Venezuelan authorities found the bullet-ridden bodies of three Canadian boys who had been kidnapped more than a month ago in the South American country, the justice minister said.
The bodies of 17-year-old John Faddoul, along with his brothers Kevin, 13, and Jason, 12, were found Tuesday afternoon near an electrical tower in Yare, about 30 miles west of Caracas, Justice Minister Jesse Chacon said.
The body of the boy's driver, 30-year-old Miguel Ribas, also was found with them, Chacon said.
"We lament, despite the efforts that were made 24 hours a day since this started, we have not been able to prevent this abominable homicide," Chacon said. "The three boys were identified by a relative."
Police have said that the brothers were abducted Feb. 23 when unidentified men dressed as police stopped their car at a roadside checkpoint in Caracas as the boys were on their way to school.
Authorities have not ruled out the possibility that the kidnappers could in fact be police officers.
"We really do not have words to express our pain to the Faddoul Diab family and the Ribas Guerra family for the abominable and lamentable event today," Chacon said.
Officials have not revealed exactly how much in ransom the kidnappers demanded, but they have said it was more than $4.5 million — a figure circulated in the Venezuelan media. A lawyer for the boys' family, Santiago Georges, said recently that the family was not in a position to pay the sum.
The boys' parents were both born in Lebanon, and their father, John Faddoul, is a naturalized Canadian who has been a businessman in Venezuela for more than 20 years.
The victims were found with gunshot wounds in the head and neck area, and it appeared they had been shot to death at least two days before their bodies were found, judicial police chief Marco Chavez said on state television.
"We're certain that the evidence and the advancements already made in the investigation will allow us to conclude this investigation," Chacon said.
Relatives, friends and classmates of three boys had held vigils and demonstrations in the streets to call for their release.
The killings come just days after a prominent Italian-born businessman, 74-year-old Filippo Sindoni, was abducted and killed.
That case prompted Italy's foreign minister to ask Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government to do everything possible to end the kidnappings of Italians in the country.
In January, officials in Italy said an Italian businesswoman and her 3-year-old son were freed two months after being abducted in Venezuela. Four men were arrested for their roles in the crime, officials said.
Violent robberies, kidnappings and murders are frequent in Venezuela. There were 9,402 homicides reported in 2005, slightly down from 2004, according to government statistics.