A group calling itself the "Armed Forces for National Salvation" has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks on government supporters in Nicaragua, adding weight to claims that armed groups that have sprung up in the country in recent years are political in nature.
Unidentified gunmen killed five people and left 28 wounded in two coordinated attacks on buses full of people traveling back from Managua after celebrating the Sandinista Revolution's 35th anniversary on July 19, reported the AFP.
Police have detained four people so far, reported the Nicaragua Dispatch.
Following the attacks, a previously unknown group referring to themselves as the Armed Forces for National Salvation - Army of the People (FASN-EP) claimed responsibility. They posted pictures of the bullet-riddled buses on their Facebook profile, labeling it "just an example of the operations we have coordinated on a national level," reported Fusion. The page and pictures have since been removed from the social networking site.
Meanwhile, "El Cazador," a spokesman for Nicaragua's self-proclaimed largest rearmed group of "Contras" -- a reference to the rebel insurgency that fought the Sandinistas in the 1980s -- denied involvement in the attacks, reported Fusion. He told the media outlet that the attacks were a Sandinista government ploy intended to "justify a massive military offensive."
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In recent years, there have been various reports of armed groups operating in Nicaragua, some led by former members of the Contras. How organized or politically motivated these new "Contra" groups are remains a contentious point; officials claim they are no more than criminal actors involved in drug trafficking and kidnapping, but several such groups say they are engaged in an armed struggle.
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While these groups are believed to be relatively small, some have begun using military-grade weapons. The heavy-handed government response to them, coupled with the mysterious deaths of several prominent leaders, indicates they are being viewed as a serious threat. Nicaragua-based journalist Tim Rogers has termed the clashes between these armed groups and the government "a silent war."
Whether or not the FASN-EP exists as a significant force, the most recent attacks bear the hallmark of politically motivated violence. While some of the new armed groups may be mere criminal organizations, there can now be little doubt that there are also illegal armed political actors operating in Nicaragua.