By Brian Ellsworth and Angus Berwick
CARACAS, Venezuela, Thurs. May 7, 2020 (Reuters) – Venezuelan state television broadcast on Wednesday a video of captured American Luke Denman, in which he said he was instructed to seize control of Caracas’ airport and bring in a plane to fly President Nicolas Maduro to the United States.
Venezuelan authorities on Monday arrested Denman, another U.S. citizen Airan Berry, and 11 other “terrorists” in what Maduro has called a failed plot coordinated with Washington to enter the country via the Caribbean coast and oust him.
“Donald Trump is the direct chief of this invasion,” Maduro said during a televised virtual press conference, after the video of Denman was broadcast.
U.S. President Donald Trump has denied involvement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the U.S. government would use “every tool” to secure the Americans return, if they were being held in Venezuela.
Denman, 34, in the video from an undisclosed location, answered questions from a person off-camera speaking in English. Denman said his mission was to secure the airport and establish outer security, though it was unclear how they planned to get Maduro on a plane.
In March, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Maduro and a dozen other current and former Venezuelan officials with “narco-terrorism” and the Trump administration offered a reward of $15 million for information leading to his arrest.
“I was helping Venezuelans take back control of their country,” Denman, a former special operations forces member, said in the video.
Denman said he and Berry were contracted by Jordan Goudreau, an American military veteran who leads a Florida-based security company called Silvercorp USA, to train about 50 Venezuelans in Colombia in January for the operation. Goudreau supplied the group with equipment, Denman said.
Venezuelan authorities said they arrested the group by the isolated coastal town of Chuao, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of Caracas’ airport, after locals raised suspicions. Authorities published photos of what they said was the group’s boat, loaded with ammunition, weapons and communication equipment.
Eight people involved in the same operation were killed on Sunday in La Guaira state, near Caracas, Maduro’s government said.
Maduro had originally said he would show videos of the two, but did not end up showing a video of Berry.
Denman said Silvercorp had signed a contract with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to seek Maduro’s removal. Guaido’s team, in a statement, said they had “no relationship with any company in the security and defense branch,” including Silvercorp.
Venezuela would seek the Goudreau’s extradition, Maduro said. Goudreau has confirmed his role in the operation, and could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.
Maduro said that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, via drug cartels, were the “operational and logistical part of this conspiracy.”
A DEA spokeswoman said the DEA had no involvement in the events.
After Denman’s televised statement, a U.S. State Department spokesman reiterated that the U.S. government had nothing to do with the incident. The official declined comment on Denman’s claims.
(Additional reporting by Vivian Sequera Writing by Angus Berwick Editing by Marguerita Choy)