Alexander Beltran Herrera, 37, a commander of the FARC terrorist organization, pleaded guilty today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to hostage-taking charges stemming from the 2003 kidnappings of three U.S. citizens in Colombia.
The guilty plea was announced by John P. Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s National Security Division; Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Division.
Beltran Herrera pleaded guilty to three counts of hostage-taking. He is to be sentenced July 25, 2014, by the Honorable Royce C. Lamberth. The offense of hostage taking carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, although as part of the extradition process from Colombia, the United States agreed not to seek a sentence exceeding 60 years.
According to a statement of facts submitted as part of the plea hearing, t he FARC is an armed, violent organization in Colombia, which since its inception in 1964, has engaged in an armed conflict to overthrow the Republic of Colombia, South America’s longest-standing democracy. The FARC has consistently used hostage taking as a primary technique in extorting demands from the Republic of Colombia, and hostage taking has been endorsed and commanded by FARC senior leadership. The FARC has characterized American citizens as “military targets” and has engaged in violent acts against Americans in Colombia, including murders and hostage taking. The FARC was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Secretary of State in 1997 and remains so designated.
Beltran Herrera, a commander in the FARC, was involved in the hostage taking of three United States citizens: Marc D. Gonsalves, Thomas R. Howes, and Keith Stansell. These three, along with Thomas Janis, a United States citizen, and Sergeant Luis Alcides Cruz, a Colombian citizen, were seized on Feb. 13, 2003, by the FARC, after their single-engine aircraft made a crash landing in the Colombian jungle.
Members of the FARC murdered Mr. Janis and Sgt. Cruz at the crash site. Mr. Gonsalves, Mr. Howes, and Mr. Stansell were held by the FARC at gunpoint and were advised by FARC leadership that they would be used as hostages to increase pressure on the government of Colombia to agree to the FARC’s demands. At various times, the FARC marched the hostages from one site to another, placing them in the actual custody of various FARC fronts.
At the conclusion of one 40-day long march, in or about November 2004, the hostages were delivered to members of the FARC’s 27th Front, who imprisoned the hostages for nearly two years. During part of this period, Beltran Herrera was responsible for moving the hostages and keeping them imprisoned. Throughout the captivity of these three hostages, FARC jailors and guards used choke harnesses, chains, padlocks and wires to restrain the hostages, and used force and threats to continue their detention and prevent their escape. In July 2008, the Colombian military conducted a daring operation which resulted in the rescue of the hostages.
All told, members of the FARC held the Americans hostage for 1,967 days.
“This case underscores our resolve to hold accountable those who target our citizens with violence anywhere in the world,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “With this guilty plea, Alexander Beltran Herrera has admitted his participation in the hostage taking and captivity of three Americans by the FARC, a Colombian terrorist organization. I want to thank all of the prosecutors, agents, and analysts who made this result possible.”
“Alexander Beltran Herrera was a terrorist and commander in the FARC organization who held three Americans hostage in the Colombian jungle,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “With today's guilty plea, he admitted to his role in terrorizing these Americans, who were held in captivity for more than five years. His extradition and prosecution reflect our determination to bring to justice anyone who sets out to harm our fellow citizens overseas.”
“Alexander Beltran Herrera was a commander within FARC, a foreign terrorist organization based in Colombia that considered U.S. citizens to be targets for murder and hostage taking,” said Special Agent in Charge Piro. “First captured, then extradited to the United States, Herrera has now admitted to his role in moving and keeping hostage three American citizens, Marc D. Gonsalves, Thomas R. Howes and Keith Stansell. Once again, the excellent, longstanding cooperation between the Colombian National Police and U.S. law enforcement has ended another terrorist’s career of violence and thuggery.”
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Miami Division. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anthony Asuncion and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez from the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, and Trial Attorney David Cora, from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. The case was indicted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Kohl, of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The FBI’s Miami Division partnered in the investigation with the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Department’s Judicial Attachés in Colombia, and the FBI’s Office of the Legal Attaché in Bogota, Colombia. The Directorate of Intelligence (DIPOL) and the Anti-Kidnapping Unit (GAULA) of the Colombian National Police also provided valuable support during the investigation.