CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan authorities say they’ve detained two U.S. citizens accused of involvement in a deadly beach invasion aimed at arresting socialist leader Nicolás Maduro and have mobilized more than 25,000 troops to hunt for other rebels operating in the country.
Venezuelan state television didn't identify the Americans, but Florida-based ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau said 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 say left eight people dead
He identified two former U.S. veterans taken into Venezuelan custody as Luke Denman and Aaron Berry. The two served in Iraq and Afghanistan with him in the U.S. military, Goudreau said.
A Venezuelan also detained, identified as Josnars Adolfo Baduel, says in a video played on state TV that two U.S. citizens were among those nabbed. Baduel is shown speaking to a security force officer in a video posted on the Twitter account of powerful socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello.
The Associated Press could not independently verify that the Americans had been captured.
Goudreau said the men were part of an alleged mission called “Operation Gideon” launched before dawn on Sunday that entailed landing boats onto a beach near the Venezuelan port city of La Guaira.
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.
Goudreau said he last communication with the Denman and Berry 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 early Sunday that left eight Venezuelans dead.
“They were running dangerously low on fuel,” Goudreau said. “If they had gone onto landfall, they would have gone to a safe house.”
Goudreau says the two were waiting for a boat on the Caribbean island of Aruba with emergency fuel to help extract them.
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 ally and Attorney General Tarek William Saab said they’ve arrested 114 people suspected in the attempted attack and they are on the hunt of 92 others.
Officials in Venezuela’s government accuse Colombia and the United States of organizing and carrying out attack aiming to overthrow Maduro.
Both U.S. and Colombian officials have denied the Venezuelan allegations.
“I’ve tried to engage everybody I know at every level,” Goudreau said. “Nobody’s returning my calls, It’s a nightmare.”
The three-time Bronze Star U.S. combat veteran claims to have helped organize a seaborne raid from Colombia early Sunday on the Venezuelan coast, which the government said it foiled, killing eight insurgents and arresting two others. He said the operation had received no aid from Guaidó or the U.S. or Colombian governments.
Goudreau said by telephone Monday that 52 other fighters had infiltrated Venezuelan territory and were in the first stage of a mission to recruit members of the security forces to join their cause.