WASHINGTON (AP) – An alleged member of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia pleaded not guilty on Monday to taking three American citizens hostage after their single-engine plane crash-landed in a remote area of Colombia in 2003.
Extradited to the United States over the weekend, Alexander Beltran Herrera, 35, faces hostage-taking and other terrorism-related charges from the incident. The U.S. government says two others in the plane besides the three taken hostage were murdered at the crash site by members of the group popularly known as FARC.
The organization has been engaged since 1964 in an armed, violent effort to overthrow the Colombian government.
Herrera’s court-appointed lawyer, John Machado, entered the not guilty plea on his client’s behalf at an arraignment Monday. Herrera, a short, slight man with short-cropped hair, listened to the proceedings through a translator.
He will remain incarcerated until at least May 4, when a status conference will be held in his case. Herrera, one of 18 alleged members of FARC indicted last month, faces up to life in prison if convicted of all charges. The other 17 who were indicted are still at large, according to the Justice Department.
Defense contractors Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes, were conducting counter-drug aerial surveillance in southern Colombia when their plane made an emergency landing on a mountainside and they were taken captive. The Americans were rescued by Colombian military forces in 2008 after more than five years in captivity.
In 2009, they were awarded the Defense of Freedom Medal, the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamar-Sanchez told U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth that Herrera had personal responsibility for the three hostages during part of their captivity.
Associated Press Writer Pete Yost contributed to this story
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