- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS — A 10-count federal indictment made public yesterday charges a group of Colombians with kidnapping at least eight Americans, then killing one of them after his company failed to pay a ransom.

The partially unsealed indictment says the eight Colombians are also responsible for numerous other kidnappings between 1997 and last year.

The group targeted Americans and other foreigners working in Ecuador on various construction and oil pipeline projects, court documents say.

Money and politics appears to have motivated the kidnappers, said Roscoe Howard, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

He said they are members of a violent, unidentified terrorist group.

"This indictment demonstrates the deep commitment the United States has to ensure that transgressions committed against United States nationals abroad will not go unpunished," Mr. Howard said.

"We will continue to doggedly pursue terrorists and terrorist groups who attempt to extort U.S. companies, take American hostages and murder innocent civilians as long as it takes and wherever they may attempt to hide."

The indicted Colombians were charged with conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, hostage-taking, hostage-taking resulting in death and murder of a U.S. national.

On Saturday, Colombian authorities handed over two of the suspects, Juan Luis Bravo and Henrri Jamioy Quistial, to FBI agents at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota. The two were flown to Miami, where they made an initial court appearance Monday. They are expected to appear before a federal court in the District this week.

Mr. Howard said the indicted group used extreme violence to carry out their kidnappings. Among their hostages was Ronald Sander, 54, an employee of Tulsa, Okla.-based Helmerich & Payne. Mr. Sander was seized in October 2000 in an Ecuador oil field with four other Americans and three other workers.

Mr. Sander's body was found in January 2001 on a jungle road, shot five times in the back and covered in a white sheet with a spray-painted message: "I am a gringo. For nonpayment of ransom. HP company."

Mr. Sander was killed after the kidnappers refused to budge from an $80 million ransom demand.

The remaining hostages a Chilean, an Argentine and a New Zealander were freed two months later after a $13 million ransom was paid just before the kidnappers' deadline to kill a second captive.

The other three Colombians named in the indictment are Gerardo Herrera Iles, Cristobal Alvarado Herrera and Jose del Carmen Alvarez Iles. The indictment did not name the remaining three suspects because two are fugitives, and government officials refused to identify the third.

According to the indictment, the group also was part of the 1999 kidnapping of seven Canadians, two Spaniards and one American. The hostages were held for 100 days in Ecuador until a $3.5 million ransom was paid.

Ricardo Martinez, an assistant agent in charge of the FBI's Miami field office, said most, if not all, of the eight Colombians once belonged to the rebel group EPL, or People's Liberation Army.

If convicted, all could face life sentences.

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