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Venezuela Says Arrested American Was Planning to Sabotage Oil Refineries


CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said on Monday that a U.S. citizen recently arrested in the country had been charged in an alleged terrorist plot to sabotage oil refineries and electrical service in order to stir unrest.

The man is said to have had help from three Venezuelan conspirators, who were arrested with him last week near a pair of oil refineries on the country’s northern Caribbean coast, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, said on state television.

The U.S. suspect’s name was given as Matthew John Heath.

The authorities said cellphones taken from the men when they were arrested last week included images of suspected targets, including a large bridge in the state of Zulia, military installations and dilapidated oil refineries in the state of Falcón. The prosecutor showed pictures of equipment said to be seized from the group, including a grenade launcher, plastic explosives, a satellite phone and a bag of U.S. dollars.

President Nicolás Maduro announced on Friday that an unnamed person had been captured on suspicion of spying for the United States, saying he was a Marine and former C.I.A. operative in Iraq.

Mr. Heath has been charged with terrorism, trafficking illegal weapons and conspiracy, the authorities said.

The U.S. authorities have not commented on the case. The Associated Press was unable to make immediate contact with Mr. Heath, an attorney or a relative representing him for comment on the accusations.

The arrest surfaced as Venezuela, once wealthy from oil, has been gripped by a deep gasoline shortage. Venezuela also struggles to provide electricity to residents, especially in Zulia, once a major hub of the nation’s formerly vast oil production.

Mr. Heath is accused of targeting the Amuay and Cardon refineries — part of the enormous Paraguaná Refinery Complex on Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast. However, the refineries have ceased producing gasoline, and Venezuela depends on shipments from Iran, despite having the world’s largest oil reserves.

The arrest follows a failed beach incursion in early May that landed two ex-Green Beret soldiers in a Venezuelan jail on suspicion of participating in a failed attempt to overthrow the socialist government.

The operation mounted from makeshift training camps in neighboring Colombia left several rebels dead. It was orchestrated by Jordan Goudreau, an American citizen and three-time Bronze Star recipient who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ex-Green Berets in Mr. Goudreau’s force — Luke Denman and Airan Berry — were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

While the Trump administration denied having anything to do with the bungled May incursion, Washington backs the Venezuelan opposition politician Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader in place of Mr. Maduro.

Apsny News

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