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Captured US spy charged in alleged terrorist plot

Published:Wednesday | September 16, 2020 | 12:10 AM


Venezuela’s chief prosecutor on Monday said a US citizen recently arrested in the country as a suspected spy has been charged in an alleged terrorist plot to sabotage oil refineries and electrical service in order to stir unrest.

The man, alleged to have CIA ties, had help from three Venezuelan conspirators, who were arrested with him last week near a pair of oil refineries on the country’s north Caribbean coast, Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab said on state television.

The office gave the US suspect’s name as Matthew John Heath.

Authorities said cell phones taken from the men when they were arrested last week include images of suspected targets, including a large bridge in Zulia state, military installations and dilapidated oil refineries in Falcon state. The prosecutor showed pictures of equipment allegedly seized from the group, including a grenade launcher, plastic explosives, a satellite phone and a bag of US dollars.

“Everything here could qualify as a lethal weapon designed to cause harm and to promote assassinations, crimes against the people of Venezuela,” said Saab, who also accused the man of planning to open a drug trafficking route through Venezuela.

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

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

The arrest surfaced as this nation, once wealthy from oil, has been gripped by a deep gasolene shortage that has sparked mile-long lines to fuel up, even in the capital of Caracas. Venezuela also struggles to provide electricity to residents, especially in Zulia state, once a major hub of the nation’s vast oil production.

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