Colombia kingpin Escobar's hitman freed from jail

2014-08-27 12:45
John Jairo Velasquez Vasquez, aka 'Popeye', former leader of sicarios of Pablo Escolar and confessed murderer of about 250 people, taken at Combita prison, in Boyaca. (Carlos Ortega, AFP)

John Jairo Velasquez Vasquez, aka 'Popeye', former leader of sicarios of Pablo Escolar and confessed murderer of about 250 people, taken at Combita prison, in Boyaca. (Carlos Ortega, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Bogota - One of Colombia's most feared drug cartel assassins walked free on Tuesday after serving 22 years in jail for scores of murders ordered by notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar during the cocaine trafficking heyday of the 1980s, police said.

Jhon Jairo Velasquez, known by his alias 'Popeye', was released early from the high security Combita prison in central Boyaca after completing about three fifths of his sentence and receiving a reduction for studying and good behaviour. He left the prison heavily guarded by state-provided protection.

Velasquez, aged 52, was Escobar's chief hit man during the bloodiest days of the infamous Medellin Cartel, which shipped billions of dollars of cocaine to the United States and Europe.

The prolific assassin, who has admitted to killing hundreds of Escobar's enemies, was on the frontlines of grisly gangland battles for territory and trafficking routes. He was indirectly behind thousands of deaths by killers on Escobar's payroll.

One of Escobar's inner circle, Velasquez was allegedly involved in some of the most famous cartel-related crimes - including the 1989 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan and the bombing of an Avianca commercial flight later that same year that killed all 107 on board.

Murdered own girlfriend

As Escobar stepped up his battle against the government to avoid extradition to the United States if captured, the cartel waged a bombing campaign across Bogota, Medellin and Cali, with many of the explosive devices planted by Velasquez.

He kidnapped both Andres Pastrana, when the future president was mayor of Bogota, and Francisco Santos, who later became vice president and is a cousin of President Juan Manuel Santos.

Perhaps the most shocking of Velasquez's crimes was the murder of his own girlfriend, who was also Escobar's ex-lover.

The woman, looking for revenge after Escobar forced her to have an unwanted abortion, clandestinely contacted US drug authorities in an effort to become an informant, Velasquez told Semana magazine in an interview last year.

The drug baron ordered Velasquez to kill her, in what the hit man characterized as one of the most painful episodes of his life.

Families of some of the Avianca flight victims have complained that Velasquez has not shared all he knows about the crime and say that his release could mean vital facts never come to light.

During his prison stint, Velasquez provided evidence which helped jail other criminals - including an ex-senator convicted of involvement in Galan's murder.

Ironically, Velasquez's work as a government informant may put him at risk for the same kind of revenge hits that he once carried out on Escobar's behalf.

It is not clear whether the state will provide him with protection.

Like Escobar, who was gunned down by Colombian agents in 1993, Velasquez is a native of Antioquia province, once an epicentre of the narcotics trade.

Read more on:    colombia  |  narcotics

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
9 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.