Inside the Raid

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LIMA: “We’ll free you in three minutes.” Peruvian troops were able to relay that message to the hostages inside the Japanese ambassador’s residence, thanks to a radio transmitter concealed by one of those held, identified by Lima’s newspaper as navy admiral Luis Giampietri Roja. Standing before a scale model of the compound, pointer in hand, a triumphant Alberto Fujimori said that though the digging of the main tunnel and its three offshoots had begun months ago, the countdown to Tuesday's raid had begun on Monday at 6 a.m. "The situation was deteriorating very fast, very quickly . . . at anytime, anything could happen." Armed with surveillance pictures of the compound and listening devices placed inside the tunnels, government commandos were constantly aware of the location of both rebels and hostages. At 3:14 p.m. on Tuesday, Fujimori told reporters, there was no doubt that the moment had come. Soldiers charged the house as explosives set from inside the tunnels opened the doors. Another opened a hole in the roof. The soldiers cleared their way with grenades and streamed in, firing single shots for accuracy in preferred commando style. According to one hostage, Bolivian Ambassador Jorge Gumucio, the guerrillas had warned the hostages of the possibility of an attack as recently as a few days before. But when it came, three rebels upstairs were busy watching eight others, including leader Nestor Cerpa, playing soccer in the reception area below. That left only three on guard. When the explosions began, the hostages, duly warned, were already scrambling for cover. They lay on the floor and hurriedly covered their faces with mattresses and books so guerrillas couldn't target the most important captives for execution. In less than an hour, all the rebels had been killed. Jorge Gumucio said that one of the two soldiers who died had been killed by a rebel grenade. One hostage, Supreme Court Justice Carlos Giusti, died after being shot and suffering a heart attack during the raid.