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US mercenary says group plotted to seize Venezuela's presidential palace

Handout picture released by the Venezuelan Presidency showing the passport of arrested US citizen Airan Berry, during a video conference meeting with international media correspondents, at Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, on May 6, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

An American soldier of fortune captured during a botched attempt to seize Venezuela’s leader has claimed his group had plotted to raid Nicolas Maduro’s presidential palace before spiriting him away “however necessary”.

Airan Berry, 41, was one of two US mercenaries captured by Venezuelan security forces this week after what appears to have been a catastrophically executed attempt to topple Maduro by sneaking into the South American country in a pair of weather-beaten fishing boats.

In an edited televised confession, broadcast by Venezuelan state television on Thursday, Berry claimed one of the group’s key objectives was to commandeer the heavily fortified Miraflores palace in the capital, Caracas.

Asked how they planned to extract Maduro from the 19th-century building, the Iraq veteran answered, “I’m not exactly sure – however necessary.”

Berry said the group had also planned to “secure the airstrip” at La Carlota, a military airbase at the heart of Venezuela’s capital, in order to fly Maduro out of the country.

The base is six miles west of the Miraflores palace and was the scene of a failed attempt to spark a military uprising against Maduro on 30 April last year.

Asked where the plane would have taken Maduro, Berry, a former special forces engineer sergeant in the US army, replied, “I assume that it is the United States.”

Berry’s declarations were broadcast one day after a similar video featuring the group’s other North American member, Luke Denman.

Denman, 34, told his interrogators his mission had been to apprehend Maduro and take him to the US. “I thought I was helping Venezuelans take back control of their country,” he said.

There was no sign any lawyers were present during either alleged confession, or that the men were not speaking under duress.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ephraim Mattos, a former Navy Seal who knows Denman, said the former special forces soldier appeared to signal he was speaking under duress by moving his eyes while talking about Donald Trump’s supposed involvement in the planned attack.

“He looks off screen real quick,” Mattos told the newspaper. “That’s him clearly signaling that he’s lying. It’s something that special forces guys are trained to do.”

Berry named two other highly sensitive targets in his statement: the installations of Venezuela’s military counter-intelligence service, DGCIM, and the Bolivarian national intelligence service, Sebin.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised eyebrows this week by denying “direct” involvement in the plot.

The Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has also been linked to the conspiracy, has denied currently being involved with the US-based private security firm that employed Berry and Denman. But his spokespeople have declined to say whether they previously did have such connections.

(Source: The Guardian) 

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