Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
News Conference November 13, 2002
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)
Today marks another significant milestone in the war against terrorism and drug trafficking in the Americas. In three separate indictments, leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish language acronym FARC, stand charged with hostage taking and drug trafficking in order to obtain money and weapons for terrorist activities.
Since 1997, the State Department has designated the FARC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. This afternoon, the Department of Justice is unsealing an indictment charging Jorge Briceņo Suarez, the highest ranking FARC military commander, and Tomas Molina Caracas, the commander of the 16th front, with kidnaping two United States citizens and killing two Colombian civilians in the course of the kidnaping. The grand jury charges Briceņo, Molina and a third FARC member with four counts:
- Conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death;
- Hostage taking resulting in death;
- Hostage taking; and
- Using a firearm during a crime of violence.
If convicted on all counts, the defendants face the maximum penalty of death.
In 1997, Jerel Duane Shaffer and Earl Goen, both United States citizens, were living and working in Venezuela for American companies. The indictment charges that on February 13, 1997, Shaffer and Goen were attacked by unindicted co-conspirators while at a fishing camp in Western Venezuela. Shaffer and Goen were blindfolded, bound, and held at gunpoint as the defendants forced Shaffer into a plane bound for Colombia. Later, Shaffer was marched forcibly into the jungle.
At two separate points, according to the indictment, the defendants enlisted the help of Colombian nationals who were then brutally murdered. The indictment charges that Shaffer was beaten and held hostage by heavily armed members of FARC for nine months until a million dollar ransom was paid for his release.
In a related matter, last March I announced an indictment charging members of the FARC - including Tomas Molina Caracas - with trafficking cocaine into the United States and exchanging cocaine for the weapons and material that support the FARC's activities. Today, the Justice Department is unsealing a superseding indictment charging that Jorge Briceņo Suarez, along with Molina, supervised and directed this drug trafficking operation. Briceņo, Molina and six other FARC members are charged with conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and to manufacture and distribute cocaine within Colombia, knowing that it was bound for the United States.
The superseding indictment alleges that Briceņo exercised control personally over major drug transactions, arbitrated a drugs-for-weapons deal, and received large sums of money in exchange for cocaine from Molina. As alleged in the superseding indictment, international drug traffickers were attracted to the area controlled by the 16th Front because it was considered a, quote, "safe haven" for traffickers.
If convicted of the charges contained in the superseding indictment, the defendants could face up to life in prison.
Additionally, a third indictment, unsealed today in the District of Colombia, charges FARC member Henry Castellanos Garzon with hostage taking and conspiracy to commit hostage taking for the March 1998 kidnaping of four Americans who traveled to Colombia on a bird-watching trip. The indictment, originally filed under seal in December 1998, charges Castellanos and others with kidnaping Louise Augustine, Todd Mark, Thomas Fiore and Peter Shen - all Americans - as well as a foreign national.
According to the indictment, Castellanos threatened to kill the hostages, and repeatedly interrogated them regarding their income and the financial status of their families in an effort to secure a ransom. The hostages were ultimately released without payment of ransom.
One of the defendants in the drug trafficking indictment, Carlos Bolas, is in the custody of the United States. We will continue to work closely with Colombian authorities to secure the arrests of the other defendants.
Today's indictments follow the March indictment of FARC leaders for drug trafficking and an April indictment charging the FARC and leaders of the FARC with conspiring to target, surveil, abduct, and murder three Americans. The State Department has called the FARC the most dangerous international terrorist organization based in the Western hemisphere, and our indictments show them as terrorists, drug traffickers, kidnappers, and murderers.
I thank Bob Mueller, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Administrator Asa Hutchinson of the Drug Enforcement Administration, for being here with me today. I also want to thank John Walters, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, for joining me today.
The FBI has headed up the investigation of the FARC's terrorist activities, working closely with the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia as well as the Terrorism and Violent Crime Section of the Criminal Division here at the Justice Department.
In addition, today's drug indictment is the result of an ongoing two-year investigation of narcotics trafficking by FARC conducted by the DEA in cooperation with the governments of Colombia, Suriname, and Brazil and the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the Criminal Division. Thank you all for your commitment and your leadership.
I thank Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who is here today, for his superb leadership and dedication. I thank also Michael Chertoff, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, and Roscoe Howard, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, for their outstanding leadership.
I acknowledge our foreign law enforcement partners, especially the government of Colombia, for their close cooperation and shared commitment to our mission of bringing these terrorists to justice.
Thank you. Now I will be happy to take a few questions.