U.S. officials are wondering openly whether it was actually leftist terrorists who gunned down two LDS missionaries Wednesday night or whether the murders were a facade for anti-American sentiments, perhaps even drug lords upset at U.S. efforts to eradicate the coca crop.
"Missionaries agitate both the left and right: the left, because they represent anti-communist America; the right because they proselytize the Indians, and (those on the right) want them left alone and unchanged. The right includes the big landowners and mine owners," said a staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.A Senate Foreign Affairs Committee official told the Deseret News the murders were
carried out by "a small clandestine group, and nobody seems to really have a handle on it yet . . .
"No one knows much about the ideology of the group, except that it issued a communique to several La Paz newspapers claiming responsibility for the missionary murders that shows it has anti-Yankee, anti-foreign
Elder Jeffrey Brent Ball, 20, Coalville, and Elder Todd Ray Wilson, 20, Wellington, Carbon County, were shot to death Wednesday night as they returned to their apartment in a poor neighborhood of La Paz. One died at the scene and the other died en route to a local hospital.
The victims were apparently chosen at random. Occupants of a small, yellow compact car drove by the apartment complex where the missionaries lived, firing into a crowd with 9mm weapons. No one else was injured.
Police said they have no suspects in the killings. The victims were among 400 LDS missionaries in Bolivia.
In a statement printed by a La Paz newspaper, the terrorists - members of an obscure group called the Armed Liberation Front of Zarate Willka - said, "The violation of our national sovereignty cannot go unpunished. The Yankee invaders who come massacre our fellow farmers are warned, as are their local slaves. We, the poor, have no other road than to rise up in arms. Our hatred is implacable and our war is to the death."
But State Department and congressional sources told the Deseret News they feel LDS missionaries are unpopular with both the right and left in Bolivian politics, and someone from either side could have committed the slayings and pinned it on the obscure Armed Liberation Front.
The terrorists who claimed responsibility for the murders are the ones who claimed responsibility for a dynamite attack last December on the motorcade of then-Secretary of State George Shultz. However, a Senate official said "the State Department has other suspects and aren't convinced the group did that one."
"If they found nothing about the attack on the secretary of state, I wouldn't be surprised if they don't find much on the murder of two Mormon missionaries," he said.
The terrorist group has also claimed credit for a December dynamite attack directed at the Bolivian congress, a bombing that blacked out La Paz recently and a bombing of an LDS chapel in Bolivia.
The State Department has notified all Americans residing in Bolivia about the attack and accompanying terrorist pledges for more violence. "We're trying to evaluate the situation and find out if it was just an isolated event," one official said.
Another said he was somewhat surprised by the attack. "Bolivia has had in recent times some isolated terrorist incidents, . . . but unlike some of its Andean neighbors, there is no state of insurgency. Generally, it's in a state of calm. That's in contrast in Peru and Colombia, where insurgents and terrorists have actual armies in the field fighting."
He also said the State Department believes Bolivia has a democratic form of government and that President Victor Paz Estenssoro is a "moderate and forward-thinking kind of leader who has Bolivia on an even keel."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday that department officials in Bolivia were scheduled to meet with missionaries there to outline steps to better protect themselves. He said no further developments had been reported Friday morning.
While politics could have motivated the murders, some officials question whether the killings could have been drug related. The U.S. government is giving large amounts of aid to Bolivia to eradicate the coca crop from which cocaine is made.
"The single biggest concern for us and them in Bolivia is the impact that production of the coca and cocaine has on the body politic up here. The No. 1 U.S. interest in Bolivia is doing away with that problem," an aide to the House Foreign Affairs Committee said.
The State Department, Bolivian government and Utah's congressional delegation have condemned the attack and sent condolences to the victims' families.
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic deaths," said Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah. "Such wanton and cowardly acts are among the most disgusting and callous actions of which human beings are capable.
"They are unforgivable under any circumstances but seem especially so when the victims are young men who have made great personal sacrifices and dedicated themselves to serve their church and fellow man."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the killings "a heinous act" of terrorism. "The two missionaries were donating two years of their lives at their own expense to spread the gospel and aid the people of Bolivia.
"Their service was in no way political, and they were innocents in this despicable act."
They were the first politically motivated killings of Mormon missionaries in memory, said LDS Church spokesman Don LeFevre.
Bodies en route home
The bodies of the two Utah missionaries are being flown out of Bolivia Friday, the State Department said. The flight is due to arrive in Salt Lake City Saturday night. Funeral services for Elder Ball will be held Tuesday at noon in the Coalville Stake Center. Elder Wilson's funeral also will be Tuesday at noon in the Wellington Stake Center.