FARC Accused of Kidnapping American

Authorities say FARC rebels targeted a U.S. businessman in Panama April 4.

February 11, 2009, 9:17 PM

April 29, 2008— -- Photos of three Americans held by Colombian guerrillas are displayed prominently in the lobby of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota — and there might soon be an addition to that wall.

Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, allegedly targeted Cecilio Juan Padron, a Cuban-American man on a business trip in Panama earlier this month, U.S. law enforcement and diplomatic officials told ABC News.

Padron was reportedly kidnapped by the FARC in Panama City, Panama. Three Panamanian police officers were allegedly involved in the April 4 kidnapping and then turned Padron, a Cuban exile with dual citizenship, over to the FARC for an unspecified sum of money, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.

The Panamanian officers have been arrested and are awaiting formal charges.

While the FARC has been notorious for high profile hostage-takings, such as that of Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, with the alleged Panama kidnapping they now appear to be extending the practice abroad.

The rebel group has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

Currently the FARC is also holding three U.S. government contractors who were working for California Microwave Systems, a division of Northrop Grumman, in Colombia. Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves have been held since their plane crashed in Colombia during a 2003 surveillance mission.

U.S. officials estimate that the FARC is currently holding more than 700 hostages.

In an interview with Colombian TV last year, President Bush said, "You're making it clear to the world the kind of people you are when you take innocent life and hold them hostage. And it's very sad for the families here in America. I'm deeply concerned about their fate."

As for Padron's disappearance, Tom Mesa, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Panama, told ABC News on Tuesday, "We have seen news reports of the kidnapping. This is an ongoing investigation by Panamanian authorities for the kidnapping. We refer you to the Panamanian authorities for details."

Calls to the Panamanian and Colombian embassies in Washington for comment were not immediately returned.

The FBI's legal attachés in Panama City and Bogota are working the investigation and circumstances concerning the kidnapping, according to sources who refused to be named due to the sensitivity of the case. Sources also say the U.S. embassy in Panama has been in touch with Padron's family.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the investigation. A Justice Department spokesman also declined to comment on the matter.

According to local media reports, two other unknown individuals were involved in the kidnapping. U.S. officials said these men might have been members of the FARC or FARC go-betweens.

Padron was said to have been working on some recent deals in Panama when he was kidnapped. He has been actively involved in the leadership of the Cuban American National Foundation, the largest Cuban organization in exile in the United States.

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