CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan security forces arrested eight people, including two alleged U.S. citizens, following a beach invasion aimed at capturing socialist President Nicolás 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 the 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 “liberate” Venezuela. Goudreau has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s operation, which Venezuelan authorities say they foiled and 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 “Operation Gideon” launched before dawn on Sunday that entailed landing boats on the beach.
Venezuela has been in a deepening political and economic crisis under Maduro’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.
“I’ve tried to engage everybody I know at every level,” Goudreau said of the attempt to help his detained colleagues. “Nobody’s returning my calls, It’s a nightmare.”
Kay Denman, the mother of one of the Americans, said the last time she heard from her son was a few weeks when he texted her from an undisclosed location to ask how she was coping with the coronavirus pandemic. She said she never heard her son discuss Venezuela and only learned of his possible capture there after his friends called when they saw the reports on social media.
“The first time I heard Jordan Goudreau’s name was today,” she said when reached at her home in Austin, Texas.
Goudreau has said he signed a contract with the U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to overthrow Maduro, which Guaidó has denied. The opposition leader said he had nothing to do with Sunday’s raid.
Goudreau says Guaidó 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 “hugging” the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. They were still in their boat following an initial confrontation with the Venezuelan Navy early Sunday, he said.
“They were running dangerously low on fuel,” Goudreau said. “If they had gone onto landfall, they would have gone to a safe house.”
Goudreau said the two were waiting for a boat on the Caribbean island of Aruba with emergency fuel to help extract them.
The top U.S. military commander for Latin America said Friday that the Trump administration isn’t looking to use military force to remove Nicolas Maduro even as it expands counternarcotics operations in the Caribbean.
Venezuelan authorities said Monday they arrested another eight accused “mercenaries” 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 shirtless Sequia in handcuffs.
Maduro ally and Attorney General Tarek William Saab said that in total they’ve arrested 114 people suspected in the attempted attack and they are on the hunt of 92 others.
Officials in Venezuela’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. Goudreau said the operation had received no aid from Guaidó 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 Maduro’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 Goudreau’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 Venezuela’s security forces at secret camps inside neighboring Colombia. The goal was to mount a cross-border raid that would end in Maduro’s arrest.
The government, meanwhile, said it has mobilized more than 25,000 troops to hunt for other rebel cells.
Investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.