Venezuela accuses U.S. man of arms trafficking, attempted murder

A criminal court in the Venezuelan border state of Táchira on Wednesday ordered the detention of a U.S. citizen pending investigation into allegations of arms trafficking, criminal association and attempted homicide, the Ministry of Information reported.

The ministry said that Todd Michael Leininger, who authorities have described as a 32-year-old from Florida, was detained after allegedly shooting and injuring Jorge Santos Sandoval. Leininger’s Florida hometown was not released.

Authorities said Leininger was detained on Monday and that they recovered five weapons from his home, including two handguns and three rifles. One of the rifles had a telescopic site. Authorities said they also confiscated eight “camouflage” uniforms.

The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Caracas on Wednesday could not confirm the report.

Táchira Gov. Vielma Mora on Wednesday displayed the confiscated weapons and a photocopy of what he said was Leininger’s passport — showing a bearded, heavy-set man.

“This citizen was prepared to cause collateral damage and death in the state of Táchira,” Mora said in a press release. “We have information that he was being well paid by elements of the right-wing in Venezuela.”

San Cristóbal, an opposition stronghold and the capital of Táchira, has been at the epicenter of anti-government protests that have left at least 41 dead since February. The Venezuelan government has often accused the United States and other foreign governments of fueling the unrest in hopes of toppling the socialist administration of President Nicolás Maduro.

Mora said Leininger entered Venezuela from neighboring Colombia about two months ago. Two women are also being investigated in the case.

The government often makes high profile arrests only to have them quietly buried. In the last few months, authorities have said they arrested a “Chinese mercenary” and a “Middle Eastern terrorist” but have provided little evidence to back the allegations.

One of the alleged terrorism suspects, Jayssam Mokded, had at least three businesses registered in Doral, Fla. Calls seeking information to the attorney general’s offices in Caracas and Aragua state, where Mokded was arrested, have not been returned.

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