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Enrique Gorriaran Merlo, at 65; was Argentine rebel

BUENOS AIRES -- Enrique Gorriaran Merlo, a former Argentine rebel who declared he led the squad that killed exiled Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, died Friday. He was 65.

Mr. Gorriaran, whose hit-and-run attacks on military units marked years of instability in Argentina, died while being rushed into emergency surgery, said Dr. Donato Spacavento, director of the Agudos Cosme Argerich hospital in Buenos Aires.

Mr. Gorriaran, who helped found the communist People's Revolutionary Army, came to prominence in 1974, when his guerrilla group announced it was creating a ``free zone" in the mountains of the central Argentine province of Tucuman. The revolutionary army was blamed for kidnappings and bombings in the 1970s.

The rebel fighter fled Argentina after a March 1976 coup brought the military power, and allied himself with the Sandinista forces then fighting Anastasio Somoza's dictatorship in the jungles of Nicaragua.

In a 1995 television interview, Mr. Gorriaran said he personally led the group that killed Somoza on Sept. 16, 1980, after sneaking into the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion.

``I picked up my M-16 and emptied the clip into him," the chain-smoking Mr. Gorriaran said. Somoza and his driver died when a bazooka shell and automatic weapons fire tore through their car.

Mr. Gorriaran returned to Argentina after the 1983 restoration of democracy when a civilian government passed amnesty laws blocking prosecution of both guerrillas and military officers.

But in 1989, he led an attack on an army regiment known as La Tablada that left 39 dead and more than 70 people injured in two days of clashes.

Mr. Gorriaran, who said he was acting to prevent a military coup in the attack, escaped in the chaos of the clashes. A dozen members of his former leftist group were later imprisoned.

After six years as a fugitive, Mr. Gorriaran was captured in Mexico in 1995. Mexican officials promptly sent him back to a maximum-security military prison in Buenos Aires.

In Argentina, the former rebel leader was sentenced to life in prison for leading the La Tablada attack. Pardoned in May 2003 by Eduardo Duhalde, then-president, he quietly returned to civilian life.

Mr. Gorriaran said after the pardon that he never was a terrorist.

``There are people who greet me and others who are indifferent," he had said. ``I am part of a generation who rose up in arms against the military coup plotters. History will tell whether that was the right way to respond."

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