Ex-Salvadoran army officer pleads guilty in sting

AP News
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Posted: May 11, 2011 8:50 PM
Ex-Salvadoran army officer pleads guilty in sting

A former Salvadoran army officer pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal terrorism charges after a nearly yearlong sting operation in which he sought to provide arms to a leftist Colombian rebel group, authorities said.

Hector Antonio Martinez-Guillen, 32, also known as "el Capitan," acknowledged Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria that he sold plastic explosives, automatic rifles and ammunition to a person he believed was a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The rebel group, also known as the FARC, is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride said Martinez-Guillen was motivated by both greed and a desire to help the FARC kill American troops and military consultants in Colombia.

"Mr. Martinez-Guillen fully supported the aims of the FARC," MacBride said after Wednesday's plea hearing.

Martinez-Guillen had only recently left the Salvadoran military when the sting operation began, according to officials. Before that, he had served in Iraq alongside U.S. troops.

According to the indictment, an undercover operative met with Martinez-Guillen in a San Salvador hotel in July 2010 and told the defendant that the rebel group was organizing a brigade to remove American troops and military consultants from Colombia, "dead if it were possible."

Martinez-Guillen said he shared those feelings and made a deal to provide military rifles, including an AK-47 and M-16, and ammunition to another individual he believed was working with FARC.

The sting operation took place almost exclusively in El Salvador, where the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigated the case and has an office.

Authorities said the sting concluded in November, when Martinez-Guillen flew to Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia to participate in what he thought was a FARC drug deal to sell more than $1 million of cocaine.

Martinez-Guillen was arrested at the airport and has remained in custody since.

He faces up to life in prison, though prosecutors agreed as part of a plea bargain to seek no more than 45 years at his sentencing, scheduled for July 29.

He pleaded guilty to two counts _ attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group and carrying a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence.

The man's attorney, federal public defender Todd Richman, declined comment Wednesday.

MacBride said that Martinez-Guillen clearly had the capability to deliver large amounts of arms to FARC, at one point delivering more than 20 pounds of C-4 plastic explosive, according to the indictment.

MacBride said his office is continuing its investigation and that such narco-terrorism cases are a priority. He added that the FARC is particularly dangerous as one of the world's largest cocaine trafficking organizations and because of its anti-American ideology.