FARC rebels indicted in US court on charges of hostage-taking, murder

The charges against 18 members of FARC, a group of Colombian militants, stem from what happened after an American-crewed drug-surveillance plane crashed in 2003.

By , Staff writer

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    This image released by the US embassy in Colombia shows US contractors Keith Stansell (l.), Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes (r.) inside an aircraft in an unknown location in Colombia after being rescued by Colombia's Army from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, on July 2, 2008.
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A federal grand jury in Washington indicted 18 members of a Colombian guerrilla group Tuesday on charges ranging from hostage-taking to murder for their alleged roles in detaining the American crew of a drug surveillance plane that crash-landed in southern Colombia in February 2003.

The three Americans were held hostage at jungle outposts for more than five years until their rescue by Colombia’s military.

Among those named in the seven-count indictment is a Dutch woman who learned about the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) while studying in the Netherlands. Tanja Anamary Nijmeijer allegedly worked as an operative for the group in Bogota, and later joined as an armed insurgent.

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She and 17 others are charged with hostage-taking and providing material support for terrorists. Four of the accused FARC members are also charged with murder for the summary execution of an American pilot and a member of the Colombian military.

The four Americans and Colombian service member were captured by FARC while conducting counter-drug aerial surveillance. The engine on their Cessna aircraft failed and the group crash-landed in a mountainous area controlled by FARC.

All five survived the crash, according to officials, but the pilot, Thomas Janis, and Colombian national Sgt. Luis Alcides Cruz, were immediately executed by FARC members at the crash site.

The three other Americans, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes, were taken and held under what officials characterize as “barbaric” conditions in the jungle.

The indictment says the FARC captors used choke harnesses, chains, padlocks, and wires to bind the necks and wrists of the hostages. At one point the prisoners were forced to endure a 40-day march through the jungle with heavy backpacks to outmaneuver advancing Colombian forces.

It says the hostages were sometimes taken to Venezuela to prevent rescue attempts by the Colombian authorities.

The three Americans were ultimately liberated by the Colombian military in July 2008.

The US government is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the apprehension or conviction of any FARC commanders involved in the hostage taking or the murder of the pilot.

If convicted, the defendants face up to 60 years in prison. That is the maximum sentence allowed under Colombian law for Colombian nationals extradicted to the US to stand trial.

“Today’s indictment demonstrates our firm resolve to bring to justice every last FARC commander who played any part in this brutal act of terrorism,” Ronald Machen, US Attorney for the District of Columbia, said in a statement.

The four defendants charged in the murder count are: Carlos Alberto Garcia, Juan Carlos Reina Chica, Jaime Cortes Mejia, and Carlos Arturo Cespedes Tovar.

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