SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Terrorists blew up nine Puerto Rican national guard jet fighter planes today in what may have been a protest against draft registration on the island. Damage was estimated at $45 million.
A group called 'The Machete Wielders' claimed responsibily for the attack in which no one was injured.
The bombings at the Muniz Air National Guard Base were the most overt attack against a U.S.-connected installation on the island since December 1979 when guerrillas, opposed to U.S. military presence, ambushed a Navy bus killing two sailors and injuring 10.
Explosives also were found in four other fighter planes. Navy explosives experts successfully dismantled bombs in two of the aircraft and were working to defuse those planted in the other two.
'It looked like the Fourth of July, the sky was all red,' said Richard Bocanegra, a witness to the blasts.
A few hundred feet away is located the airport's supply of fuel -- 175,000 gallons of kerosene in two white storage tanks. 'If those things had caught fire, we wouldn't have an airport today,' an official at the scene said.
Callers telephoned both UPI and AP saying the Macheteros (machete wielders) were responsibile for the blasts.
'I am still expeacting a written statement, although these phone calls may be all we'll get,' said the FBI's special agent in charge, Bernardo Perez.
The Macheteros claimed responsiblity for the killing of a policeman in 1978 and for the attack on a Navy personel bus in Sabana Secan P.R. in December 1979, which killed two sailors and injured another 10.
The terrorists slipped into a heavily guarded area of the base, located on oneside of Isla Verda International airport, from a swamp on the northern edge of the base and planted 13 bombs in all, national guard officials said.
Isla Verde and the adjacent air base are contiguous to the city of San Juan. The bombings did not disrupt commercial traffic.
The officials speculated the terrorists may have made their move during the changing of the guard at midnight, giving them less than two hours to boobytrap the fighters and escape before the explosions began at 1:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m. EST.
The explosions ripped apart eight A-7 Vought jet fighters and an F-104 fighter, an exhibition aircraft that stands at the entrance of the base as a symbol of the Air National Guard. Columns of smoke shot 60 foot into the air.
'Two other bombs were disarmed ...,' Gen. Orland LLenza, commander of Puerto Rico's National Guard said. He refused to say how the bombs were planted.
The planes destroyed were single-engine Vought A-7 attack aircraft. They were parked along with 10 other planes but the terrorists selected only the fighter planes, National Guard officials said.
A base spokesman estimated damage at $45 million.
One police official standing before the smoking wreckages of the planes said, 'I bet this is because of the draft registration.'
Registration for the Selective Service for men born in 1960 began last week.
Thursday letter bombs went off in three Puerto Rican post offices, causing small fires but injuring no one.
The next day, a note dropped off at UPI's San Juan offices and signed by the 'Revolutionary Commando of the people' said the letter bombs were sent 'against the imposition of the draft by the imperialist government of the United States.'
Daniel Melendez, a student who was driving by the base when the explosions went off, said, 'Enormous columns of fire at least 60 feet high shot up into the air.'
The explosions of jet fuel tanks went on for more than half an hour, and it took firefighters two hours to put out the fires.