Armed men attack vehicle carrying journalists in Colombia

Two reporters were attacked in northern Colombia on January 12, 2017 by armed men on motorcycles, who surrounded their vehicle, broke its back windshield, and fired gunshots, according to news reports.

Cristian Herrera, a reporter for Q´Hubo, a newspaper in the northern city of Cúcuta, told CPJ that he and Andrés González, a journalist for its sister newspaper La Opinión, were attacked at about 9 p.m. while investigating a tip that a taxi driver had been murdered.

Herrera, who has received numerous threats for his reporting, was accompanied at the time by González and bodyguards assigned to him by the government’s National Protection Unit (UNP). He said that when they entered the crime-infested San Faustino neighborhood, their SUV–also provided by the UNP–was surrounded by six motorcycles, each carrying two armed men.

Herrera tried to explain that they were reporters, but he said the gunmen began insulting them and firing their weapons. As the journalists’ driver pulled away, a large stone smashed the back windshield of their vehicle. Herrera said neither he nor González were injured and they reported the crime to police and to the Attorney General’s office.

Herrera told CPJ he thinks the attack was carried out by criminal bands involved in moving drugs and other contraband across the nearby border with Venezuela.

In a statement, Cúcuta police said, “Everything indicates that this was an act of vandalism carried out by gang of contraband smugglers.” The statement suggested that the attack may have been in response to constant police operations in the neighborhood targeting criminal gangs.

Herrera, 41, told CPJ that since the attack the UNP has upgraded his security by providing him with an armored SUV.

Herrera, who covers crime and drug trafficking for Q’Hubo, fled to Chile for nine months in 2004 after he received threats from paramilitary gunmen. He began receiving protection from the UNP in October 2014 after receiving threatening pamphlets from a criminal gang called Los Rastrojos who gave him 24 hours to leave Cúcuta, according to reports.