WASHINGTON - A man who once commanded the terrorist organization Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges stemming from the five-year-long kidnapping of three U.S. citizens.
Alexander Beltran Herrera, 37, pleaded guilty in Washington, D.C., to three counts of hostage-taking. He faced a maximum of life in prison at sentencing before U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth on July 25, 2014, but the United States agreed not to seek more than 60 years as part of the extradition process from Colombia.
Since its inception in 1964, the FARC "has engaged in an armed conflict to overthrow the Republic of Colombia, South America's longest-standing democracy," according to a statement by the Justice Department.
"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 statement continues. "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."
Herrera's plea relates to Feb. 13, 2003, kidnappings of Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell, all U.S. citizens. FARC also seized Thomas Janis, a United States citizen, and Sgt. Luis Alcides Cruz, a Colombian citizen, that day 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," the Justice Department said. "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."
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