FARC Leader Convicted in Taking of 3 U.S. Hostages

Associated Press
Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Colombian rebel leader Ricardo Palmera was convicted yesterday in federal court of helping hold three Americans hostage for years in jungle prison camps. He is the only person ever found responsible for their capture.

Better known by his nom de guerre, Simon Trinidad, Palmera is the most senior commander ever captured from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Latin America's largest rebel group. He was extradited to the United States in 2004 and charged with hostage and terrorism charges.

FARC's force of about 12,000 fighters has battled the Colombian government for four decades, and the U.S. government considers it to be a terrorist organization and a drug cartel.

While D.C. District Court jurors found Palmera guilty of conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, they were split over whether to convict him of supporting terrorism. A federal judge sent them back to keep deliberating that charge and three counts of actual hostage-taking.

The three Americans -- Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell -- were civilian Pentagon contractors flying a surveillance mission over the Colombian jungle when their plane crashed in 2003 in a rebel stronghold. They were taken hostage and were most recently seen in late April.

Palmera denied ever seeing the three men but acknowledged serving as a negotiator to try to force a prisoner swap. He stood expressionless as the jury foreman read the verdict.

Palmera's first trial ended in November with a hung jury. The Justice Department immediately brought the charges again. He faces up to 30 years in prison and is awaiting trial on drug charges once this case is complete.

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