The alleged member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Alexander Beltran Herrera, has been extradited from Columbia to the United States to face terrorism-related charges, including taking three American citizens hostage after their plane crash-landed in a remote region of Columbia in 2003.
FARC is Columbia’s largest guerrilla army, which was established in 1964 as a military wing of the Columbian Communist Party and seeks to overthrow the Columbian government through means of violence, intimidation and corruption.
Whilst the guerrilla organisation is described as a terrorist group by the Columbian government, as well as by the United States, the European Union, Chile, Canada and New Zealand, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua and Venezuela, do not classify FARC as being associated with terrorism.
In 2008, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez referred to FARC as being a “real army” and called on the Columbian government to recognise the group as a “belligerent force”, stating that this would then force them to stop acts of terrorism and kidnappings (1).
Taking American Hostages and Murder
In a press release released by the Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs, hostage taking has been endorsed and commanded by FARC senior leadership. Since its inception, the organization has regularly used taking hostages as a fundamental method to making demands from the Republic of Columbia. (2)
It is the alleged crime of hostage taking that Beltran Herrera has been extradited from Columbia for. The FARC member was involved in taking three U.S. citizens hostage in 2003. According to the indictment, three men, Marc D. Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas R. Howes, were held at gunpoint by the FARC after their plane crashed landed near Florencia in Columbia.
The three hostages, as the Department of Justice press release states, were told that they would be kept as hostages to intensify international pressure on the Columbian government to meet the FARC’s demands.
U.S citizen Thomas Janis and Sergeant Luis Alcides Cruz, a citizen of Columbia, were shot dead at the scene of the plane crash.
The severity and barbarism of Beltran Herrera’s alleged crimes are highlighted further in the press release, which goes on to say how, throughout their captivity, the three hostages were restrained by choke harnesses, padlocks, wires and chains by FARC jailors, including Beltran Herrera.
Herrera and his fellow FARC guards allegedly used continuous force and threats to prevent the hostages from escaping. The charges also accuse Beltran Herrera of using a military-type machine gun whilst capturing hostages.
Bringing Criminals to Justice
The Department of Justice press release, which has the title, “Accused Member of Foreign Terrorist Organization Extradited to United States on Hostage Taking Charges”, includes a statement from Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, who announced the extradition. Lisa told journalists:
“Todays extradition underscores our resolve to hold accountable all those responsible for this crime and we will not rest until every one of them is brought to justice.”
Recapping Monaco’s proclamation of the urgency that justice is brought to those who implement violence to push political objectives, Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said:
“This extradition is another step toward justice on behalf of Americas taken hostage and held in chains by a Columbian terrorist organization. We will not hesitate to bring to justice anyone who targets Americans around the world with violence to advance their political agendas.”
The inquiry is being directed by the FBI’s Miami Field Division. According to the press release, substantial assistance in the investigation was provided by the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Department’s Judicial Attaches in Columbia, and the FBI’s Office of the Legal Attache in Columbia.
The extradition of one of FARC’s senior members has undoubtedly disrupted and started to dismantle FARC. The FBI Acting Special Agent Charge Choucair said that the, “long term cooperation between the Columbian National police and U.S law enforcement has struck another blow to international terrorism.” (3)
While the extradition is good news, the FARC is far from willing to comply with the extradition of of any additional members.
Following a FARC fighter ambush on Saturday 17 March 2012 in which an army patrol was ambushed and ten soldiers killed by the FARC group, the Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos made a statement, urging FARC to keep its earlier promise to release ten soldiers and police officers they are holding captive.
According to a report in the Washington Post, the guerrilla group still hasn’t set a date for the release of its captors. (4)
Meanwhile, Herrera will remain imprisoned until at least May 4, 2012, when a status conference will be held in his case. If found guilty of hostage-taking and other terrorism-related charges, the 35-year-old will face up to life in prison.