Colombian police captured four members of a crime gang thought to be behind the death of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent James Watson last week after a street robbery, Gen. Jose Roberto Leon, the police chief, said.
The United States has sought the extradition of those involved in the killing, which was not connected to his work as a DEA agent, Leon said. More arrests are expected.
Special Agent Watson, a 13-year veteran of the DEA, caught a taxi outside a restaurant in Bogota’s exclusive Parque de la 93 area late Thursday. Two men entered the taxi as part of a robbery in which the taxi driver also participated. Watson was stabbed then escaped from the taxi and later died in hospital.
“These four people have red Interpol circles around their names and are sought for extradition for the murder of the DEA agent,” Leon told reporters in Bogota.
“They tried to erase the evidence to avoid being detected. They removed the seats of the taxi in which the victim was transported and tried to sell them.”
The buyers of the seats turned out to be investigators, Leon said. A bracelet was also found in the taxi, likely from another robbery. A bloody pair of trousers thought to belong to the driver of the taxi was seized as evidence, he said.
While most robberies in taxi cabs don’t end in death, they are common in Bogota. Victims are taken on what is known as a millionaire ride, in which passengers are driven to a spot where a driver’s accomplices are waiting. The victims are then driven to cash machines where they are forced to withdraw money.
Surveillance video of the streets show a second taxi pulling up behind Watson’s and two men exiting and entering the first. Within seconds, Watson can be seen escaping the taxi and running from it, where witnesses say he collapsed and was taken to hospital.
Crime in Colombia has fallen sharply over the last decade in step with a U.S.-backed offensive against drug gangs, Marxist rebels and paramilitaries. The murder rate has dropped about 36 percent since 2003, the year after President Juan Manuel Santos’ predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, took office on a pledge to improve security.
But poverty remains rife in Bogota and crime is one of the top concerns for its residents.
With the latest arrests, Colombian police have dismantled seven crime gangs that engage in millionaire rides this year, Leon said.
Watson was assigned to the DEA’s office in the coastal city of Cartagena but on temporary duty in Bogota. He was deployed three times to Afghanistan on anti-narcotics missions and had served in the U.S. Army.