18 from Colombian rebel group charged in 2003 kidnappings
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 8:08 PM
A U.S. federal grand jury Tuesday indicted 18 alleged members of a leftist Colombian rebel group on terrorism and weapons charges in connection with the hostage-taking of three U.S. government contractors in 2003.
Among those named in the indictment, returned by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District, was Tanja Anamary Nijmeijer, a former Dutch schoolteacher who joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and rose to its senior ranks.
Nijmeijer, 32, appeared on Dutch news in a recently released 53-second video dressed in military fatigues and holding an assault rifle. The author of a women's diary recovered from a guerrilla camp in 2007, Nijmeijer was an aide to Victor Suarez, a top FARC military strategist better known as Jorge "El Mono Jojoy" Briceno, who was killed in a massive Colombian government raid in August.
The charges mark the fifth U.S. indictment stemming from the kidnapping of Northrop Grumman employees Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes, whose drug surveillance aircraft crash-landed in the southern Colombian jungle on Feb. 13, 2003.
American pilot Thomas Janis and a Colombian army sergeant, passenger Luis Alcides Cruz, were executed. The others spent the next 5 Â½ years in captivity, the longest such span for Americans held by an overseas terrorist group.
According to U.S. prosecutors, the new indictment for the first time accuses senior members of FARC's central general staff of telling their American captives in a 2003 meeting that the kidnapping would boost international pressure on the Colombian government to meet the group's demands.
Sixteen of the defendants were charged for the first time. Carlos Alberto Garcia, known as "El Paisa," and Jose Ignacio Gonzalez Perdomo, known as "Alfredo Arenas," face new charges. None is in custody.
In a 2009 book, "Out of Captivity," the three Americans describe being bound at the neck and wrists with choke harnesses, chains, padlocks and wires, and housed among dozens of civilian hostages in a barbed-wire camp. The group was rescued by the Colombian military in July 2008.
"We will not tire in our pursuit of all those responsible for this crime," U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris said in a written statement.