World

Member of Colombian terrorist group pleads guilty to kidnapping of 3 Americans

403499 01: (COLOMBIA OUT) Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) listen to news from other FARC locations operating in the region April 7, 2002 in Cundinamarca, Colombia. The FARC guerrillas, once in San Vicente del Caguan, are now regrouping in the mountains of southern Bogota to allegedly start a new war strategy against the capital. (Photo by Carlos Villalon/Getty Images)

403499 01: (COLOMBIA OUT) Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) listen to news from other FARC locations operating in the region April 7, 2002 in Cundinamarca, Colombia. The FARC guerrillas, once in San Vicente del Caguan, are now regrouping in the mountains of southern Bogota to allegedly start a new war strategy against the capital. (Photo by Carlos Villalon/Getty Images)

A member of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia faces a possible life sentence after admitting his role in the 2003 kidnapping of three Americans.

Diego Alfonso Navarrete Beltran pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington to three counts of hostage-taking, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The FARC is Colombia's main rebel movement, formed in 1964 as the armed wing of the Colombian Communist Party. U.S. authorities say it evolved into a major armed force financed by drug trafficking, hostage-taking and extortion. It has been on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997.

Then-U.S. contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves were conducting counter-drug aerial surveillance in southern Colombia in February 2003, when they were forced to crash land their plane on a mountainside and taken captive.

Two others aboard the plane — American contractor Thomas Janis and Colombian army Sgt. Luis Alcides Cruz — were killed by FARC rebels at the crash site.

U.S. authorities say Beltran, 43, guarded the hostages, who were often chained together and led on forced marches through the Colombian jungle. They were held in cages, left outside to face the elements and received no medical attention as their physical conditions deteriorated.

Colombian military forces rescued the three Americans in 2008, after more than five years in captivity.

Beltran was extradited from Colombia to the United States in 2014.

Two other FARC members were previously convicted for their roles in the hostage-taking. FARC commander Alexander Beltran Herrera was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

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