CARACAS – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said authorities arrested two U.S. citizens among a group of “mercenaries” on Monday, a day after a beach raid purportedly aimed at capturing the socialist leader that authorities say they foiled.
Maduro held up a pair of blue U.S. passports, reading off the names and birth dates on them in a nationwide broadcast on state television. He showed images of the fishing boats the alleged attackers rode in on and equipment like walkie-talkies and night-vision glasses collected in what Maduro called an “intense” couple of days. He blamed the attacks on the Trump administration and neighboring Colombia, both of which have denied involvement.
“The United States government is fully and completely involved in this defeated raid," Maduro said, praising members of a fishing village for cornering one group in the sweep netting the “professional American mercenaries.”
Before dawn on Sunday, officials say the first attack started on a beach near Venezuela's port city of La Guaira, when security forces made the first two arrests and killed eight others attempting to make a landing by speedboats.
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 said earlier Monday that he was working with the two men in a mission intending to detain Maduro and “liberate” Venezuela. Goudreau has claimed responsibility for the operation.
The two served in Iraq and Afghanistan with him in the U.S. military, Goudreau said, adding that they were part of this alleged mission in Venezuela called “Operation Gideon.” The aim was to capture Maduro.
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. It recently indicted Maduro as a drug trafficker and offered a $15 million reward for his arrest.