WASHINGTON (AP) — A Cuban man who sought asylum in the U.S. opened fire with an AK-47 at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, spraying the front of the building with nearly three dozen rounds because he wanted to “get them before they could get him,” according to court papers.
Alexander Alazo, 42, of Aubrey, Texas, was taken into custody shortly after the shooting early Thursday morning in northwest Washington.
Alazo, who told investigators he was born in Cuba and served in the Cuban Army, had moved to Mexico in 2003 before claiming political asylum in the U.S. a few years later. He went back to Cuba in 2014 to preach at a church and began receiving threats from organized crime groups there, he told police.
Alazo, who had been living in his car and moving from state to state for several months, drove to Washington on Wednesday to target the Cuban Embassy “because he wanted to get them before they got him, referring to the Cuban government, for the constant threats from the organized Cuban criminal organization,” according to court papers.
Police believe Alazo had been sleeping at rest stops and in parking lots for at least nine months because he said he believed Cuban organized crime figures were after him and he wanted to protect his family.
Alazo told investigators that he had been treated at a psychiatric hospital and his wife, a nurse, had told him to seek treatment when he was hearing voices in his head, he said. He was prescribed medication in March after a visit to a psychiatric facility but hasn’t been “completely compliant with his medication,” court papers said.
He bought a Glock 19 handgun in Texas but traded it about a month ago for an AK-47 because he thought the rifle would give him better protection for his family, he told investigators. He drove to Washington and when he arrived at the embassy around 2 a.m. Thursday morning, he began yelling and tried to light a Cuban flag on fire but wasn’t successful, the documents said.
Alazo then grabbed an American flag and was continuing to shout that he “was a Yankee” before he grabbed the AK-47 from his car and opened fire toward the embassy, court papers said. Investigators recovered 32 shell casings from the street where Alazo had been standing, officials said.
There were employees inside the embassy at the time, including the Chief of Mission, police said. No one was hurt.
When officers arrived, they found Alazo holding a Cuban flag — which had writing on it and was doused in what they believe was an accelerant — and “yelling nonsensical statements,” the court papers said.
Officers recovered the rifle, ammunition and after he was bought to a police station, they discovered a white powdery substance that was found in a small baggie found in the back of a patrol car that tested positive for cocaine, according to the court papers.
He was charged with a violent attack on a foreign official or premises, willfully damaging property of a foreign government and firearms charges.
Alazo remained in custody on Friday and the name of his attorney was not immediately known.
Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that embassy staff members were “safe and protected” but that the shooting caused “material damage” to the building. Photos showed large holes left in the building’s facade near the front door and in pillars outside the building.
Associated Press Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.