Monday, November 11, 2013

Colombia: Four Members of National Liberation Army (ELN) Indicted by US District Court

According to The Latin American Tribune, four members of Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) were indicted on Friday (November 8) on conspiracy and hostage-taking charges stemming from the kidnapping of more than 60 people in Colombia in 2000, including three US kidnap victims.

The indictment, returned by a grand jury in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, was announced by Ronald C. Machen, Jr., US Attorney for the District of Columbia, and Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Division.

According to the indictment, and at the time of the crimes, the defendants were members of the Ejercito De Liberacion Nacional (ELN), which in English translates to the National Liberation Army. Since its inception in 1964, the ELN has engaged in an armed conflict to overthrow the democratically elected government of the Republic of Colombia. The ELN has engaged in terrorist activity, including murder, hostage-taking, and the violent destruction of property.

Those indicted Friday include Eudes Ojeda Ovando, 44, also known as “El Tuerto” and “Martin”; Fidel Castro Murillo, 54, also known as “El Profe” and “Daniro Rodriguez”; and two others identified as John Does. They were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit hostage-taking resulting in death and three counts of hostage-taking. None of the defendants is in custody. If convicted of these charges following an extradition, each defendant would face a maximum term of 60 years of incarceration, which is the maximum sentence permitted under Colombian law for Colombian nationals extradited to the United States for prosecution.

 indictment returned today alleges that four members of an armed and violent guerilla organization held more than 60 hostages – including American citizens – for ransom in the Colombian jungle,” said US Attorney Machen. 

“During this harrowing ordeal, members of this insurgent group allegedly fired at Colombian military helicopters searching for the hostages and armed themselves with bazookas to resist the military operation pursuing the guerrillas. This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to pursuing members of foreign terrorist organizations who target Americans as well as our resolve to seeking justice for the three Colombian citizens who actually died during this hostage ordeal," Machen stressed.

“The ELN is a foreign terrorist organization whose members have engaged in violent acts against American and Colombian citizens,” said Special Agent in Charge Steinbach. “These indictments today demonstrate the FBI’s commitment to bring these ELN members to justice. The outstanding, long-term cooperation between the Colombian National Police and U.S. law enforcement has dealt another blow to international terrorism.”

According to the indictment, the defendants were among the leaders of a series of kidnappings carried out on September 17, 2000. The three U.S. nationals – a woman, her brother, and her sister-in-law – were taken hostage at a country home roughly 30 minutes outside of Cali. 

More than 60 others, all Colombian nationals, were taken hostage at two restaurants in the area. The restaurants and country home were all near kilometer 18 of a road that led from Cali to Buenaventura, Colombia. The hostages were forced into vehicles and taken into the jungle and mountains. 

One of the US nationals, a 66-year-old man, was released at that point because of concerns he would not survive a journey through the jungle and mountains and would also slow down the kidnappers during their escape from Colombian authorities.

The indictment alleges that the defendants and their co-conspirators used firearms to keep and detain the hostages; threatened to kill the hostages; conducted or attempted to conduct negotiations for ransom with family members of the hostages; and demanded that military operations by the armed forces of Colombia against the hostage-takers cease.

On the second day of the ordeal, the kidnappers released another one of the US nationals, a 58-year-old woman, so that she could personally convey one of their ransom demands. The third US national, a 69-year-old woman, was released on September 20, 2000, after three days in captivity, but the kidnappers continued to hold her adult son as a hostage and continued to demand that she pay a large ransom for his release.

The rest of the hostages remained with the ELN, some for several weeks. During this time-frame, the indictment alleges, the ELN conspirators fired at helicopters of the Colombian military members who were attempting to locate the hostages, and also rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) intended to be used against the Colombian military. 

Three hostages, all Colombian nationals, died as a result of the extreme conditions during captivity: Dr. Miguel Nassif, Carlos Alberto García, and Alejandro Heñao Botero. According to the indictment, all were denied medical treatment by their captors.

COMMENT: By early November 2000, the last remaining hostages were finally released to representatives from the Colombian Red Cross and the Colombian Peace Commissioner. Even after that, however, the kidnappers pressed on with ransom demands.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty.

The charges were the result of an investigation led by the FBI Miami Field Division and are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brenda J. Johnson and Fernando Campoamor-Sánchez of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Assistance also was provided by the FBI Office of the Legal Attaché in Bogotá.