Diego Alfonso Navarrete Beltran, 42, an accused member of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) terrorist organization, has been extradited from Colombia to face hostage taking and terrorism charges in the United States.
The extradition was announced by John P. Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, 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.
Navarrete Beltran was extradited from Colombia to the United States this week to face charges in a superseding indictment returned in the District of Columbia on Feb. 22, 2011. The indictment, which names as defendants 18 members of the FARC, charges Navarrete Beltran specifically with one count of conspiracy to commit hostage taking; three counts of hostage taking; one count of using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence; one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
A second defendant, Alexander Beltran Herrera, 38, a FARC commander, was extradited to the United States from Colombia in March 2012. He pled guilty on March 18, 2014, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to three counts of hostage-taking and he was sentenced on Oct. 24, 2014, to a 27-year prison term.
“Diego Alfonso Navarrete Beltran and his FARC accomplices are alleged to have been involved in the hostage-taking of three Americans in Colombia more than a decade ago,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “Terrorists who target our citizens with violence anywhere in the world should know that we will pursue them and seek to bring them to justice, however long it takes.”
“In 2003, three U.S. citizens were taken hostage by Colombian terrorists and held captive with choke harnesses and chains for more than five years,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “Last month, a commander of that Colombian terrorist organization was sentenced to nearly three decades in prison for his role in the hostage-taking. We have now extradited a second defendant to face charges for the role he allegedly played in their harrowing ordeal. These prosecutions are a reminder of our unwavering commitment to hold accountable anyone who harms American citizens abroad, no matter how long it takes.”
“Diego Alfonso Navarrete Beltran, a former member of the FARC terrorist organization, was extradited to the United States to face terrorism and hostage taking charges involving three U.S. Citizens,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Piro. “There is a message here for would be terrorist hostage takers; don’t do it, you will be brought to justice.”
Navarrete Beltran was arraigned today in federal court in the District of Columbia. If convicted of all charges against him, he faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison.
According to the indictment, the 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. 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.
The indictment alleges that Navarrete Beltran was a member of the 1st Front in the FARC’s Southern Block. He was allegedly involved in the hostage taking of three U.S. citizens, Marc D. Gonsalves, Thomas R. Howes and Keith Stansell. These three individuals, along with Thomas Janis, a U.S. 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 near Florencia, Colombia. Janis and Cruz were murdered at the crash site by members of the FARC.
According to the indictment, 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 international pressure on the government of the Republic of Colombia to agree to the FARC’s demands.
The FARC at various times 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 march, in or about November 2004, the hostages were delivered to members of the FARC’s 27th Front, commanded by Daniel Tamayo Sanchez, who was responsible for the hostages for nearly two years, after which they were delivered to the FARC’s 1st Front. From approximately October 2006 through July 2008, according to the indictment, Navarrete Beltran and others kept the hostages under the control of the FARC’s 1st Front. In order to prevent the Colombian police and military from rescuing the hostages, he and other conspirators transported the hostages into the Republic of Venezuela.
Throughout the captivity of the hostages, FARC jailors and guards, including Naverrete Beltran, used choke harnesses, chains, padlocks and wires to restrain the hostages, and used force and threats to continue their detention and prevent their escape. The indictment also accuses Navarrete Beltran of using and carrying a military-type machine gun during the hostage taking and providing material support and resources to aid in the hostage taking and to aid the FARC.
In July 2008, the Colombian military conducted an operation which resulted in the rescue of the hostages. All told, members of the FARC held the Americans hostage for 1,967 days.
An indictment is merely a formal allegation that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.
This investigation is being led by the FBI’s Miami Field Division. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez from 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.
Substantial assistance in the case was provided by the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Department’s Judicial Attachés in Colombia, the FBI’s Office of the Legal Attaché in Colombia, and the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains mere allegations and that defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.