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Group Says Dead American Was on Contra Hit List

April 30, 1987 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) _ The group that sponsored an American engineer allegedly killed by Contra rebels in Nicaragua charged Wednesday that he was on a Contra hit list because of his volunteer work for the Sandinistas.

Benjamin Ernest Linder, 27, also was a target because he was a party to a lawsuit filed last year, by the Center for Constitutional Rights, that is aimed at stopping U.S. aid to the rebels, said Tom Voorhees, a member of the Bellingham-based group NICAT, or Nicaraguan Appropriate Technology Project.

In Portland, Ore., members of Linder’s family blamed the U.S. government for the killing.

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″The Contras killed my brother, and Reagan says he’s a Contra,″ said Linder’s brother, John. ″Congress provided the money for the Contras. ... The bullets that were used or the grenades that were used to kill my brother undoubtedly came from the United States.

″His death was not an accident. His death was policy.″

Their father, David Linder, said in an interview outside his home that he was ″deeply infuriated.″

″He was a great guy who did his best to make the world a better place for people to live, and because of that he got killed,″ the elder Linder said.

Rebel officials denied that Linder, an engineer, had been an assassination target and said he died in a war zone.

Linder and two Nicaraguans were killed Tuesday in the El Cua-Bocay region of Jimotega. His friends and the Nicaraguan government said he was killed by the Contra rebels, but there were at least three accounts of how he was killed.

Linder, trained at the University of Washington School of Engineering, was working on a variety of small-scale engineering projects for the Energy Institute, a Nicaraguan government agency. He had been working on a hydroelectric project in the region, where the rebels have been increasingly active in recent months.

″This young man was using his skills to counteract the effect of our government’s policy in Nicaragua,″ Sen. Brock Adams, D-Wash., said in a statement condemning the killing. ″He was working to help the people of Nicaragua, not starve, torture or kill them.

″The atrocity allegedly committed ... against an American who was doing what he felt was right - what was right - is the final straw,″ Adams said.

About 10 of Linder’s friends at the University of Washington held a day- long vigil in the campus’ central courtyard. They wore black armbands, and carried signs denouncing CIA involvement in Central America and accusing the Contras of killing Linder.

Voorhees said at a news conference that plaintiffs in the suit filed in New York had planned to go to court Wednesday to try to get an injunction against further U.S. aid to the Contras.

In another suit against U.S. aid to the Contras, filed in the District of Columbia by the Committee of U.S. Citizens Living in Nicaragua, Linder said in an affidavit filed last September that he might ″suffer irreparable physical harm as the result of the unlawful activities of the United States government.″ The suit was dismissed. The document was produced in New York by Michael Ratner, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Voorhees said NICAT learned of the alleged hit list after Linder’s death. They said a Nicaraguan woman captured by Contras last week saw the list before she escaped.

In Miami, representatives of the Contras strenuously denied the rebels had targeted Linder or anyone else for execution.

″He died in the middle of combat and was in a combat area,″ said Fabio Gadea, press secretary for the Miami-based Contra umbrella group called the United Nicaraguan Opposition. He said UNO was still trying to make radio contact with troops in the area and did not yet have their version of the incident.

″We had sent out warnings regarding the danger that poses for civilians in the war zone, or anyone near any military targets,″ added rebel spokeswoman Marta Sacasa.

Voorhees also said there had been ″big pressure by the U.S. government″ on NICAT to discontinue its activities in Nicaragua.

He said he had been visited recently by FBI agents and added that members of the San Francisco-based TechNica, a similar group of technically trained people with which NICAT is affiliated, have also been pressured by federal agents.

The groups have ″been leaned on very heavily″ by the FBI, Voorhees said, contending that members had been threatened they’d lose their jobs and that even their children’s careers could be affected.

Don Tokunaga, an FBI spokesman in Seattle, referred calls for comment to the FBI in Washington.

″We wish to serve notice that Ben’s death will not slow down our efforts on behalf of the people of Nicaragua,″ said Phil Bereano, a University of Washington engineering professor who had been one of Linder’s teachers.

Voorhees, Boreano and Ingrid Baur, a former co-worker of Linder’s in Nicaragua, all blamed the Reagan administration for Linder’s slaying.

While the U.S. government may not have known about the alleged hit list, it was aware that Americans were working on redevelopment projects that the Contras have targetted, they said.

″You can’t think all the time about the fact that you’re in danger. You wouldn’t get anything done,″ said Ms. Baur, a member of NICAT’s Seattle-based sister group, NicaTech.

Linder and other volunteers ″were getting very nervous about seeing Contras over their shoulder all the time,″ Kirsten Moller, 31, a San Francisco millwright who helped Linder plan the hydroelectric project last year in Managua.

″They could only leave the area in the daytime because the roads were unsafe.″

The dam was being built to power a lumber mill, she said.