April 18, 2009
Irishman killed after 'plot to assassinate Bolivian president'
David Sharrock, Ireland Correspondent
An Irishman gunned down by an elite army unit during a botched attempt to assassinate Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, was accused yesterday of being a soldier of fortune serving with an extremist Balkans group.
However, as an Irish diplomat was despatched to La Paz tonight to investigate the violent death of a man believed to be Michael Dwyer, a 24-year-old from County Tipperary, the mystery deepened over how he became involved in the extraordinary murder bid against Bolivia’s left-wing president.
The alleged assassins detonated a grenade inside a hotel to which they had fled, blowing out its windows amid the gunfight, according to police. Three of the suspects, identified by state media as Hungarian, Irish and Bolivian, were killed.
A second Hungarian was arrested, along with a retired Bolivian soldier who had fought in conflicts in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, state prosecutor Jorge Gutierrez said.
Mr Dwyer’s social networking site, hosted by Bebo, an internet service popular in Ireland, bore a message from a friend last night simply stating “RIP bro”.
But a statement issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin said it remained unclear if an Irishman has been killed during the shoot-out. There was no comment from Mr Dwyer’s family.
The social networking site paints a portrait of a man obsessed with guns and assassins, placing him in South America and specifically, according to messages left by his friends, Bolivia.
He also brags of acquiring a new tattoo in recent weeks, a feature of the three would-be assassins shot dead by Bolivian police during a 30-minute gun battle in Santa Cruz, an eastern Bolivian city and hub of anti-presidential sentiment.
The Bebo site features a photograph of a fresh tattoo on Mr Dwyer’s left shoulder and arm, which matches a tattoo on the corpse of a man strongly resembling the Tipperary man featured on the front page of Bolivian newspaper, El Mundo.
Bolivian police raided a storage facility in a nearby park, confiscating explosives, high-calibre telescopic weapons and what appeared to be travel plans for President Morales's motorcade, Police Commander Víctor Hugo Escobar said.
He also held the group responsible for a failed dynamite attack on the home of Santa Cruz's Roman Catholic Cardinal, Julio Terrazas, earlier this week.
General Escóbar said that all three of the dead sported similar tattoos, suggesting that they were all trained in the same paramilitary centre. He described them as “very dangerous and determined to launch attacks”.
La Prensa, a Bolivian newspaper, described the Irishman, whom it named as Michael Martin Dryer, as a soldier of fortune who fought in the international brigade of the extreme right-wing Croatian Liberation Movement during one of the conflicts which followed the collapse of Yugoslavia.
Readers of Mr Dwyer’s social networking site would, however, be forgiven for mistaking him as a bit of a misfit with Walter Mitty tendencies.
He describes himself as “travelin, workin, doin a bit a dis and a bit a dat” and lists his sports as “kickboxing, kravmaga, pistol shootin”.
He adds:”Got a new tattoo. Its hugh (sic) and sore!!!!” and says that he is scared of “god damn south American insects. There as big as freakin cats man”.
Mr Dwyer’s site says he is happiest when “cruising in my new bmw in south America” and, in answer to the question “What assassin are you?” answers “The Jackal”, a film character portrayed by Bruce Willis.
In answer to another question, “What type of gun would you use?” he answers:”9mm/silenced. Good weapon and easy to obtain being the simply finish the job guns used around the world”. He also describes himself as a sniper.
In recent days, friends and possibly family had posted messages asking him how he was and when he was coming home.
President Morales said he had learned of the plot against him and Vice President Alvaro Garcia in recent days, ordering the men's arrest on Wednesday.
“I gave the Vice President and the commander of the national police instructions to stage an operation and detain those mercenaries,” Mr Morales said in Venezuela, where he was attending a conference.
A statement from his office said the suspected assassins included men of Croatian and Irish nationality, along with members of Bolivia's “far right”. He warned that other cells of the same group still existed in Bolivia and said police would continue to hunt them down.