- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Leaders of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have been indicted by a federal grand jury in a massive drug-trafficking operation that Attorney General John Ashcroft says has helped fuel terrorist activities in that country and elsewhere.
The sealed indictment, the first to name members of the rebel organization known by its Spanish initials FARC, was handed up March 7 in U.S. District Court in Washington and unsealed yesterday. It named Tomas Molina Caracas, two other FARC leaders and four others, including three Brazilian nationals, of conspiring to send cocaine to the United States.
Mr. Ashcroft at a press conference yesterday said the Justice Department would request the Colombian government to arrest Molina and others in that country and extradite them to the United States, adding that Washington was willing to assist in tracking down the FARC members.
The attorney general did not elaborate and declined to say whether U.S. military forces would be used to apprehend the FARC leaders, adding only that the government would "use every appropriate measure at our disposal."
The Bush administration has sought to increase military aid to Colombia in its ongoing fight against FARC. Up to now, that assistance has been restricted to the war on narcotics.
FARC is on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. The department has long considered FARC the most dangerous terrorist group in the Western Hemisphere.
Since 1980, the guerrilla group has murdered 13 Americans and kidnapped more than 100 others, including three U.S. missionaries kidnapped in 1993, who are now believed to be dead.
The FARC leaders and the others are charged with conspiracy to import cocaine into this country and to manufacture and distribute cocaine in Colombia with the intent of exporting it to the United States. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison.
"The indictment marks the convergence of two of the top priorities of the Department of Justice: the prevention of terrorism and the reduction of illegal drug use," Mr. Ashcroft said. "Today's indictment charges leaders of the FARC not as revolutionaries or freedom fighters but as drug traffickers."
Asa Hutchinson, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the indictment was the first time FARC members had been indicted on drug-trafficking charges. He said the cocaine was bound for the United States, Suriname, Paraguay, Mexico and Spain and that illicit profits from their sale were being used to acquire weapons, cash and equipment for FARC.
"It is our hope that this indictment will lead to the law being victorious over lawlessness in Colombia and to break up an organization that has targeted the United States for the deadly drug of cocaine," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft said FARC controls large areas of Colombia's eastern and southern lowlands and rain forest, the primary coca-cultivation and cocaine-processing regions in the country. He said the indictment "strikes at the heart" of a terrorist operation that has created a "safe haven" for Colombian drug traffickers.
The indictments were the result of an 18-month investigation of FARC narcotics trafficking by the DEA, working with the Justice Department's Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Colombian law-enforcement authorities.
Six of the seven men are fugitives. One man, Luis Fernando da Costa, was arrested in Colombia in April and deported to Brazil, where he was detained. Others indicted were FARC members Carlos Bolas and a rebel known as Oscar El Negro, along with a fourth Colombian, Nelson Barrera, and two other Brazilians, Leonardo Dias Mendonca and a man known as Goiano.
The indictment said Molina, also known as El Negro Acacio, was the commander of FARC's 16th Front and leader of that group's drug-trafficking operation.
It said that between 1994 and 2001, Molina and other 16th Front members controlled the remote Colombian village of Barranco Minas near the Venezuelan border, where they processed and collected cocaine from other FARC fronts and sold it to international drug traffickers for payment in currency, weapons and equipment.
The indictment said Molina and his co-conspirators in Barranco Minas loaded cocaine onto airliners bound for the United States.
"Today's indictment is a reminder that the lawlessness that breeds terrorism is also a fertile ground for the drug trafficking that supports terrorism," Mr. Ashcroft said. "And the mutually reinforcing relationship between terrorism and drug trafficking should serve as a wake-up call for all Americans.
"When a dollar is spent on drugs in America, a dollar is made by America's enemies," he said.
Established in 1964 as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party, FARC with between 9,000 and 12,000 armed combatants is that country's oldest, largest and best-equipped Marxist insurgency. It has been involved in bombings, murders, kidnappings, extortion, hijackings, as well as guerrilla and conventional military action against Colombian political, military and economic targets.

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