CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Venezuelan security forces arrested eight people, including two alleged U.S. citizens, following a beach invasion aimed at capturing socialist President NicolÃ¡s Maduro, according to information released Monday by authorities, as more than 25,000 troops mobilized to hunt for other rebels operating in the country.
Powerful socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello posted on his Twitter account a video of a Venezuelan identified as Josnars Adolfo Baduel, who was also detained, saying two U.S. citizens were among those nabbed. Baduel is shown responding to a security official who asks him about two Americans captured.
Venezuelan state television broadcast the video but didn’t identify the Americans. But Florida-based ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau said he was working with the two men in a mission launched early Sunday to â€œliberateâ€ Venezuela. Goudreau has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s operation, which Venezuelan authorities say left eight people dead at a beach near the port city of La Guaira.
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.
The Associated Press could not independently verify that the Americans had been captured.
Goudreau said the men were part of an alleged mission called â€œOperation Gideonâ€ launched before dawn on Sunday that entailed landing boats on the beach.
Venezuela has been in a deepening political and economic crisis under Maduroâ€™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.
Venezuela and the United States broke diplomatic ties last year amid heightened tensions, so there is no U.S. embassy in Caracas.
â€œIâ€™ve tried to engage everybody I know at every level,â€ Goudreau said of the attempt to help his detained colleagues. â€œNobodyâ€™s returning my calls, Itâ€™s a nightmare.â€
Goudreau has said he signed a contract with the U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan GuaidÃ³ to overthrow Maduro, which GuaidÃ³ has denied. The opposition leader said he had nothing to do with Sunday’s raid.
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 said he last communicated with Denman and Berry when they were adrift in a boat â€œhuggingâ€ the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. They were still in their boat following an initial confrontation with the Venezuelan Navy early Sunday, he said.
â€œThey were running dangerously low on fuel,â€ Goudreau said. â€œIf they had gone onto landfall, they would have gone to a safe house.â€
Goudreau said the two were waiting for a boat on the Caribbean island of Aruba with emergency fuel to help extract them.
Venezuelan authorities said Monday they arrested another eight accused â€œmercenariesâ€ in a coastal town and showed images on state TV of several unidentified men handcuffed and lying prone in a street.
Among them was 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 in recent days 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 that in total theyâ€™ve arrested 114 people suspected in the attempted attack and they are on the hunt of 92 others.
Officials in Venezuelaâ€™s government accuse Colombia and the United States of organizing and carrying out the attack aiming to overthrow Maduro. Both U.S. and Colombian officials have denied the Venezuelan allegations.
Goudreau, a three-time Bronze Star U.S. combat veteran, claims to have helped organize the deadly seaborne raid from Colombia early Sunday on a beach near Venezuela’s main port city, which the government said it foiled. Goudreau said the operation had received no aid from GuaidÃ³ or the U.S. or Colombian governments.
Goudreau said by telephone earlier 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.
Opposition politicians and U.S. authorities issued statements suggesting Maduroâ€™s allies had fabricated the assault. Officials have not released the full identities of those they say were killed or detained, though they identified one of the fallen as a man involved with Goudreauâ€™s training camp in Colombia.
An AP investigation published Friday found that Goudreau had been working with a retired Venezuelan army general – who now faces U.S. narcotics charges – to train dozens of deserters from Venezuelaâ€™s security forces at secret camps inside neighboring Colombia. The goal was to mount a cross-border raid that would end in Maduroâ€™s arrest.
GuaidÃ³ on Monday denied having anything to do with an ex-Green Beret who claimed responsibility for the operation to nab Maduro. The government, meanwhile, said it has mobilized more than 25,000 troops to hunt for other rebel cells.
GuaidÃ³ said in a statement that he has â€œno relationship nor responsibility for any actionsâ€ taken by the U.S. war veteran.