A huge military and police search is ongoing in Colombia, South America for the father of Liverpool Football Club forward Luis Diaz, with the authorities offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to his rescue, however there are fears that he may now be in Venezuela.
More than 120 soldiers, plus police, searched northern Colombia for Luis Manuel Diaz on Sunday, amid reports armed men had taken him and his wife.
The player’s mother, Cilenis Marulanda, was found in Barrancas on Saturday.
Diaz was absent from the Liverpool team which won against Nottingham Forest on Sunday.
The army said it had set up roadblocks and deployed two motorised platoons, unmanned aircraft, helicopters and a plane with radar in the search for his father.
The Colombian authorities have not provided details about the reported kidnapping, but local media said Diaz’s mother and father were taken by armed men on motorcycles at a gas station in Barrancas, their home town, which is in La Guajira, the country’s northern region.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino wrote on Instagram: “On behalf of Fifa and the global football community, I would like to extend our support and prayers to Luis Diaz, his family and his friends in these difficult times.”
The Colombia Football Federation (FCF) issued a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, to demand the release of Diaz’s father “without conditions”.
It added: “We ask the captors of Luis Manuel Diaz to release him now. Football is peace. Lucho, we are with you. Colombia is with you.”
Colombia President Gustavo Petro said “all the public forces have been deployed” to find Diaz’s father.
Speaking on Sunday, the director of the National Police, General William Rene Salamanca, announced a reward of “up to 200m pesos” (about UK £40,000) for information.
Attorney General Francisco Barbosa said he had contacted Diaz twice to provide him with updates on the investigation.
Barbosa told Diaz that information has been obtained regarding the possibility that his father could be in Venezuela – a situation which, Barbosa said, would require intervention by President Petro.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp dedicated Sunday’s 3-0 Premier League victory over Forest to Diaz, saying they had won “for our brother”.
Surrounded by his team-mates, Diogo Jota held up Diaz’s number seven shirt after scoring Liverpool’s first goal.
Liverpool said before the game that they were aware of the situation involving the family of Diaz and that his welfare “will continue to be our immediate priority”.
The number of kidnappings in Colombia has fallen massively since 2000, when more than 3,500 people were seized by guerrilla groups or criminal gangs. For the past years it has been in the low hundreds.
But this year that number has been on the rise, doubling from 77 in the first six months of 2022 to 161 in the same period in 2023, according to Colombia’s ministry of defence. Almost all of the kidnappings are now carried out for ransom, the ministry says.
The border area with Venezuela, where Diaz’s parents were reportedly seized, is among the worst hit as gangs which also engage in smuggling and people trafficking look to make quick money.
They target well-off individuals and demand high sums for their release.
Unverified CCTV footage shared by Colombian media shows men on motorcycles following the car which Diaz’s parents were travelling in, which appears to suggest that they had been singled out by the criminals.
Police have not said if the family has been approached with any ransom demands.
Specialised anti-kidnapping and anti-extortion police units have been deployed to the area to free Luis Manuel Diaz.
A high-ranking source who participates in the operations told SEMANA (This Week), a Colombian media outlet, that the kidnappers took the soccer player’s father on a motorcycle, passing through the following towns: Barrancas, Barrancón, Pele el Ojo, Las Nubes and Curaima.
All of those settlements they passed through were close to the border with Venezuela.
Finally, they left the motorcycles lying on the ground, two of them had been stolen during the chase, to go along the trails, exactly six kilometers from the border. It is not a flat or easy terrain to navigate, on the contrary, it is the thick bush of the Serranía del Perijá.
Police said that they had already identified two people who participated in the kidnapping, bot locating them remains a challenge.
Sources: BBC. SEMANA.