x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kidnapped Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos rescued in Venezuela

Ramos was held captive by five alleged abductors for two days before Venezuelan police commandos swooped to rescue him in a flurry of gunfire.

Wilson Ramos, centre, talks to reporters after Venezuelan police rescued the MLB player from kidnappers earlier today.
Wilson Ramos, centre, talks to reporters after Venezuelan police rescued the MLB player from kidnappers earlier today.

CARACAS // The kidnapping ordeal of Wilson Ramos, the catcher for the Washington Nationals, ended after two days when Venezuelan police commandos swooped in to rescue the Major League Baseball player in a flurry of gunfire and arrested his five alleged abductors.

Ramos said he was happy and thankful to be alive, and that the final moments had been hair-raising as police and the kidnappers exchanged heavy fire in the remote mountainous area where he was being held.

"The truth is I'm still very nervous, but thanks to God everything turned out well," Ramos told Venezuelan state television, speaking by telephone after arriving at a police station in his hometown of Valencia earlier today.

He thanked the police and National Guard commandos who rescued him, saying "the boys did a great job".

Ramos, 24, had not been seen or heard from since he was seized at gunpoint outside his home on Wednesday night and whisked away in a sport utility vehicle. It was the first known kidnapping of a MLB player in Venezuela, and the abduction set off an outpouring of candlelight vigils and public prayers at stadiums as well as outside Ramos' home.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami announced on Friday night that Ramos was "safe and sound" after the rescue. He didn't say whether anyone had been wounded in the gunfire.

Five men were arrested in the kidnapping, including a Colombian "linked to paramilitary groups and to kidnapping groups," El Aissami said.

"I don't know who those people were. I know they're Colombians by their accent," Ramos said. "Three guys grabbed me there in front of my house, they took me to another SUV and from there they took me into the mountains," in central Carabobo state.

He said his abductors spoke little to him. "They simply told me to cooperate, that they were going to ask for a ton of cash for me."

"They put me in a room with a bed. I was lying there," he said. "It was hard for me to think about, if I was going to get out alive first of all ... about how my family, my mother were."

Ramos was to first undergo medical checks at the police station and then be reunited with his family, El Aissami said.

Ramos' mother Maria Campos de Ramos celebrated, exclaiming on television: "Thanks to God!"

"Thanks to my country, to my neighbours and to my family, who were supporting us," she said. Shortly afterwards, she spoke with her son by phone and said jubilantly: "He's fine."

Mike Rizzo, the Nationals general manager, hailed the news.

"We are thrilled with reports that he has been rescued," Rizzo said in a statement. "We greatly appreciate all the prayers and thoughts of all who have joined us in wishing for this conclusion to what has been a nightmarish 48 hours. We are eager to see Wilson and let him know just how many all over the world have been waiting for this news."

Ramos had recently returned to his homeland after his rookie year with the Nationals to play during the off-season in the Venezuelan league.

"As soon as I feel all right, I'm going to start playing," Ramos said. "They didn't physically harm me, but psychologically I underwent very great harm."

Ramos had been just outside his door with relatives on Wednesday when he was abducted in his working-class neighbourhood in Valencia, about 150 kilometres west of Caracas. Authorities tracked down the abductors after initially locating their stolen SUV abandoned in a nearby town on Thursday.

"I was always praying to God, and thanks to God he gave me the miracle of sending me these wonderful people," Ramos said. "I'm alive thanks to them."

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, had authorised the "rescue operation by air" that freed Ramos, Andres Izarra, the information minister, said on his Twitter account.

Security has increasingly become a concern for Venezuelan players and their families as a wave of kidnappings has hit the wealthy as well as the middle class.

The country has one of the highest murder rates in South America, and the vast majority of crimes go unsolved. The number of kidnappings has soared in recent years.

MLB officials said it was the first kidnapping of a major leaguer that they could recall. But relatives of several players have previously been kidnapped for ransom in Venezuela, and in two cases have been killed.

Some kidnappings in Venezuela have previously been carried out by highly organised criminal groups that demand ransom.

Bodyguards typically shadow major leaguers when they return to their homeland to play in Venezuela's baseball league.