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captured American spy accused of suspected terrorist plot

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) The chief prosecutor of Venezuela (AP) said on Monday that a US citizen recently arrested in the country as a suspected spy was indicted in an alleged terrorist plot to sabotage oil refineries and electrical services in order to cause unrest.

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

The office named the American suspects Matthew John Heath.

Authorities said cellphones taken from the men during their arrest last week included images of suspected targets, including a large bridge in Zulia state, military installations and dilapidated oil refineries in the state of Falcon. The prosecutor showed photos of material 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 harm and promote assassinations, crimes against the Venezuelan people, said Saab, who also accused the man of planning to open a drug trafficking route through Venezuela. .

President Nicols Maduro announced on Friday that a suspected unidentified US spy had been captured, claiming he was a Marine and a former CIA agent in Iraq.

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

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

The arrest has surfaced as this once oil-rich nation has been gripped by a severe gasoline shortage that has triggered miles-long lines to refuel even in the capital of Caracas. Venezuela also struggles to provide electricity to residents, especially in Zulia state, once a major hub for the country’s vast oil production.

Heath is accused of targeting the Amuay and Cardon refineries which are part of Paraguana’s massive refinery complex on Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast. However, refineries have stopped producing gasoline and Venezuela depends on shipments from Iran, despite the world’s largest oil reserves.

He is accused of entering Venezuela illegally, the prosecutor said, adding that he did not have a passport but instead had a copy hidden in one of his shoes. The three Venezuelans accused of conspiring with Heath include a military officer, Saab said.

The investigation also resulted in the arrest of four other Venezuelans accused of helping him sneak into the country from Colombia, authorities said.

Saab said Heath worked in Iraq as a communications specialist three months a year from 2006 to 2016 for MVM Inc., a Virginia-based private security outsourcing company.

MVM provided a statement to the AP saying Heath is not currently an employee or contractor of the company.

The arrest follows a failed beach foray in early May that brought two former Green Beret soldiers down to a Venezuelan prison for allegedly participating in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the socialist government.

The two former US special forces soldiers were arrested along with more than 80 Venezuelan rebel fighters who staged a failed beach attack called Operation Gideon aimed at stopping Maduro.

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

The former Green Berets of the Goudreaus force Luke Denman Airan Berry Venezuela were sentenced to 20 years in prison. Authorities say the two have confessed to being part of the plot.

While the Trump administration has denied having anything to do with May’s failed incursion, Washington is backing Venezuelan opposition politician Juan Guaid as the country’s legitimate leader in place of Maduro.

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Follow Scott Smith on Twitter: @ScottSmithAP

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