Monday 20 May 2019

Parents left devastated in 'assassin' death riddle

Minister orders detailed report into Irishman's killing in Bolivia ambush

GORY CARGO: Policemen on a truck take the three bodies wrapped in bin-liner bags to the morgue in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, last Thursday morning
GORY CARGO: Policemen on a truck take the three bodies wrapped in bin-liner bags to the morgue in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, last Thursday morning

DON LAVERY and  MAEVE SHEEHAN

The Minister for Foreign Affairs will be seeking a detailed report on the circumstances surrounding the death of a Tipperary man Michael Dwyer in a shoot-out with Bolivian police as mystery deepened over how he came to be involved in an apparent assassination bid on Bolivian President Evo Morales.

As Irish diplomats met the Bolivian police chief in La Paz yesterday, it emerged that Minister Micheal Martin will be requesting the full facts surrounding the death of Mr Dwyer, 24, from Ballinderry, in Co Tipperary.

His distraught family was yesterday trying to come to terms with claims by Bolivian authorities that he was shot dead because he was a foreign mercenary involved in a plot to murder the socialist President Morales.

Last night Mr Dwyer's family said they were "shocked and devastated by the tragic death of a beloved son and brother. They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of their wider family, friends and their local community. The Dwyer family ask for privacy during this very difficult time," the family said in a statement.

The family was still awaiting official confirmation from the Department of Foreign Affairs that he had been shot dead in a hotel in Santa Cruz along with two other men.

The deputy head of the Irish mission in Argentina, Derek Lambe, was in Bolivia trying to ascertain whether the young man had been among the three people killed on Thursday when police stormed a hotel reported to contain an international hit squad.

A department spokesman said the priority was to formally identify Mr Dwyer's body.

Yesterday his family cast doubt on his involvement in an assassination plot.

Members of the shocked local community called to pay their respects at the family's bungalow home at Bocka, Ballinderry.

Caroline Dwyer, his mother, was tearful as she said the family would issue a statement and a photograph to the press later. She said the family had not been told officially that Michael was dead and that they did not intend to travel to Bolivia.

Earlier, the dead man's father, Martin Dwyer, had said they could "make no sense of their son's apparent death". "There is no way he would have been involved in anything like this," said Martin.

"Six months ago he was in college in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. For something like this to happen, I just can't get my head around it," he added.

Caroline Dwyer added: "He was my baby. I don't believe any of this. Nothing they say makes sense."

Local people described them as a "lovely respectable family". Local Fianna Fail councillor Jim Casey extended his sympathies to the victim's parents and his brothers and sisters.

"Everyone's heart goes out to the family. On behalf of the people of North Tipperary, I would like to express sympathy with them.

"For any family to get news like this is horrific."

Michael is understood to have left college after graduating from construction studies in GMIT six months ago. He ended up doing 'bouncer' work in Galway before before moving to Bolivia in October.

He phoned home from there in February to tell his parents he was staying on with the security firm he was working with until the end of the year. His upbringing could not have been further from assassination plots and shoot-outs in South American capitals.

Born in 1984 he grew up in Ballinderry, near Nenagh, Co Tipperary, with sisters, Aisling 25, and Ciara, 21, and younger brother Emmet, 14, who is still in school. His father works as an electrician, while his mother is a pharmaceutical engineer at Elan in Athlone.

Michael was a graduate of construction management from Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. He went to local schools, played for the local Shamrock Rovers GAA club and was well-known there.

He studied first at the Waterford Institute of Technology and then at the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, where he took construction studies. After working as a bouncer in Galway city for several months he left for America and then South America before Christmas, according to a source.

He documented his adventures on his Bebo and Facebook web pages. On Bebo, he wrote that he was "travellin, workin, doin a bit a dis and a bit a dat". On his relationship status, he wrote: "It's complicated". On Facebook, meanwhile, he said that he was "in a relationship".

He also boasted about his new tattoo, which was later how his friends identified him when photographs of his bullet-riddled body were published in Bolivian newspapers: "Got a new tattoo," he wrote on Bebo. "It's hugh [sic] and sore!!!!"

His interests in guns and violence appeared Walter Mittyish. He listed his interests as shooting, music and cars in that order.

His favourite sports included kravmaga, an Israeli martial art, and "pistol shootin'". He posted photos of himself in military fatigues playing combat games, and played at being a real soldier in the popular Airsoft sport, where replica guns fire tiny pellets instead of bullets.

Dwyer listed his favourite weapon as a silenced 9mm Browning pistol and was pictured with several weapons on his websites.

His favourite television show was The Unit, an American drama loosely based on the activities of Delta Force, the clandestine American special forces unit.

On his Facebook site he has a favourite game, The Ultimate Hitman, with the tagline: "Kill or be killed, are you up for the challenge?"

