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Nicolás Maduro, the embattled leader of Venezuela, said Monday that authorities in Caracas captured 13 “terrorists”—including two U.S. citizens– in a failed invasion attempt that he said was no doubt orchestrated by the Trump administration.
Maduro made a nationwide broadcast on state television and held up a pair of U.S. passports that he said were recovered. He read off the names and birthdays of the two Americans.
“They were playing Rambo,” he said, according to the Guardian. “They were playing hero.”
The two U.S. citizens were identified as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both former U.S. special forces soldiers. Video emerged that purported to show Venezuelan authorities with their captives lined up at a seaside marina.
Maduro said the U.S. government is “fully and completely involved in this defeated raid,” the Associated Press reported. He praised citizens from a fishing community for cornering one of the groups he described as “professional American mercenaries.”
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to an after-hours email from Fox News. The Washington Post reported that U.S. officials and Juan Guaidó, the leader of the Venezuelan opposition, denied any involvement with the action called “Operation Gideon.”
The Guardian reported that Guaidó’s team denied any connection to Florida-based ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau who said earlier Monday that his mission intended to detain Maduro and “liberate” Venezuela. Goudreau has claimed responsibility for the operation. The AP reported earlier that Goudreau was working with a retired Venezuelan army general facing U.S. narcotics charges along with other defectors. The report said the makeshift army of about 60 lacked U.S. support.
Venezuela and the United States broke diplomatic ties last year amid heightened tensions, so there is no U.S. embassy in Caracas.
Goudreau said earlier Monday that he was working with the two men who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with him in the U.S. military. He told the Washington Post that he has been in touch with a lawyer in Venezuela and has been reaching out to the State Department. He called on the U.S. to retrieve the captured men.
“They are Americans,” he said. “They are ex-Green Berets. Come on.”
Kay Denman, the mother of one of the Americans, told the AP the last time she heard from her son was a few weeks when he texted her from an undisclosed location to ask how she was coping with the coronavirus pandemic. She said she never heard her son discuss Venezuela and only learned of his possible capture there after his friends called when they saw the reports on social media.
“The first time I heard Jordan Goudreau’s name was today,” she said when reached at her home in Austin, Texas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.