- Associated Press - Saturday, November 12, 2011

CARACAS, VENEZUELA (AP) - Venezuelan police commandos rescued Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos and arrested three of his abductors Friday, two days after he was kidnapped, officials said.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said on state television that Ramos was “safe and sound” and that he was rescued by police and National Guard commandos.

Information Minister Andres Izarra initially reported the rescue via Twitter, saying Ramos was “found alive by security forces in mountainous zone,” in the area of Montalban in central Carabobo state.

Izarra said it was “a rescue operation by air,” which was authorized earlier in the day by President Hugo Chavez. “Ramos free!,” said one message on Izarra’s account.

El Aissami said three men were arrested in the kidnapping, including a Colombian “linked to paramilitary groups and to kidnapping groups.”

He gave few details of the rescue but said police were taking Ramos his hometown of Valencia, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) west of Caracas. He said Ramos would first undergo medical checks at the police station and then be reunited with his family.

Ramos’ mother celebrated, exclaiming on television: “Thanks to God!”

“Thanks to my country, to my neighbors and to my family, who were supporting us,” she said. Shortly afterward, she spoke with her son by phone and said jubilantly: “He’s fine.”

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo hailed the news.

“Though details are limited and we have not yet talked directly with Wilson, we are thrilled with reports that he has been rescued,” Rizzo said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate all the prayers and thoughts of all who have joined us in wishing for this conclusion to what has been a nightmarish 48 hours. We are eager to see Wilson and let him know just how many all over the world have been waiting for this news.”

Armed men seized Ramos at gunpoint Wednesday night outside his home in a working-class neighborhood in Valencia. Authorities said Thursday that they had found a stolen SUV used by the kidnappers abandoned in a nearby town.

The abduction was the first known kidnapping of a major league baseball player in a country that has dozens of players on big league rosters in the U.S., and it brought a renewed focus on worsening violent crime in Venezuela.

Security has increasingly become a concern for Venezuelan players and their families as a wave of kidnappings has hit the wealthy as well as the middle class. Relatives of several Venezuelan major leaguers have previously been kidnapped for ransom, and in two cases have been killed.

El Aissami said that while three were arrested in the kidnapping, police were still searching for evidence in the mountainous area “to see if we can find others who were responsible.”

Some kidnappings in Venezuela have previously been carried out by highly organized criminal groups that demand ransom. In Ramos’ case, however, there were no reports of the abductors demanding money during the two-day abduction.

Bodyguards typically shadow major leaguers when they return to their homeland to play in Venezuela’s winter baseball league, but it was unclear what precautions, if any, Ramos was taking while at his family’s home.

Major League Baseball officials said it was the first kidnapping of a major leaguer that they could recall.

Polls consistently say rampant crime is the top worry of Venezuelans. The country has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America, and the vast majority of crimes go unsolved. The number of kidnappings has soared in recent years.

Fans in both Venezuela and Washington had held candlelight vigils and prayed for his safe release.

Ramos had recently returned to his homeland after his rookie year with the Nationals to play during the offseason in the Venezuelan league. He is a key young player for the Nationals. As a rookie in 2011, he hit .267 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs in 113 games.


Associated Press writer Christopher Toothaker in Caracas and AP Sports writers Howard Fendrich in Washington and Ron Blum in New York contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS Rizzo’s title to general manager, instead of manager.)

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