The Venezuelan authorities have arrested two U.S. citizens who are working with a U.S. military veteran who has been responsible for a failed armed robbery into the oil-producing country, President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday.
In a state television speech, Maduro said the authorities had arrested 13 "terrorists" on Monday who were allegedly involved in a conspiracy he had coordinated with Washington to enter and oust the South American country via the Caribbean coast.
The Venezuelan authorities said eight people were killed in the thwarted incident on Sunday.
Maduro showed what he said were the US passports and other IDs of Airan Berry and Luke Denman, who were in custody and had worked with Jordan Goudreau, an American military veteran who runs a Florida-based security company called Silvercorp USA.
"They played Rambo. They played heroes," said Maduro, adding that the Venezuelan authorities had heard of the conspiracy before they were executed.
Goudreau, who identified himself as the organizer of the invasion on Sunday, told Reuters on Monday that Berry and Denman were also involved.
"You work with me. These are my people," he said over the phone.
The State Department did not immediately comment on the alleged arrests. US officials have strongly denied any involvement by the US government in the raids.
A person familiar with the matter said the two US citizens were captured by accomplices on Monday in a two-day summary and were believed to be in the care of Venezuelan military intelligence.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the details came from contacts with Venezuelan security forces.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido questioned the government's version of what happened on Sunday and insisted that Maduro have been trying to divert attention from other issues, including a deadly prison riot and violent gang fighting in Caracas, in recent days.
Guaido's communications team denied media reports Monday that Guaido had ordered Silvercorp to remove Maduro by force, adding that the opposition leader and his allies "had no relationship or responsibility for Silvercorp's actions."
In a statement on Monday evening, Guaido's team said: "We demand that the human rights … of people caught in the past few hours be respected."
Washington has imposed tough economic sanctions on Venezuela to oust Maduro, who accuses it of manipulating 2018 elections. Maduro's government says the United States wants to control Venezuela's massive oil reserves.
"Attack against our fatherland"
The arrests were made on Monday after Maduro's government said on Sunday that mercenaries had attempted speedboats from neighboring Colombia to enter the South American country. Eight people were killed and two were arrested.
Later on Sunday, Goudreau released a video identifying himself with the Venezuelan dissident Javier Nieto as the organizer of the invasion.
Goudreau said in the video that local fighters continue to operate in different parts of the country.
He identified one of the fighters as "Commander Sequea", which appeared to be an indication of Antonio Sequea, who was identified as one of the arrested on Monday by state television.
The Silvercorp website describes Goudreau as a "highly decorated veteran of the Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan".
A Venezuelan state television host showed photos of men lying on the floor with their hands behind their backs on Monday, adding that the group was traveling near the city of Chuao in central Aragua.
The group was "caught by the people, by fishermen," the anchor said.
Cabello released a video of men in black with balaclavas pulling a shirtless man out of a helicopter whom they identified as part of the captured group.
"Without a doubt, the imperialists directed this attack against our homeland," Cabello said on Twitter regarding the US government.
A US official who asked not to be named said the US government was not involved in the incident. Another source, familiar with US intelligence analysis and reporting, also said that US authorities have nothing to do with military incursions in Venezuela.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)