4 detained in kidnapping of footballer's father

Three of the suspects are members of a gang known as Los Primos or, alternatively, Los Primates, which handled the logistics of the kidnapping

By AFP

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Luis Manuel Diaz (right) is consoled by his wife Cilenis Marulanda during a press conference at his house in Barrancas, Colombia on Friday. — AFP
Luis Manuel Diaz (right) is consoled by his wife Cilenis Marulanda during a press conference at his house in Barrancas, Colombia on Friday. — AFP

Published: Sat 11 Nov 2023, 10:36 PM

Police in Colombia have detained four people suspected in the kidnapping of the father of Liverpool footballer Luis Diaz, who was held hostage for nearly two weeks by members of the ELN guerilla group, officials said Saturday.

Luis Manuel Diaz was freed on Thursday, 12 days after being abducted by armed men on motorcycles at a gas station in the town of Barrancas near the Venezuelan border.

"We have detained four people allegedly responsible for the kidnapping of Luis Manuel Diaz," the National Police of Colombia said in a statement on social media platform X.

According to the authorities, three of the suspects are members of a gang known as Los Primos or, alternatively, Los Primates, which handled the "logistics of the kidnapping" for ELN.

ELN, which is in peace negotiations with the government and is party to an ongoing six-month ceasefire, has described the kidnapping by one of its units as a "mistake."

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Two men with the nicknames "Marlon" and "El Negro" were arrested at dawn on Saturday in the municipality of Maicao in northern Colombia.

Another suspect, alias "Arenca," had been detained on October 31 in neighboring Barrancas, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Police found two firearms hidden in a piece of furniture in the home of one of the suspects. The name of the fourth suspect was not revealed.

The elder Diaz's wife Cilenis Marulanda was kidnapped together with him on October 28, but was rescued hours later.

On Thursday, after days of intense negotiations, the rebels handed Diaz over to humanitarian workers at an undisclosed location in the Serrania del Perija mountain range. He was then flown by helicopter to the city of Valledupar, some 90km (55 miles) from his hometown.

Hours later, he arrived by car to neighbours celebrating with drums and trumpet music outside his home, which was under police guard.

The abduction threatened to derail high-stakes peace negotiations between the ELN and the government of leftist President Gustavo Petro.

On Friday, Diaz told reporters he hoped his release was a step toward "peace in Colombia, so that everyone, and all the hostages, will have a chance to be free."

Luis Manuel Diaz was the founder and amateur coach of the only football academy in Barrancas, where his son showed promise from a very young age.

Known locally as "Mane," Diaz Sr. is credited with aiding the meteoric rise of the Liverpool and Colombia striker.

On Friday he said he had been held by two different groups during the kidnapping.

"I felt a change after three days, when it seemed that I was already in the hands of the ELN. They spoke to me differently and treated me differently," he told reporters.

Petro took office last August with the stated goal of achieving "total peace" in a country ravaged by decades of fighting between the security forces, leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs.

More than 38,000 people have been kidnapped in Colombia over the years, mainly by armed groups raising funds with ransom money.

According to official data, the ELN still holds about 30 hostages.

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