Overview: Colombia experienced a significant decrease in terrorist activity in 2016, according to Defense Ministry statistics, due in large part to a bilateral cease-fire between government forces and Colombia's largest terrorist organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Congressional approval of a peace accord between the government and the FARC on November 30 put in motion a six-month disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process. In contrast to 2015, since August, there has been only one lethal confrontation between the military and FARC forces, resulting in the death of two guerrillas. Anecdotal reports from mayors and military contacts confirmed some FARC members continued extortion activities.

Talks between the government and the other major terrorist organization in Colombia, the National Liberation Army (ELN), were announced on October 10. Earlier in the year, President Santos ordered the military to intensify strikes against the ELN to push negotiations, while the ELN continued to conduct kidnappings, assassinations, and bombings. Colombian military statistics show a 94 percent increase over 2015 in the number of ELN members who demobilized.

Overall, the number of members of the FARC and ELN who were either killed in combat, captured, or demobilized, decreased compared to 2015. The number of civilian deaths from conflicts with guerilla organizations also decreased significantly. Colombian-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation remained strong. While Colombia has openly condemned ISIS and its objectives, it is not a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

2016 Terrorist Incidents: Colombian government statistics showed a 55 percent decrease in attacks from 2015. FARC attacks against the Colombian military stopped almost entirely after the June 23 bilateral cease-fire. The ELN continued low-cost, high-impact asymmetric attacks, such as launching mortars at police stations or the military, explosive devices placed near roads and paths, sniper attacks, and ambushes. Among the 2016 attacks, several were notable for their severity or press coverage:

  • In February, the ELN initiated a wave of violence, kidnapping military intelligence official Jair de Jesus Villar from a power plant in Antioquia on February 4, killing a police officer in Cauca on February 5, attacking the military's 18th Brigade in Arauca with cylinder bombs on February 8, bombing the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline in Boyacá on February 9, and throwing grenades that wounded eight police officers in the city of Cucuta on February 10.

  • On May 22, the ELN kidnapped three journalists in Norte de Santander. President Santos launched an 800-strong police search, and the ELN surrendered the journalists to a Catholic Church delegation after six days.

  • From July 3-5, the ELN killed six members of Colombia's security forces: three marines in Vichada, a soldier in Antioquia, and two policemen in Nariño.

  • On October 27, the ELN killed two civilian truck drivers in the Arauca, one of Colombia's biggest oil producing regions.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The investigation and prosecution of terrorism cases in Colombia is governed by Section 906 of Colombia's Criminal Procedure Code. The purpose of Section 906 is to develop an evidence-based justice system with a "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof. Most terrorism cases are prosecuted under legal statutes also used for narcotics trafficking and organized crime.

The Attorney General Office's specialized Counterterrorism Unit has prosecutors assigned at the national level in Bogotá and in conflict-heavy regions. The unit has developed expertise in investigating and prosecuting acts of terrorism with the Attorney General's Technical Criminal Investigative Body, Colombia's National Police (CNP), and the country's military forces. The Attorney General's Office also has specialized prosecutors embedded with CNP anti-kidnapping and anti-extortion units throughout the country to handle kidnapping-for-ransom and extortion cases. Such efforts are now focused on the investigation and prosecution of ELN and other armed groups, as opposed to the FARC.

The U.S. Department of Justice, through its International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, continued to work with the Attorney General's Office and other agencies on the development of a Standards and Training Commission to develop minimum standards for investigators, forensic experts, and criminal analysts. Forensic labs are in the process of securing international accreditation.

The CNP has specialized counterterrorism units in the Intelligence, Anti-Kidnapping, and Judicial Police Directorates, all with advanced investigation techniques and crisis response capabilities. Law enforcement units displayed effective command and control within each organization and were properly equipped and supported. Counterterrorism missions are demarcated to a limited extent between law enforcement and military units. No single agency has jurisdiction over all terrorism-related investigations and post-incident response, sometimes resulting in poor information sharing and cooperation.

In 2016, Colombian authorities continued to operate military task forces to enhance coordination in countering terrorism. The CNP managed fusion centers to ensure all operational missions coordinated intelligence, investigations, and operations under the command of regional police commanders. Additionally, the National Police Intelligence Directorate continued to operate a 24-hour Citizen Security Center tasked with detecting, deterring, and responding to terrorist attacks, among other crimes.

Colombian border security remained an area of vulnerability. Law enforcement officers faced the challenge of working in areas with porous borders and difficult topography plagued by the presence of illegal armed groups and illicit drug cultivation and trafficking. The CNP lacked the manpower to enforce uniform policies for vehicle or passenger inspections at land border crossings. Biometric and biographic screening was conducted only at international airports. The Colombian government does not use advance Passenger Name Records. Of a total force of 184,000 officers, the CNP has 1,577 officers assigned to Customs Enforcement (air, land, and seaports and borders) duties.

