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U.S. charges six Colombians with murder of drug enforcement agent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday a federal grand jury has indicted six Colombians for the kidnapping and murder of an American drug enforcement agent last month in a Bogota taxi.

The Drug Enforcement Administration special agent, James "Terry" Watson, a 13-year veteran of the agency, was stabbed in the taxi and died in the hospital.

The indictment alleges that on June 20 Watson, who was working for the U.S. mission, got into a taxi cab operated by one of the defendants and was attacked by two others with a stun gun and a knife.

"With today's arrests, we take an important step towards ensuring that those allegedly responsible for his senseless murder are brought to justice," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

The grand jury charged Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda, Omar Fabian Valdes Gualtero, Edgar Javier Bello Murillo, Hector Leonardo Lopez, Julio Estiven Gracia Ramierez and Andrés Alvaro Oviedo-Garcia, each with two counts of second-degree murder, one count of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to kidnap.

Oviedo-Garcia was also charged with two counts of assault.

In addition, the grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia indicted Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica, also a Colombian national, for his alleged efforts to destroy evidence associated with the murder.

Figueroa, Valdes, Bello, Lopez, Gracia and Oviedo-Garcia were part of a kidnapping and robbery conspiracy that lured victims into taxi cabs where they could be attacked and robbed, according to the indictment.

Once an intended victim stepped into the taxi, the driver would give the signal to other conspirators to start the robbery and kidnapping, it said.

The case is being investigated by the FBI, the DEA and the Diplomatic Security Service, in cooperation with Colombian authorities and with assistance from Interpol.

Colombian police said on June 25 they had captured four members of a crime gang thought to be behind Watson's death who had removed seats from the taxi after the murder and tried to sell them. Colombian authorities did not name those suspects at the time.

Watson was assigned to the DEA's office in the coastal city of Cartagena but was on temporary duty in Bogota.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Christopher Wilson)

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