Two 20-year-old Mormon missionaries from Utah were shot to death in La Paz, and left-wing terrorists who took responsibility Thursday threatened a “war to the death” against “Yankee invaders.”
Todd Ray Wilson, of Wellington, and Jeffrey Brent Ball, of Coalville, were returning to their home in a working-class suburb late Wednesday when unidentified men opened fire with submachine guns from a moving car.
The radical Zarate Willka Armed Liberation Front--named for a 19th-Century Indian chief who led a revolt to gain land for peasants--claimed responsibility shortly after the shooting. It is the same group that last August staged a bomb attack against the motorcade of then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz when he was visiting La Paz.
“The violation of our sovereignty cannot go unpunished,” the revolutionaries said in a statement. “The Yankee invaders who come to massacre our fellow farmers are warned. . . . We the poor have no other road than to rise up in arms.
“Our hatred is implacable and our war is to death.”
“We are being targeted unfairly and inappropriately as being imperialists,” Steven R. Wright, head of the Mormon church’s Bolivian mission, said. “We have been targeted because we have a high profile, our missionaries wear shirts and ties and we have nice churches.”
Police say they have no suspects in the killings.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Mark Jacobs said American officials will work closely with Bolivian investigators. He added: “The U.S Embassy deplores and condemns the assassination of two American citizens in La Paz in an act that can only be described as cold-blooded murder.”
Wright said Ball and Wilson came to Bolivia voluntarily and at their own expense nearly a year ago. There are about 40,000 Mormons in the country.
All young Mormon males are encouraged to serve two years as missionaries. Older couples and women serve 18 months.