Colombian drug traffickers have received expert training from British and Israeli mercenaries in how to murder and kidnap their opponents, including the manufacture of sophisticated remote-controlled car bombs, Senate investigators have found.
In a report to be released today, the staff of a Senate subcommittee says that the problem of international narcoterrorism has been complicated by the indifference of Colombian authorities and inadequate law enforcement by Britain and Israel.
"The Colombian cocaine cartels have become substantially more dangerous because of this (foreign) training," concludes the report, prepared by the permanent investigations subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. A copy was obtained by The Times.
In an inquiry directed by Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.), the panel's ranking Republican, the subcommittee is scheduled to take testimony today from a British mercenary who worked in Colombia and from other authorities.
The report quotes two British "soldiers of fortune," David Tomkins and Peter MacAleese, as telling investigators that they were first contacted in England in 1988 about training a shadowy "paramilitary force" in Colombia that was supported by the Colombian military Establishment.
"Although Tomkins and MacAleese said they never were told directly they were working for drug traffickers, both conceded that they soon realized that was the case because the drug traffickers were the only ones in Colombia with the motive and money to sponsor a paramilitary training operation," the report said.
On a second trip to Colombia a year later, the two were hired by the Cali drug cartel to murder Pablo Escobar, leader of the rival Medellin cartel, Senate investigators said. But the plan went awry when a helicopter crashed.
During weapons and bomb-training sessions at a remote jungle camp, mercenaries said that they never learned the identities of their "students." Senate investigators said that the men used arms and explosives purchased from U.S. arms dealers and smuggled into Colombia in large appliances like refrigerators and stoves.
Israeli mercenaries interviewed by the committee made similar claims about being kept in the dark by their employers.
"They learned of their activities being linked to (drug trafficker Gonzalo) Rodriguez Gacha only after accounts began appearing in the Israeli news media," the report said.
Senate investigators determined that a young man shown in a videotape prepared by Israeli mercenaries was Alfredo Vaquero, alias Vladimir. He was arrested in Colombia two years ago on charges of murdering Colombian judges and court workers deemed hostile to the drug leaders.
Yair Klein, one of several Israeli mercenaries whom Senate staffers interviewed in Jerusalem, claimed that he had gone to Colombia to help ranchers and farmers combat the threat of leftist guerrilla groups. Another denied that he had taught Colombians how to make car bombs, saying that he had only instructed his trainees in "constructive demolition techniques," according to the report.
Klein recently was convicted in an Israeli court of exporting military expertise and technology without a permit. He received a suspended sentence.
While Israel often has shown "lack of effective enforcement of existing law," Britain has no laws whatever against its citizens taking part in mercenary activity, committee staff counsel Stephen H. Levin said.