Colombia remained a transit point for the smuggling of third-country nationals who may seek to enter the United States illegally. Compared to 2015, Colombia saw a 387 percent increase in undocumented migrants in 2016, primarily Haitians and Cubans attempting to transit to the United States. Porous borders with Ecuador and Venezuela facilitated the movements of third-country nationals, and existing maritime narcotics smuggling routes facilitated their onward movement to Central America. While Colombian immigration regularly detained third-country nationals who have entered the country illegally, the entity lacked both the personnel and enforcement authority to adequately respond to possible threats, and the financial resources to repatriate migrants.

Colombia continued cooperation and information sharing with the Panamanian National Border Service, while improved relations with neighboring Ecuador led to some increased cooperation on law enforcement issues. Following Venezuela's unilateral border closure in August 2015, the Colombian and Venezuelan governments began to reopen border posts on August 13. On December 12, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro again ordered the closure of the border for 72 hours (which was subsequently extended) in a stated effort to crackdown on currency smuggling. Colombia and Venezuela continued to improve coordinated security and law enforcement efforts, including expanding the Bi-National Joint Command and Control Center to include a Bi-National Center for Fighting Transnational Organized Crime, increasing troops along the border, and considering proposals for maritime and fluvial cooperation.

Significant actions against terrorism in 2016 included:

  • Jairo Alirio Puerta Peña (aka Omar Cuñado), a FARC member allegedly linked to massacres in Chocó in 2002 and Antioquia that left hundreds of civilians dead, was sentenced in June to three years and six months in prison for the crime of aggravated rebellion.

  • On June 25, three ELN members were killed and a fourth arrested when the Colombian military staged a rescue operation to free a kidnapped businessman in Chocó.

  • On September 21, authorities captured ELN members Daniel Andrés Molina and Gonzalo Vega in Santander. Vega is believed to be the commander of the Martha Cecilia Pabón commission of the ELN's Ephraim Pabón Pabón Front. Authorities seized two pistols, 91 cartridges, and one radio.

Law enforcement cooperation between Colombia and the United States remained strong. Evidence sharing and joint law enforcement operations occurred in a fluid and efficient manner. Colombia continued to participate in the State Department's Antiterrorism Assistance program, which provided instruction and resources to assist Colombia in building advanced, self-sustaining CNP capabilities to secure borders from terrorist transit, to investigate terrorists and terrorist incidents, and to protect critical infrastructure. Colombia continued to establish itself as a regional provider of law enforcement and counterterrorism training, particularly with regard to anti-kidnapping efforts and dignitary protection.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Colombia is a member of the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Colombia's Financial Information and Analysis Unit is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. Colombia stands out as a regional leader in the fight against terrorist financing, and has become a key part of a regional financial intelligence unit initiative aimed at strengthening information sharing among Latin American countries. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2016/vol2/index.htm.

Countering Violent Extremism: The passing of a peace accord with the FARC initiated a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process allowing potentially 15,000 FARC combatants and militia members to disarm through June 2017. The accord calls for the establishment of a reincorporation council to determine protocols and institutional arrangements for the reintegration of ex-combatants. The council was formally constituted December 20; however, it is not yet certain what institution will lead the reintegration process.

Colombia continued to employ a modern, multi-agency approach to countering radicalization to violence and violent extremism, with a focus on encouraging individual members and entire units of the FARC and ELN to demobilize and reintegrate into society. In 2016, the number of ex-combatants successfully graduating from the Colombian Reintegration Agency's comprehensive program reached more than 15,000 ex-combatants. The number of FARC members who demobilized decreased, while the Colombian military reported an increase in ELN demobilizations and surrenders. Demobilization and reintegration programs provide medical care, psychological counseling, education benefits, technical training, and job placement assistance for demobilized combatants. To receive benefits, demobilized combatants must check in monthly with program managers. In contrast to last year, due to the peace talks, which included a comprehensive demobilization plan, the Colombian military ended a messaging campaign to promote desertion within the FARC.

International and Regional Cooperation: Colombia is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum and is actively involved in the United Nations, the Organization of American States and its Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism, the Pacific Alliance, and the Union of South American Nations. The CNP operates an INTERPOL office of approximately 90 analysts, agents, and support staff. Colombia also led the creation of the American Police Community (Ameripol) in 2007, and helped found the Latin American and Caribbean Community of Police Intelligence in 2005, whose Technical Secretariat is based in Bogotá.

Colombia is a leader in providing security training and assistance to other countries in the region. The CNP and military continued to operate schools that train security personnel from around the region. In 2016, Colombia conducted 107 security trainings for thousands of non-Colombian individuals on citizen security, crime prevention and monitoring, military and police capacity building, anti-kidnapping, anti-extortion, hostage negotiation, and cybersecurity training. Colombia also provided judicial training to regional judges and prosecutors handling drug trafficking and terrorism cases, offered basic and advanced helicopter training to pilots from countries throughout Latin America, and maintained its elite Lancero and Jungla Special Forces courses open to students from other countries.


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