- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

Three top military leaders of a Marxist guerrilla force in Colombia were indicted yesterday on drug and kidnapping charges and face the death penalty if convicted, Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

"Today marks another significant milestone in the war against terrorism and drug trafficking in the Americas," Mr. Ashcroft said at a Justice Department press conference.

Three indictments accused leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym as FARC, of kidnapping seven Americans and smuggling drugs to obtain money and weapons for terrorist activities.

Named in one indictment were Jorge Briceno Suarez, the FARC's highest-ranking military commander; Tomas Molina Caracas, who commands the FARC's eastern, cocaine-rich district; and a third FARC leader identified only as "El Loco."

Briceno Suarez and Molina Caracas are fugitives. The status of the unnamed suspect was not clear.

The three were named on four capital counts of conspiracy, hostage-taking resulting in death and using a firearm during a crime of violence.

Mr. Ashcroft said Jerel Duane Shaffer and Earl Goen, both U.S. citizens, were working in Venezuela in 1997 when they were attacked while at a fishing camp. He said they were blindfolded, bound and forced at gunpoint into an airplane bound for Colombia. Later, he said, Mr. Shaffer was marched forcibly into the jungle.

During their captivity, Mr. Ashcroft said, the men sought the help of two Colombian nationals, who were murdered. The indictment said Mr. Shaffer was beaten by heavily armed FARC members for nine months until a $1 million ransom was paid for his release.

A second indictment accused FARC leader Henry Castellanos Garzon of hostage-taking and conspiracy in the March 1998 kidnapping of four Americans who traveled to Colombia on a bird-watching trip. Castellanos Garzon also is a fugitive.

Mr. Ashcroft said Louise Augustine, Todd Mark, Thomas Fiore and Peter Shen, all Americans, as well as a foreign national, were kidnapped, threatened and repeatedly interrogated regarding the income and financial status of their families in an effort to secure a ransom. The hostages were released without payment, he said.

In March, the attorney general announced the indictment of several FARC leaders, including Molina Caracas, in a drugs-for-weapons scheme. A superseding indictment, unsealed yesterday, said Briceno Suarez, along with Molina Caracas, supervised and directed that drug-trafficking operation.

The new indictment said Briceno Suarez, Molina Caracas and six other FARC members conspired to import cocaine into the United States and to manufacture and distribute cocaine within Colombia. It said Briceno Suarez "exercised control personally" over major drug transactions, arbitrated the drugs-for-weapons deal and received large sums of cash in exchange for cocaine from Molina Caracas.

"The State Department has called the FARC the most dangerous international terrorist organization based in the Western Hemisphere," Mr. Ashcroft said. "Our indictments show them as terrorists, drug traffickers, kidnappers and murderers."

Since 1977, the State Department has designated the FARC as a foreign terrorist organization. Colombia has seen four decades of conflict among leftist guerillas, right-wing paramilitaries and government troops that has killed 200,000 people.

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson called Briceno Suarez, also known as Mono Jojoy, the second most powerful FARC leader and heir apparent to longtime FARC commander Pedro Antonio Marin. He said Briceno Suarez controlled the sale of cocaine and the purchase of weapons and military equipment.

"These indictments are an essential step in assuring the survival of democracy and the rule of law in Colombia," he said.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said the indictments represented a "continuing commitment" by the bureau to "fully investigate and to bring to justice terrorists throughout the world who harm citizens of the United States."

Mr. Mueller said the FARC seeks to deter U.S. citizens and corporations from visiting Colombia or conducting legitimate business, and has demonstrated its anti-American views by designating all U.S. officials as military targets.

"The FBI, working in close cooperation with Colombian authorities and other agencies of the U.S. government, will pursue these terrorists with the same intensity that was demonstrated in the investigation that led to today's indictments," he said.

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