Venezuela

Venezuela Says 2 US ‘Mercenaries’ Among Those Nabbed After Raid

The two U.S. citizens arrested Monday were identified as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both former U.S. special forces soldiers

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the United States had nothing to do with an alleged incursion into Venezuela that landed two U.S. citizens behind bars in the crisis-stricken South American nation.

Trump said he had just learned of the detention of the pair, accused by Venezuela of being mercenaries. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused them of being part of an operation to kill him that was backed by neighboring Colombia and the United States.

“Whatever it is, we’ll let you know,” Trump told reporters in Washington before departing from the White House to Arizona. “But it has nothing to do with our government.”

In a nationwide broadcast on state television Monday, Maduro said authorities arrested 13 "terrorists" after a beach raid purportedly aimed at capturing the socialist leader that authorities say they foiled.

Maduro held up a pair of blue U.S. passports, reading off the names and birth dates on them. He showed images of the fishing boats the alleged attackers rode in on and equipment like walkie-talkies and night-vision glasses collected in what Maduro called an “intense” couple of days.

“The United States government is fully and completely involved in this defeated raid," Maduro said, praising members of a fishing village for cornering one group in the sweep netting the “professional American mercenaries.”

Before dawn on Sunday, officials say the first attack started on a beach near Venezuela's port city of La Guaira, when security forces made the first two arrests and killed eight others attempting to make a landing by speedboats.

The two U.S. citizens arrested Monday were identified by Venezuelan authorities as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both former U.S. special forces soldiers. They were detained dozens of miles from the first attempted beach landing.

ID cards and walkie talkies
Miraflores Presidential Palace/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

NBC News was not able to confirm any details about those held. U.S. officials were not immediately available for comment on the case.

Jordan Goudreau, an ex-Green Beret and founder of the the Florida-based private security firm Silvercorp USA, said earlier Monday that he was working with the two men in a mission intending to detain Maduro and “liberate” Venezuela. Goudreau has claimed responsibility for the operation.

The two served in Iraq and Afghanistan with him in the U.S. military, Goudreau said, adding that they were part of this alleged mission in Venezuela called “Operation Gideon.” The aim was to capture Maduro.

Venezuela has been in a deepening political and economic crisis under Maduro’s rule. Crumbling public services such as running water, electricity and medical care have driven nearly 5 million to migrate. But Maduro still controls all levers of power despite a U.S.-led campaign to oust him. It recently indicted Maduro as a drug trafficker and offered a $15 million reward for his arrest.

Venezuela and the United States broke diplomatic ties last year amid heightened tensions, so there is no U.S. embassy in Caracas. Officials from the U.S. State Department did not respond Monday to a request by The Associated Press for comment.

Kay Denman, the mother of one of the Americans, said the last time she heard from her son was a few weeks when he texted her from an undisclosed location to ask how she was coping with the coronavirus pandemic. She said she never heard her son discuss Venezuela and only learned of his possible capture there after his friends called when they saw the reports on social media.

“The first time I heard Jordan Goudreau’s name was today,” she said when reached at her home in Austin, Texas.

Goudreau has said he reached an agreement with the U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to overthrow Maduro, which Guaidó has denied. The opposition leader said he had nothing to do with Sunday's raid.

Goudreau says Guaidó never fulfilled the agreement, but the former Green Beret pushed ahead with an underfunded operation with just 60 fighters, including the two U.S. veterans.

He said he last communicated with Denman and Berry when they were adrift in a boat “hugging” the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. They were still in their boat following an initial confrontation with the Venezuelan Navy early Sunday, he said

“They were running dangerously low on fuel,” Goudreau said. “If they had gone onto landfall, they would have gone to a safe house.”

Goudreau said the two were waiting for a boat on the Caribbean island of Aruba with emergency fuel to help extract them.

Venezuelan state TV showed showed images on state TV of several unidentified men handcuffed and lying prone in a street. One video clip showed authorities handling a shirtless man in handcuffs.

He was identified as a National Guardsman Capt. Antonio Sequea, who participated in a barracks revolt against Maduro a year ago. Goudreau said Sequea was a commander working with him in recent days on the ground in Venezuela.

Maduro ally and Attorney General Tarek William Saab said that in total they’ve arrested 114 people suspected in the attempted attack and they are on the hunt of 92 others.

Goudreau, a three-time Bronze Star U.S. combat veteran, claims to have helped organize the deadly seaborne raid from Colombia. Goudreau said the operation had received no aid from Guaidó or the U.S. or Colombian governments.

Opposition politicians and U.S. authorities issued statements suggesting Maduro’s allies had fabricated the assault to draw attention away from the country’s problems.

Goudreau said by telephone earlier Monday that 52 other fighters had infiltrated Venezuelan territory and were in the first stage of a mission to recruit members of the security forces to join their cause.

An AP investigation published Friday found that Goudreau had been working with a retired Venezuelan army general — who now faces U.S. narcotics charges — to train dozens of deserters from Venezuela’s security forces at secret camps inside neighboring Colombia. The goal was to mount a cross-border raid that would end in Maduro’s arrest.


Investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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