Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has announced the arrest of two U.S citizens, a day after a foiled beach raid purportedly aimed at capturing him.
In a nationwide address on Monday May 4, Maduro held up a pair of blue U.S. passports, reading off the names and birth dates on them. He also showed off photos of the fishing boats the alleged attackers rode on, walkie-talkies and night-vision glasses which were recovered.
Though he blamed the attack on the Trump administration and neighboring Colombia, both countries have denied the allegation.
Maduro who praised members of a fishing village for cornering one group in sweep netting the “professional American mercenaries”, said;
“The United States government is fully and completely involved in this defeated raid.”
The two U.S. citizens arrested Monday were identified as as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both former U.S. special forces soldiers.
Florida-based ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau however said on Monday, that he was working with the two men in a mission launched a day earlier aimed at “liberating” Venezuela
Goudreau has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s operation, which Venezuelan authorities said left eight people dead.
Goudreau said the two US citizens served in Iraq and Afghanistan with him in the U.S military.
He also confirmed that the men were part of a mission in Venezuela called “Operation Gideon.” The aim was to capture President Maduro.
Goudreau has said he signed a contract with the U.S-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to overthrow Maduro, which Guaidó has denied. Goudreau says the opposition politician never fulfilled the contract, but the former Green Beret pushed ahead with an underfunded operation with just 60 fighters, including the two U.S. veterans.
He further revealed that his last communication with Denman and Berry was when they were adrift in a boat “hugging” the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. They were still in their boat following an initial confrontation with the Venezuelan Navy on Sunday, which left eight Venezuelans dead.
“They were running dangerously low on fuel. If they had gone onto landfall, they would have gone to a safe house.”
According to Goudreau, the operation had received no aid from Guaidó, the U.S. or Colombian governments.
Venezuelan officials said they detained eight “mercenaries” on Monday. That included a National Guardsman Capt. Antonio Sequea, who participated in a barracks revolt against Maduro a year ago. Goudreau said Sequea was a commander working with him on the ground in Venezuela.
Venezuelan state TV showed showed authorities handling a a shirtless Sequia in handcuffs.
Maduro’s ally and Attorney General, Tarek William Saab said they’ve arrested 114 people suspected to be involved in the attack and they are hunting down 92 others.
Venezuela has been in a deepening political and economic crisis under Maduro’s rule. Crumbling public services such as running water, electricity and medical care have driven nearly 5 million to migrate.
But Maduro still controls all levers of power despite a U.S-led campaign to oust him. The US government recently indicted Maduro as a drug trafficker and offered a $15 million reward for his arrest.