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Venezuela says it arrested former US Marine for plotting terror attack on oil refineries

An oil well just outside Zuata, a small oil town in north-central Venezuela. (Alejandro Cegarra/McClatchy DC/TNS)
September 22, 2020

Venezuela claims it arrested a former United States Marine last week and charged him with terrorism for allegedly planning to sabotage the country’s oil refineries and electrical service as a means of causing unrest.

Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab said the suspect, identified as Matthew John Heath, also holds alleged ties to the CIA and claimed he was working with three Venezuelan conspirators when they were arrested near a pair of oil refineries on the north Caribbean coast, CBS News reported.

Heath has been charged with terrorism, trafficking illegal weapons, and conspiracy, CBS News reported. He is accused of targeting the Amuay and Cardon refineries.

While the United States Marine Corps confirmed that a man by the same name did serve in the Marines from 1999 to 2003, they were unable to confirm that the suspect is the same man who served in the Corps.

Prior to leaving the Corps in 2003, Heath was a corporal who was awarded various honors while on active duty and specialized in communications.

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called Heath a suspected U.S. spy, as well as a Marine and former CIA operative in Iraq in an announcement on Friday, Sept. 11.

According to authorities in Venezuela, cellphones taken from those arrested revealed images of suspected targets, including a bridge, military installations, and oil refineries.

A grenade launcher, plastic explosives, a satellite phone and a bag of U.S. dollars were also allegedly confiscated from the men.

“Everything here could qualify as a lethal weapon designed to cause harm and to promote assassinations, crimes against the people of Venezuela,” Saab said.

Venezuela, once an oil-rich nation, has faced a severe gasoline shortage in recent years, causing mile-long lines for gas.

The refineries Heath is accused of targeting are also no longer producing gasoline, and the country struggles to provide electricity to residents, even in the former oil-hub state of Zulia.

Heath allegedly entered Venezuela illegally. Instead of a physical passport, Heath had a copy of his hidden in one of his shoes. Among the Venezuelans arrested with Heath is reportedly a military officer.

In addition to three Venezuelans arrested with Heath, four other Venezuelans were accused of helping him enter the country illegally from Columbia have been apprehended, authorities stated.

This isn’t the first arrest of its kind in recent months. Earlier this year, two ex-Green Beret soldiers allegedly confessed to being part of a plot to overthrow the socialist government of Venezuela, earning them a 20-year sentence in prison. The arrests stemmed from a failed attack, dubbed “Operation Gideon,” which involved 80 rebel fighters aimed at capturing President Maduro.

Operation Gideon was allegedly organized by a U.S.-based private security company, known as Silvercorp USA.

In May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied any claims of U.S. government involvement in the plot, but said the U.S. would “use every tool” to recover the pair of U.S. veterans captured in a failed plot.