A hitman for Pablo Escobar has told how he was part of a plot to assassinate a Colombian presidential candidate by blowing up a plane and killing 110 people in 1989.
Jhon Jairo Velasquez Vasquez, nicknamed ‘Popeye’ due to his time in the navy, previously confessed to murdering 300 people and ordering hits on another 3,000 targets during his time as the drug lord’s top enforced in the 1980s.
After serving 22 years in prison he was released in 2014 and then re-arrested this year as part of an investigation into extortion.
During the 56-year-old’s time as Escobar’s top sicario, or hitman, Velasquez was part of the operation to assassinate presidential candidate, Cesar Gaviria, over his support for extraditing Colombian cartel members to the U.S. to face prosecution.
In November of 1989, the cartel blew up an Avianca airlines plane in mid-air travelling from Bogota to Cali, killing all 107 people on board and three more victims on the ground by falling debris.
‘Popeye’ Vasquez (right) killed more than 300 people and ordered the death of 3,000 to enforce Pablo Escobar’s (left) reign of terror
The site where an Avianca jet liner crashed in the unpopulated outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, after exploding in the air, November 27, 1989
Gaviria was supposed to be on the flight but after his chief of security raised concerns about him travelling, the politician was stopped from boarding.
As president Gaviria became a thorn in the cartel’s side, allowing the U.S to extradite drug traffickers and clamping down on Escobar’s operation.
For decades low-ranking sicario, Dandenys Munoz Mosquera, known as ‘The Fat Girl’, was sentenced to multiple life sentences for the bombing, until Velasquez’s testimony to the Colombian District Attorney led to Mosquera being exonerated.
Velasquez has now told how the cartel’s plan to smuggle the device in a briefcase using an unsuspecting young man who thought he was merely recording some DEA agent’s conversations on board.
As he opened the briefcase the bomb detonated, which Velasquez described as a ‘work of art’.
Cartel member Carlos Urquijo, lnown as ‘El Arete’ or The Earring, worked with Carlos Castano Gil and the bomb was set by their explosives expert, Cuco Zabala, according to Velasquez.
Jairo Velasquez, known more famously as Popeye, is considered to be the world’s most notorious assassin from his time as one of Pablo Escobar’s most trusted lieutenants
He told the Daily Beast from inside prison: ‘That briefcase was a work of art. Castano deceived a young man and told him that he should open his briefcase in the air when the plane took off and began to climb.
‘He told him that the briefcase held a tape recorder and that when he opened it the device would be activated to grab the conversations of certain passengers.
‘That there were some Americans aboard, and the mafia needed to know about an extradition case they were carrying out.
‘The dupe had already held a briefcase with a complex recorder in his hands and saw how it worked.
‘Castano had already given him several examples, to deceive him more easily. When the briefcase opened in the air, the bomb was activated.
Velasquez also described how the cartel used bomb-making experts from Britain, Israel and Spain as well as paramilitaries to instruct their hitmen.
He told the Daily Beast: ‘Cuco, an electronics engineer, had learned that trick from an explosives designer of the [Basque separatists] ETA.
‘Carlos knew I’d bought the ticket for the duped young man and got him just the right seat.
‘We were all aware that if the bomb exploded in the wrong place it wouldn’t ignite the plane’s fuel tanks, and the captain could save the plane.
‘So we created a domino effect with the fuel stored in the wings of the plane, the dynamite in the briefcase and the pressurisation of the aircraft – a lethal composition.
Jhon Jairo ‘Popeye’ Velazquez in handcuffs and escorted by armed guards on his way to appear before a judge earlier this year
Velazquez, seen here at a court hearing on Friday, served 22 years in prison before his release in 2014
‘The plane was totally destroyed, but the candidate lived. Maybe his guardian angel saved him that night.’
Colombian police re-arrested Velasquez as part of an investigation into extortion in July.
The chief prosecutor’s office said Velasquez was arrested in Medellin after he was paroled in 2014 after spending 22 years in jail for plotting the assassination of the former Colombian presidential candidate.
While working for the Medellin Cartel, Velazquez, by his own confession, killed over 300 people with his own hands, and helped to plan the murders of some 3,000 more, including the woman he loved who was also seeing Escobar.
While he has since said he regrets killing so many people, he has always stayed very loyal to Escobar, the drug kingpin who died in 1993.
As he was getting out of prison he told El Tiempo that ‘If Pablo Escobar were to be reborn I’d go with him without thinking.’
Since his release from prison, Popeye has gained notoriety as a YouTube star who espouses conservative political views and hate-filled diatribes against leftist rebels and Venezuela’s socialist government.
Velazquez, seen here visiting the tomb of Pablo Escobar, has said he regrets the killing, but not working for the drug kingpin
He has criticised Colombia’s leftist presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, warning that his ‘rifle will speak for me.’
In his channel description he writes: ‘I started this channel in order to tell the day to day process of reintegration into society.
‘I have had the opportunity to be born again after 23 years and three months of the worst punishment a human being can afford.’
Velasquez previously told the New York Times that he wasn’t cashing in on his notoriety and said: ‘It’s not about monetizing my life story but about telling the stories, the things that happened
Pablo Escobar, seen here in a file photograph was killed in 1993 in a shootout with police
‘I’ve been famous for 30 years. I only want to have an opinion because I am an activist.
‘I am against the Venezuelan and Colombian government. I am against Donald Trump because of his hatred of Latinos. I just want my opinion heard.’
Velasquez was given his 30-year sentence in a maximum security jail in Bogota for plotting the murder of a former presidential candidate.
The slaying of the cartel-fighting politician Luis Carlos Galan during the 1990 presidential campaign he was heavily favoured to win marked the apex of drug violence that engulfed Colombia two decades ago.
In a bid to fight extradition to the United States, Escobar ordered scores of assassinations – of judges, cabinet ministers and journalists.
The cartel waged a bombing campaign across Bogota, Medellin and Cali, with many of the explosive devices planted by Velasquez.
Escobar downed the Avianca commercial jetliner in 1989 because he believed Galan’s political heir, then President Cesar Gaviria, was aboard as part of this escalation of violence.