Venezuelan state television has broadcast a video of detained US citizen Luke Denman in which he speaks of America’s involvement in a failed plot to oust Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.
Mr Denman says he was instructed to seize control of Caracas airport and bring in a plane to fly President Nicolas Maduro to the United States.
Venezuelan security forces on Monday (local time) arrested Mr Denman, another US citizen Airan Berry, and 11 other “terrorists” in what Mr Maduro has called a failed plot co-ordinated with officials in Washington DC to enter the country via the Caribbean coast and oust him.
The men had sneaked into South American country using a flotilla of rickety fishing boats.
“(US President) Donald Trump is the direct chief of this invasion,” Mr Maduro said during a televised virtual press conference after the video of Mr Denman was broadcast.
Mr Trump has denied involvement, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US had no “direct” involvement in the attempted kidnap.
Mr Pompeo said on Wednesday that the US government would use “every tool” to secure the return of its citizens if they were being held in Venezuela.
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In the video, filmed at an undisclosed location, Mr Denman, 34, answered questions from a person off-camera speaking in English.
Mr Denman said his mission was to secure the airport and establish outer security, though it was unclear how they planned to get Mr Maduro on a plane.
In March, the US Department of Justice charged Mr Maduro and a dozen other current and former Venezuelan officials with “narco-terrorism” and the Trump administration offered a reward of $US15 million ($A23 million) for information leading to his arrest.
“I was helping Venezuelans take back control of their country,” Mr Denman, a former special operations forces member, said in the video.
Mr Denman said he and Mr Berry were contracted by Jordan Goudreau, a US military veteran who leads a Florida-based security company called Silvercorp USA, to train about 50 Venezuelans in Colombia in January for the operation. Mr Goudreau supplied the group with equipment, Mr Denman said.
Venezuelan authorities said they arrested the group by the isolated coastal town of Chuao, about 60km 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, Mr Maduro’s government said.
Mr Denman said Silvercorp had signed a contract with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to seek Mr Maduro’s removal. Mr Guaido’s team, in a statement, said they had “no relationship with any company in the security and defence branch,” including Silvercorp.
Venezuela would seek Mr Goudreau’s extradition, Mr Maduro said. Mr Goudreau has confirmed his role in the operation, and could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday (local time).
Mr Maduro said that the US Drug Enforcement Administration, via drug cartels, were the “operational and logistical part of this conspiracy”.
– with agencies