Cuban Citizen Captured Attempting to Massacre American Citizens on Behalf of Radical Islam: An Unusual Episode?

A Cuban citizen was captured in Bogota suspected of planning a terrorist attack against U.S. embassy workers in Bogota, one of the largest U.S. embassies in the world. The Colombian police apprehended him after receiving alerts from the FBI and the Spanish Civil Guard.

According to initial reports, the attack was supposed to be carried out on behalf of ISIS. The individual, whose name is Raul Gutierrez Sanchez, was planning the attack under the mentorship and supervision of two individuals, one a resident of Spain and another of Morocco. According to intercepted phone conversations, these two individuals gave precise instructions to Gutierrez Sanchez on how to carry out a suicide bombing operation and how to maximize the number of casualties.

The information is still blurred but Gutierrez Sanchez has been following the movements of the American embassy for a long time and pledged to take revenge for “the death of our brothers”, supposedly referring to ISIS casualties in the Middle East. Yet, an attack of ISIS in Latin America is hardly surprising given some evidence.

We at the Americas Report have been warning about an ISIS presence in Latin America since mid 2016.  At that time the U.S. Southern Command reported that 10% of those who cross the border from Mexico to the United States are of Sunni origin. Then we wrote (http://c4secpol.wpengine.com/2016/09/06/southcom-raises-alarms-on-sunni-extremists-infiltrating-u-s-southern-border/) that “the proximity of Latin America to the United States makes us vulnerable and provides easy access to those wishing to cross over our rather porous southern border.” Likewise, we spoke about the anarchical areas in Northern Mexico and Central America that provide fertile ground for terrorist activities. By the same token, we warned about corruption as being an important tool in the hands of ISIS as it is extremely easy to bribe judges, police, governors, and public officials as drug cartels have widely proved. We also pointed out that the embassy of Venezuela in Baghdad sold passports to whomever paid for them. Given the intense activity of ISIS and Sunni extremists in Iraq, it is possible that some of these passports were sold to ISIS members or individuals associated to the group. This raises the possibility that ISIS may have been one of the beneficiaries of such transactions.

Although the incident shows an ISIS operation directed from remote control, without actual physical presence, the reality is for the time being we don’t know much about Mr. Gutierrez Sanchez and his connections or whether there is a local ISIS network in Colombia. However, if the Southern Command reported about 30,000 Sunni Arabs crossing the border to the United States, we could assume that many of them remain in South America. We also pointed out then that FARC guerillas might be cooperating with ISIS, particularly those who FARC members who refuse to be bound by the peace agreements with the Colombian government. We then pointed out that “If those dissidents from the FARC join forces with ISIS as they have done in the past with Hezbollah, it could have disastrous consequences for the security of the region”

The incident raises eyebrows and the investigation of Mr. Gutierrez Sanchez and his connections are crucial. Who is Gutierrez Sanchez? How did he become involved in ISIS? Who did he connect with in Colombia or in Latin America?

According to some reports, (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/article205272039.html#storylink=cpy)  Gutierrez Sanchez entered Colombia three times and was deported twice from the country. In 2015, he entered the country legally with the aim of eventually moving to the United States. As Colombian authorities found out that he received his visa based on false statements, they proceeded to deport him. Yet, in 2016 he returned to Colombia via Ecuador, was caught again by the Colombian authorities and subsequently deported. Then he entered the country for the third time.

For now, the assessment is that Gutierrez Sanchez acted as a lone wolf. However, if this is the case, this would be the second time an incident like this occurs in Latin America. Early in 2016 a local teacher murdered a Jewish community leader in a town in Uruguay. The man, a convert to Islam, was declared mentally ill and incapable of being responsible for his actions. Yet, what was interesting in this case, is that the perpetrator’s victim was carefully chosen. The murderer, whose name is Carlos Peralta, was an ardent anti-Semite. When the man was interrogated he claimed not to remember anything of what happened. Peralta claimed that he didn’t remember the murder he committed and the Uruguayan judges accepted these outrageous arguments. Likewise, there was no follow up on those who maintained contact with the individual and possibly directed him. He reportedly was in touch with radicals in Egypt, Gaza and other places.  As far as we know, the United States did not follow that case either or ask for any kind of explanations.

This time again, the fact that a lone wolf was located in a country such as Colombia may not be coincidence and may not be the end of the story either.

A Colombian jurist, Carlos Arevalo, expressed concern over the possibility that such incidents may be related to the connections between the FARC and Islamist groups, which were enabled by their “common struggle” and by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez who reportedly used to hold international terrorist conferences involving the FARC, Hezbollah Hamas, the Spanish ETA and others.

According to Arevalo, the FARC has independent connection to Al Qaeda too.

As it has been pointed out, even if the FARC abides by the peace agreements it signed with the Colombian government, there will be a number of dissidents that are likely to continue some of the old FARC habits.  These individuals are more likely to seek association with radical Islamist groups.

Gutierrez Sanchez also planned to carry out terrorist attacks in Argentina where he had contacts with an individual living in that country. Furthermore, his mentors wanted him to obtain Colombian citizenship in order to be able to travel all over the continent freely and perpetrate several such attacks against American citizens.  Argentina would be the first place after Colombia. Of course, it remains unclear how, if in Bogota he were to commit a suicide attack, how would he be able to carry another one in Argentina. He was probably being fooled by his “gurus”. Of course, they probably had other people in mind to commit the next crimes.

So, the real problem are those networks that activate and direct individuals like Gutierrez Sanchez or the Uruguayan teacher.

Nowadays, most Latin American leaders, from the left and the right, have chosen to ignore the issue of Islamic terrorism. Although some security forces have been able to work well on this issue such as Paraguay and Peru, most countries believe that they have more important business to take care of.

About Luis Fleischman

Dr. Luis Fleischman is a Senior Adviser to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. He is also a professor of Sociology at Palm Beach State College. He is the author of the book, "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States."