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Colombian police identify two suspects in abduction of Luis Díaz’s father

Colombian police have identified two of the four men who kidnapped the father of the Colombian footballer Luis Díaz as security forces race to prevent his captors smuggling him into neighbouring Venezuela.

Luis Manuel Díaz and his wife, Cilenis Marulanda, were abducted on Saturday by armed men at a petrol station in Barrancas in Colombia’s northern La Guajira state. Though Marulanda was freed the same day, the search for Díaz Sr goes on across La Guajira, a desert region close to Venezuela which is a hotbed for armed groups smuggling contraband and cocaine.

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The director of the national police, Gen William Salamanca, joined soldiers in operation padlock on Monday as they swept the cloud forests of the Perijá mountain range bordering Venezuela for clues of Díaz Sr’s whereabouts. A force of a least 200 members of Colombia’s security forces have been mobilised, including elite ground troops and specialist pilots who are searching from the air.

Police forces have also been searching house by house in the surrounding area of the abduction for any information that could lead to recovering Díaz Sr safely and have offered a $48,000 (£39,000) reward for information.

Gen Alejandro Zapata, deputy director of the national police, told a press conference in Bogotá on Monday that the mountains would not be easy to cross on foot but that it would be a logical objective of the kidnappers to get him out of the country and out of the reach of Colombian authorities. “We do not have any evidence at the moment [to indicate] that he has crossed the border, we cannot affirm it, but we cannot rule it out either,” he said. “It is very possible that they will look for the possibility of escaping there.”

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Colombian intelligence is working with Interpol’s office in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, but has no confirmation that Díaz Sr has left the country, Zapata said. And no phone calls have been made requesting money in exchange for his freedom, a spokesperson for Colombia’s national anti-extortion unit has confirmed.

Veneuzela has become a haven for armed groups in the past decade as the country’s economy has collapsed and some guerrilla groups work in cahoots with the military in illegal rackets such as gold mining and drug smuggling. Colombian security forces often blame the lack of law and order in Venezuela for upsurges in organised crime as mafias can easily slip back across the border after committing robbery or extortion in Colombia.

Feli Ureche, one of Díaz Sr’s cousins, told Bogotá-based W radio station that Díaz Sr had received threats before his abduction and the shock of his kidnapping has caused an outpouring of solidarity across Colombia. The nation was the kidnapping capital of the world in the 1990s and 2000s but has become far safer in recent decades and the country’s largest guerillas group finally put down their guns in 2016 as part of a landmark peace process.

“There are much more important things than a football game. Please, in what society are we living,” Luis Díaz’s Colombia teammate, James Rodríguez, posted on social media. “We are with you Luchito.”

Díaz joined Liverpool from Porto for an initial €40m in January 2022. The winger was left out of the squad that beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 at Anfield on Sunday after hearing what had happened to his parents.

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Díaz remains at home with other members of his family in England. Liverpool’s assistant manager, Pepijn Lijnders, declined to go into detail about what support the club is giving the 26-year-old at a press conference on Tuesday, but insisted Díaz knows he has everyone’s backing.

“Lucho is the guy who always smiles and has an unbelievable relationship with everybody. We really care about him,” Lijnders said. “The only thing now for us is we try to support him as much as we can. A lot of things are out of our hands – what’s completely normal. We hope that the authorities there can find his dad and that everything is good. We just pray for that.

“It’s not for me to sit here and tell the world what we are doing for Lucho. As long as he feels our support and knows that we are doing the right things, that the whole club is behind him. It is up to the authorities there to deal with it and we hear they are trying everything. The most important thing is that his family are OK.”

Díaz will be absent when Liverpool visit Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday.