the situation that Alexander and his family are going through at this time, and we are keeping them in our prayers.”

The pastor said the church was open to “anyone seeking to worship and have communion with God, no matter their political views.”

The Cuban foreign minister also showed social media postings by Alazo and Leandro Pérez, a person who he said also went to the Doral Jesus Worship Center.

“Leandro Pérez is known for his public incitements on social networks in favor of magnicide in Cuba,” Rodríguez said.

As an example, Rodríguez showed a Facebook post in which Pérez wrote: “We are not going to allow socialism in America. Listen well [Miguel Díaz-] Canel and [Nicolás] Maduro, hahaha. We have the drones ready,” in reference to the leaders of Cuba and Venezuela. The post included four laughing emojis.

“I strongly deny that I have anything to do with the shooting. I do not have weapons, nor will I have because I am afraid of them,” Pérez told the Herald.

“It angers me that they use my Facebook [account] to link me to a violent act. We are used to seeing that in Cuba, but I never thought it would happen to me,” he said.

Pérez, 51, who has lived in Florida for 20 years, confirmed he and Alazo had been friends. He said that Alazo had not attended the church in Doral for two years because he no longer lived in Miami. According to the court documents, Alazo was living in Pennsylvania with his wife and two children.

“He used to say that the Cuban state security services were persecuting him,” Pérez said. “We have been friends for many years. I was one of those emotionally affected by what happened. I never thought his state of mind would lead to that.”

At the press conference, the Cuban foreign minister also showed a Facebook post by Alazo, in which he shares a video of a rapper critical of the Cuban government, whom the minister accused of promoting violence against the island’s diplomats.

“I dare the United States to explain what it knows about those ties,” and to clarify the influence that “the aggressiveness against Cuba that is promoted in the Doral Jesus Worship Center” had on Alazo’s decision to open fire on the Cuban Embassy, Rodríguez said.

The United States Embassy in Havana said in a statement that the incident is being investigated by several agencies, including the Washington, D.C., police and the Secret Service.

“The U.S. law enforcement process is transparent with strict jurisprudence and many records about cases and court proceedings publicly available,” said Monica Fernandez, spokeswoman for the embassy.

A preliminary hearing on the case is scheduled for Thursday in the District of Columbia court.

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© 2020 Miami Herald