Venezuela has charged two former United States soldiers with “terrorism” and “conspiracy” for allegedly taking part in a failed armed incursion aimed at toppling President Nicolas Maduro, according to officials.
Luke Alexander Denman and Airan Berry were among 31 people captured by the Venezuelan military who said they thwarted an attempted invasion by mercenaries in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Prosecutor General Tarek William Saab said on Friday they had been charged with “terrorism, conspiracy, illicit trafficking of weapons of war and (criminal) association”, and could face 25-30 years in prison.
Several attackers were reportedly killed in the ill-fated incursion.
Saab said Venezuela had requested an international arrest warrant for the capture of Jordan Goudreau, a former US Army veteran who leads a Florida-based company that says it offers paid strategic security services. Goudreau said in media interviews he organised the operation in Venezuela.
Maduro has accused US President Donald Trump of being directly behind the invasion, which came at a time of high tension between Washington and Caracas, and Saab said on Friday the Venezuelans involved would be tried for “conspiracy with a foreign government”.
Trump rejected the accusation, telling Fox News on Friday: “If I wanted to go into Venezuela, I wouldn’t make a secret about it.”
“I’d go in and they would do nothing about it. They would roll over. I wouldn’t send a small little group. No, no, no. It would be called an army,” he said. “It would be called an invasion.”
Venezuela announced on Monday it arrested the two former US special forces soldiers and on Wednesday Maduro, who showed the pair’s passports on state television, said they would be tried.
The US army has confirmed they were former members of the Green Berets who were deployed to Iraq.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government would “use every tool that we have available to try to get them back”.
In announcing the arrests, Saab claimed Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is backed in his challenge to Maduro’s authority by the US and more than 50 countries, was behind the mission.
Saab accused Guaido of signing a $212m contract with “hired mercenaries” using funds seized by the US from the state oil company PDVSA.
Guaido has denied having any involvement in the incursion.