Crime & Justice

AG: Retired army captain masterminded, carried out attack on Colombian pres.

Bogota, Jul 22 (EFE).- A retired Colombian army captain masterminded and carried out the June 25 attack on a helicopter carrying President Ivan Duque near the northeastern city of Cucuta, as well as a car-bomb blast there 10 days earlier targeting an army base, the attorney general said here Thursday.

Colombia’s government blames both attacks on FARC dissidents who reject a peace deal that has seen that once-powerful guerrilla group transition into a leftist political party.

“Speaking of the person who designed and executed the criminal plan, Andres Fernando Medina Rodriguez, it should be said he’s a retired army captain who had been discharged for health reasons a few years ago,” Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa said Thursday.

Six gunshots struck the presidential helicopter on June 25 as it approached Cucuta, the capital of the northeastern department of Norte de Santander and a city on Colombia’s border with Venezuela. Duque, two of his Cabinet ministers and several regional officials were on board the chopper, none of whom was harmed.

Ten days earlier, a car bomb exploded at the military base in Cucuta that is home to the army’s 30th Brigade while a small group of American military personnel were inside. That attack injured 36 people.

Defense Minister Diego Molano, who was aboard the helicopter that came under fire on June 25, said Thursday that the attacks targeting Duque and the 30th Brigade “were planned from Venezuela” and urged the international community to reflect on leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s “harboring of terrorists” who plan attacks on Colombian institutions.

Medina Rodriguez, whom the AG’s office and the Defense Ministry regard as the mastermind behind the assassination attempt, is a highly trained soldier and helicopter pilot who retired from the army in 2016 after 12 years of service, according to local media, who have linked that individual to the attack for the past several days.

Barbosa, citing “material and technical evidence,” attributed the attacks to dissident former members of the FARC, which was once a powerful guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia but has since demobilized after finalizing a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2016 and become a political party now known as Comunes (Commons).

The attorney general said those dissidents are members of the so-called 33rd Front led by alias “Jhon Mechas” and are taking refuge in Venezuela.

Colombian authorities, however, did not explain the alleged links between the retired army captain and the FARC dissidents nor offer any motive for the two attacks.

“As a result of this investigative work, 10 people were captured, members of this organization in different areas of the country: in Cucuta, El Zulia and in the town of La Gabarra, in Tibu, (a municipality of) Norte de Santander (department),” Barbosa said, adding that the detainees have been held in preventive detention since Wednesday.

Three of the detainees, including Medina Rodriguez, are facing charges of aggravated terrorism, aggravated attempted murder and aggravated criminal conspiracy for the attack on the army brigade.

Five other detainees are charged with criminal conspiracy in connection the car-bomb attack.

Medina Rodriguez also is charged in connection with the attack on the helicopter along with four other suspects, including a taxi driver who allegedly drove the attackers to the place where the gunshots were fired and another man accused of providing logistical support. EFE

jga/mc

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