COLOMBIA’S President has hailed the killing by police of Pedro Guerrero, a notorious drug lord known as “The Knife” who had a $US2.5 million American bounty on his head.
Authorities say the former paramilitary, known by his Spanish moniker “Cuchillo,”was responsible for the death of some 3000 people, mostly when he led a unit with the right-wing United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC).
Guerrero, 40, had a US bounty on his head for his role in smuggling illegal drugs into the US.
“The assassin of assassins fell,” said President Juan Manuel Santos, speaking at the headquarters of Colombia’s national police in Bogota. “We have been after him for many years.”
President Santos described Guerrero’s death as “the most powerful blow we have delivered to the narco-paramilitary gangs.”
Some 200 police commandos struck Guerrero’s hideout in the rural southeastern town of Puerto Alvira late on December 24, when Christmas is traditionally celebrated.
After a fierce gun battle police arrested seven group members, including the gang’s head of finances Harold Rojas Pineros, also known as “Loco Harold” (Mad Harold).
Police could not initially find Guerrero, but discovered his body late yesterday some 200m from the fiercest exchanges.
The body was decomposing, but forensic experts confirmed it was the drug lord by checking his fingerprints.
Two police officers were killed in the fighting, President Santos said.
At the press conference, national police chief Oscar Naranjo showed reporters Guerrero’s pistol with a gold-plated grip, as well as a long butcher’s knife he said the drug lord used to slit his victims’ throats.
Guerrero headed a gang of former right-wing fighters that refused to demobilise in 2006 when the AUC reached a deal with then-president Alvaro Uribe.
“Cuchillo” and his men kept their weapons and formed a splinter group called the Popular Revolutionary Antiterrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC), which quickly diversified into Colombia’s thriving illegal drug trade.
The ERPAC, which is active in much of central Colombia, has about 1000 fighters and is one of six groups of former paramilitary fighters now involved in the drug trade, according to Colombian authorities.
The ERPAC features on the US Treasury’s list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers, people and groups banned from doing business with US citizens.
The group “operates in eastern Colombia to protect coca crops and drug trafficking routes” in partnership with the FARC, a group Washington considers a “narco-terrorist organisation,” a recent Treasury statement says.