Police rescue two Spaniards from Colombian kidnapping nightmare

Vacationing couple from Asturias abducted while driving in a remote region in Colombia

Ángel Sánchez and María Concepción Marlaska arrive Saturday in Bogota.
Ángel Sánchez and María Concepción Marlaska arrive Saturday in Bogota.Luis Acosta (AFP)

At midnight Friday, in the middle of a desert just 15 minutes from the Venezuelan border, a month-long nightmare ended for Spaniards Ángel Sánchez Fernández and María Concepción Marlaska Sedano. The two residents of Asturias had been held captive for 29 days by a criminal gang until a squad of Colombian police officers, dressed in civilian clothes, came to their rescue.

They were held at a small ranch in Kalatain, a hamlet inhabited by the indigenous Wayuu tribe located in Maicao province, La Guajira department, in a remote part of north Colombia.

The area is so out-of-the-way that it is difficult to get around in a vehicle unless a driver is accompanied by a guide who knows the region.

Ángel and María Concepción — a relative of High Court Judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska — were tied up during their first five days in captivity, before being moved from one place to another. The water they drank came from a nearby river, and was brought in by the criminal band on a mule. They were fed goat, which is abundant in that region, and arepas — a cornmeal patty that is a staple in Colombia and Venezuela.

The couple’s rescue occurred with lightning speed and without the police firing a shot. Unfortunately, all seven kidnappers — who included some Wayuu and Arihuana tribe members — fled into the desert before they could be caught. But police say they have identified them and will continue their search.

The couple’s rescue occurred with lightning speed and without a shot fired

María Concepción, 43, and Ángel, 49, arrived in Bogota on Saturday in a police jet looking like regular tourists, apart from the bullet-proof vests they were wearing. Ángel gave a “thumbs-up” to the scores of journalists who were waiting at the airport before he and María Concepción climbed inside an ambulance that took them to a police hospital for a medical checkup.

On Sunday, Sánchez and Marlaska appeared before the press in Bogota where he popped the question to her.

“I am going to do something that I never thought I would ever do, and never under these circumstances, which is to ask you to marry me,” said the 49-year-old Sánchez. “I hope you don’t say no.” Laughing and saying that she felt like she was in “a contest on television, Marlaska gave him a loud “yes” in front of reporters

I want to see my friends, go back to work and above all, see my family”

“I want to see my friends, go back to work, and above all, see my family,” she said. “I want to go back to doing the things that I did, and try to forget this ordeal, little by little.”

Isidoro Sánchez, Ángel’s brother, said in a telephone interview from Spain that despite the couple’s ordeal their captors were good to them. “They are fine, just a bit slimmer, and very tired, but they are fine,” he said. “The important thing is that their nightmare is over and they will soon be home.”

General Humberto Guatibonza, director of the police’s anti-kidnapping Gaula squad, said that Venezuelan and Spanish authorities also helped in the rescue. The police offered to pay a 500,000-euro ransom the kidnappers were demanding. But the criminal gang was divided over whether or not to allow the couple to be turned over.

Two undercover police officers, fluent in the Wayuu Indian dialect, were able to infiltrate the group, which helped paved the way for the rescue, Guatibonza said.

The couple will remain in Bogota for a short time, where they will give statements to the police. The investigation now centers on capturing their kidnappers.

The Spanish couple was discovered missing on May 17 when the rented vehicle they were driving was found abandoned at a Wayuu ranch. According to Guatibonza, the kidnappers at first wanted to rob them, but decided to demand a ransom when they heard their foreign accents.

Although La Guajira department leads the nation in coal and natural gas production, the small law enforcement presence in the region has helped criminal groups, including drug traffickers and smugglers, take advantage of the situation. Among the groups operating from there are Los Urabeños, Los Rastrojos and a unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Two men busted in Madrid over ransom money

JESÚS DUVA, Madrid

National Police officers arrested two men in Madrid on Saturday in connection with the ransom money that was paid to free the Spanish couple rescued in Colombia. According to police sources, one of the men is Spanish while the other suspect is Syrian.

The ransom money — 100,000 euros in cash — was deposited somewhere next to the Palacio de Hielo mall and skating rink in Madrid’s Hortaleza district. Officers from the police’s anti-kidnapping squad witnessed the money being picked up by two people, who were later tailed for the rest of the day.

On Saturday, officers arrested 57-year-old Juan José B. M. at his home in Paracuellos del Jarama. About an hour later, the police also detained 28-year-old Louray A., who was born in Syria, at his home in the Fuencarral-El Pardo district.

Juan José, who owns a transportation business, has had two previous arrests for drug trafficking and fraud. He was convicted and sentenced in 1994 but two years later he received a pardon from the government of Prime Minister José María Aznar.

The Syrian suspect has no criminal record but members of the money laundering unit Sepblac had been investigating him for bank transfers he made, according to sources.

The suspects, who are in police custody, had been in contact with the kidnappers, police sources said. The two knew each other through the transportation business and had worked together in the sale of trucks.

The Syrian national was the manager of a company that was involved in the sale and export of heavy equipment.

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