CARACAS: A US military veteran who has claimed responsibility for a failed armed incursion into Venezuela to oust President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday that two US citizens working with him have been detained by Venezuelan authorities.
Venezuelan authorities said 10 people involved in a “mercenary incursion” were detained on Monday along the Caribbean coast, saying the 10 were part of the US-backed plot.
Venezuelan state television said two US citizens were among those detained but did not provide their identities.
But the American military veteran, Jordan Goudreau, who leads a Florida-based security company called Silvercorp USA, on Monday told Reuters that two Americans working with him, Aaron Berry and Luke Denman, had been captured.
“They’re working with me. Those are my guys,” he said by telephone.
The No. 2 official of Venezuela’s Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, earlier on Monday tweeted a video showing one of the detained Venezuelans involved in the plot telling an unidentified official that two Americans were among those arrested.
The State Department did not provide any immediate comment on the alleged arrests. U.S. officials have strongly denied any U.S. government involvement in the incursions.
A person familiar with the matter said the two US citizens were captured on Monday in a second-day roundup of accomplices and were believed to be in the custody of Venezuelan military intelligence. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the details came from contacts with Venezuelan security forces.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido cast doubt on the government’s version of Sunday’s events, insisting Maduro is seeking to distract from other problems in recent days including a deadly prison riot and a violent gang battle in Caracas.
Guaido’s communications team on Monday denied media reports that Guaido had hired Silvercorp to remove Maduro by force, adding the opposition leader and his allies “have no relationship with or responsibility for the actions of the company Silvercorp.”
In a statement on Monday evening, Guaido’s team said: “We demand the human rights…of the people captured in recent hours be respected.”
Washington has imposed tough economic sanctions against Venezuela in an effort to oust Maduro, whom it accuses of having rigged elections in 2018. Maduro’s government says the United States wants to control Venezuela’s massive oil reserves.
‘ATTACK AGAINST OUR FATHERLAND’
Monday’s arrests come after Maduro’s government on Sunday said mercenaries had attempted to enter the South American country on speed boats from neighboring Colombia, saying eight people had been killed and two detained.
Later on Sunday, Goudreau released a video identifying himself as an organizer of the invasion, alongside dissident Venezuelan military officer Javier Nieto. Goudreau said in the video that fighters on the ground continued to carry out operations in different parts of the country.
He identified one of the fighters as “Commander Sequea,” which appeared to be a reference to Antonio Sequea, who was identified on Monday by state television as one of the people arrested.
Silvercorp’s website describes Goudreau as a “highly decorated Special Forces Iraq and Afghanistan veteran.”
A Venezuelan state television anchor on Monday showed photos of men laid out on the ground with their hands behind their backs, adding that the group was traveling near the town of Chuao area in central Aragua state.
The group was “caught by popular force, by fishermen,” the anchor said.
Cabello posted a video of men in black with balaclavas pulling a shirtless man from a helicopter, whom they identified as part of the group captured.
“Without a doubt, the imperialists directed this attack against our fatherland,” Cabello said on Twitter, in reference to the U.S. government. Later on Monday, Cabello said two more suspects were detained in Puerto Cruz, a coastal town east of Chuao.
A U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said the US government had no involvement with the incident. Another source familiar with U.S. intelligence analysis and reporting also said that US agencies have nothing to do with any military incursions in Venezuela.
Aragua Governor Rodolfo Marco posted four photos of the detained men on Twitter. “The capture of these mercenaries was achieved through social intelligence and the civic-military police unit,” he said in the post.
The images show men lying on their stomachs, some with no shirt and others in shorts. A police vehicle is also seen in an area near a fish market and in another image is a fishing boat.
Neither the official television station nor the governor offered more details.
Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab said on Monday that five people have been detained for the raid in Macuto.