Colombian Rebels Are Indicted as Terrorists
Three Americans Were Killed in '99
By Dan Eggen and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft announced murder charges yesterday
against Colombia's leading guerrilla group and six of its members in the
slayings of three
Americans working with an isolated Indian tribe in 1999, saying that the move demonstrates the Bush administration's determination to prosecute terrorists outside
the Muslim world.
Ashcroft, who has faced fierce criticism since Sept. 11 for domestic
anti-terror policies that have focused almost exclusively on young Muslim
men, said the
indictments against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are "a step toward ridding our hemisphere of the narcoterrorism that threatens our lives,
our freedom and our human dignity."
Charges in the 3-year-old case come as the White House is seeking congressional
support for a policy change that would allow U.S. military aid to Colombia
currently restricted to counter-narcotics operations -- to be used for counterterrorism operations throughout the country.
Both the U.S. and Colombian government have labeled the FARC, along
with a smaller leftist guerrilla group and a right-wing paramilitary group,
organizations. The administration has said that it does not consider the FARC an organization with "global reach," like that possessed by Osama bin Laden's al
Qaeda, and it has presented no evidence of ties to any international terrorist networks. But Ashcroft yesterday called the group a "fiercely anti-American terrorist
"Today, the United States strikes back at FARC's reign of terror against
the United States and its citizens," he said. "Just as we fight terrorism
in the mountains of
South Asia, we will fight terrorism in our own hemisphere."
Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the administration has focused most
of its international anti-terrorism campaign on al Qaeda and the threats
posed by other militant
The FARC is believed responsible for the 1993 disappearance and presumed
death of three American missionaries in the Colombian jungle, although
no bodies were
found. Between 1993 and 1999, a number of U.S. citizens were kidnapped by the FARC, most picked at random in large guerrilla sweeps, but all were released
The FARC acknowledged responsibility for the 1999 killings, but it said
they were the unauthorized work of "rogue elements" who would be punished.
rejected demands by the Clinton administration that those responsible be turned over to U.S. justice.
Ashcroft said: "This department is committed to defending the rights of Americans when the facts are available to support effective prosecution."
In recent weeks, Congress has been generally supportive of the proposed
Colombia policy change. But some lawmakers have asked whether the new categorization
of Colombia's 40-year-old civil war as a terrorist battle is accurate, and have questioned whether it risks involving the United States in a Vietnam-like quagmire.
The administration has asked Colombia to extradite the six FARC members
who were indicted yesterday, all of whom are at large. Among those charged
German Briceno Suarez, also known as Granobles, who commands FARC forces in the eastern Colombian state of Arauca, where the three were killed. Briceno's
brother, Jorge Briceno, is the overall FARC military commander.
The administration has worked in recent months to more firmly tie the
narcotics trade with terrorist movements abroad, citing the links between
al Qaeda and the
opium trade in Afghanistan. Both the FARC and a right-wing paramilitary group fighting against it alongside the Colombian army are deeply involved in the
production and export of cocaine and heroin to U.S. markets. As the FARC has stepped up its war against the government, it has increasingly turned to terror
tactics, including blowing up oil pipelines and placing car bombs on urban streets.
Ashcroft announced the indictments of three other FARC members last
month in a conspiracy to deliver planeloads of cocaine into the United
States for seven years
ending in 2001.
Virtually all of the facts contained in yesterday's indictment were
known to the United States within days of the Feb. 1999 kidnappings, when
handed over intercepted guerrilla communications.
The three Americans -- biologist Terence Unity Freitas, Menominee Indian
Ingrid Washinawatok and Hawaiian native Lahee'Enae Gay -- were in Colombia
support the efforts of the U'wa Indian tribe in isolated Arauca, along the Venezuelan border. The group focused on trying to stop Los Angeles-based Occidental
Petroleum Corp. from drilling for oil and building a pipeline through what it said were tribal lands.
Yesterday's indictment, handed up by a grand jury in the U.S. District
Court for the District of Columbia, charges the FARC and six of its members
terrorist-related homicide and conspiracy to commit homicide, among other charges.
The three Americans were abducted on Feb. 25, 1999, on the orders of
German Briceno, who said that "those who don't pay get their heads chopped
according to the indictment. They were executed eight days later, and their bodies were dumped and then burned across the border in Venezuela, the indictment said.
In addition to Briceno, those charged include Gustavo Bocota Aguablanca,
Nelson Vargas Rueda and three others known only by aliases: a commander,
and two other members, Dumar and El Marrano, or "the pig."
In requesting expanded authority for U.S. assistance in Colombia, the
Bush administration has also sought additional money for military training
and equipment for use
in Arauca, to protect the now-completed Occidental pipeline against terrorist attacks.