He also lists himself as a member of the Willie O'Dea fan club, a sarcastic site that specialises in poking fun at the defence minister.

By the time of his death, Michael Dwyer had clocked up more than 300 'friends' across the world.

One of them was a complex individual, Eduardo Rozsa Flores, 49, a Bolivian Hungarian with a shady military past. He left Bolivia for the Balkans in 1991, intending to work as a war correspondent. But he abandoned the pen for the gun.

Hungarian newspapers reported how he commanded a separatist brigade in the Balkans, had an involvement with dissident Iraqi groups, and was deputy president of the Hungarian Islamic community, while maintaining close links with the Hungarian far-right.

How this graduate from rural Ireland with a fascination for weapons came to hook up with a gun-toting, self-styled 'freedom fighter' is unclear. His Facebook account suggests they certainly knew each other since January, judging by a photograph of the two of them together that was posted on his page in that month. Flores also lists Dwyer as a friend on his site.

Flores, who was also shot dead in the Bolivian incident, spoke to his former editor in chief of the Hungarian literary magazine Kapu, two days before he was killed. Editor Zoltan Brady said Flores had gone to Bolivia in 2008 "to fight against its communist government" and for the independence of the relatively wealthy Santa Cruz province.

"Eduardo lived in the jungle and was involved in regular fights . . . he was a soldier, a partisan, fighting together with thousands of others in the jungle," Mr Brady said, but he added that he thought Flores and the others had been executed rather then killed in a fire-fight.

In the last few weeks, Michael Dwyer posted up photographs of himself on holidays in Bolivia, even though he was allegedly in the country with the intention of assassinating its president.

On April 9, he was playing computer games, according to one of the last updates on his Facebook site -- "Playing Motorcycle Madness and "just achieved Level 6, Tricycle III".

Within a week he was dead.

Alvaro Garcia Linera, Bolivia's vice-president, claimed that Michael Dwyer, was one of a band of "foreign mercenaries" in Santa Cruz on a mission to assassinate President Evo Morales and members of his cabinet.

Police had learned of the assassination plot and had put the group under surveillance since April 3. On Wednesday, the president gave the orders to arrest them.

According to local reports, Bolivian police surrounded the four-star Hotel de las Americas at 4.30am on Thursday. A shoot-out followed, with the gunmen reportedly detonated a grenade and blowing out the hotel's windows.

Michael Dwyer, Eduardo Rosza Flores and Magyarosi Arpak, reportedly a Romanian sniper, were killed. Two other men were arrested -- Mario Francisco Tadik Astorga, 58, reported to be a Bolivian-Croatian who also fought in the Balkans, and Elot Toazo, a Hungarian computer expert.

Local reports yesterday claimed that the same gang was also behind a dynamite attack on the residence of Catholic Cardinal Julio Terrazas last week.

Photographs later published in newspapers showed Dwyer lying on his back, dressed only in his underwear, his torso riddled with bullet wounds.

A statement from the president's office said the suspected assassins included men of Croatian and Irish nationality, along with members of Bolivia's "far-right". It said other cells of the same group still existed in Bolivia and said that police would continue to hunt them down.

Last night Bolivia's leader claimed that the US was continuing to conspire against him, despite President Obama's pledge of a new era of respect toward Latin America.

Obama responded that he was unfamiliar with the incident but assured Morales that "his administration was not involved" and made it clear he "does not endorse or condone the use of violence against democratically elected governments".

Bolivian police found Michael Dwyer's passport in his luggage and contacted Interpol, who in turn contacted garda headquarters. They have specifically requested any finger prints that might be on file to help formally identify the dead. Gardai have little information to offer. Michael Dwyer had no criminal record, no involvement with subversive organisations and never seems to have come to their attention at all.

The cache of guns depicted in press photographs showed a fairly low-grade collection of weapons.

By Friday, Michael Dwyer's name was clogging up internet websites as anonymous posters speculated as to whether he was the "foreign mercenary" referred to by the Bolivian government. Some claimed to have identified him through the tattoo.

Word also reached Michael's family in Ballinderry. That morning, a member of his family contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs for help in tracking down their son. Within hours, Derek Lambe, a second secretary at the Irish Embassy in Argentina, was on a flight to Bolivia. He arrived at midnight Irish time to begin the task of identifying Michael's body and making the necessary arrangements for his grief-stricken family to bring him home.

His Bebo site was taken down yesterday. Messages continued appearing on Facebook. "Mick I can't believe it's true and you've been taken from us," one said.

Another said: "My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Rest in peace my friend. I'll always remember the great times we had in Galway and will miss you. Xxxx"

Another said: "I love you cousin. May you rest in peace. We all love you dearly . . . save me a place on the other side".

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