Spain accuses Venezuela to be linked to terror groups

Accusations by Spanish authorities that Venezuela aided an alliance between Basque and Colombian terror groups that plotted joint attacks in Colombia and Spain have revived a debate over Venezuela’s possible role as a state sponsor of terrorism.

A February 24 indictment issued by Judge Eloy Velasco of Spain’s anti-terrorism court specifically cites “Venezuelan governmental cooperation” with 12 members of the Basque separatist group ETA and guerrillas of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The groups have been accused of training together to make sophisticated bombs and of plotting to assassinate Colombian President Alvaro Uribe with the support of Venezuelan officials.

Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chavez has reacted angrily to the latest charges. He called the court findings “daring accusations without the slightest proof.”

Mr. Chavez did not deny, however, that indicted ETA militant Arturo Cubillas Fontan has been on the Venezuelan government payroll. He said he would not be surprised if Spain was seeking his extradition and explained that Mr. Fontan had been given asylum in Venezuela by a previous government.

In statements released last weekend, the Venezuelan and Spanish governments said they had “surpassed difference,” and vowed to cooperate against terrorism.

Mr. Chavez publicly called on Spain to keep a “closer eye on its court system.”

Mr. Fontan has been employed as a deputy director for administration and services in Venezuela’s Ministry for Land and Agriculture since 2005.

Spanish authorities describe Mr. Fontan as a murder suspect who is “responsible for the ETA collective in this zone of Latin America since 1999, in charge of coordinating relations with FARC.”

The 26-page indictment presented by Judge Velasco is based on intercepted electronic messages between FARC commanders, corroborated by police interrogations of FARC defectors and testimonies from captured members of ETA. The report also draws on past intelligence reports about contacts between ETA and FARC representatives in Cuba.

Venezuela is accused of providing protection for joint training programs arranged by Mr. Fontan. The report describes a 20-day course on weapons and explosives handling given at a jungle hide-out inside Venezuela, based on testimonies from FARC defectors who say they participated in the training at the time.

According to the Spanish indictment, e-mails between FARC leaders also mentioned the possibility of using ETA to mount assassinations against Colombian officials living in Spain, including former President Andres Pastrana and Colombian Ambassador Noemi Sanin.

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