Colombia’s government confirmed Thursday that the father of Liverpool striker Luis Díaz was released, 12 days after his kidnapping in northern Colombia by members of the guerrilla group National Liberation Army, or ELN.
The release by members of the ELN — which has called the kidnapping a mistake — was announced by the government delegation that currently is in peace negotiations with the guerrilla group.
Díaz started and played 81 minutes in Liverpool’s 3-2 loss to Toulouse a few hours after his father was released by kidnappers. Before the match, his coach Jurgen Klopp said the striker was “really happy” with the news that his father was freed.
“It looks like Lucho [Diaz] is really happy, [giving] thumbs up all the time,” Klopp told TNT Sports. “Timing-wise it couldn’t have been better.”
Luis Manuel Díaz’s kidnapping Oct. 28 from his hometown of Barrancas had quickly drawn international attention and appeals for his release. On Sunday, the younger Diaz pleaded for his father’s freedom after scoring for Liverpool in a Premier League soccer match, revealing a T-shirt saying “Freedom for Papa” in Spanish.
The elder Díaz, wearing a green shirt and baseball cap, waved to well-wishers later Thursday as he arrived back to his hometown in the La Guajira region, escorted by authorities. He spoke emotionally to his neighbors through a megaphone.
“Thanks to God for this second opportunity, to bring me back home, and thanks to all the people of Barrancas, La Guajira and Colombia for the immense support they have given to my family,” he said.
It was initially unclear who carried out the abduction. But Colombia’s government announced last week that it had information that Díaz was kidnapped by an ELN unit. The ELN later acknowledged the kidnapping, saying it was a mistake and that the group’s top leadership had ordered the elder Díaz’s release.
An ELN statement Sunday said that the planned release was hampered by military deployments in northern Colombia and that it couldn’t guarantee a safe release under those circumstances. The Colombian military said Monday that it was shifting its positions to facilitate a release.
Both parents of Liverpool’s Díaz had been kidnapped by armed men on motorcycles at a gas station in Barrancas. But the footballer’s mother, Cilenis Marulanda, was rescued within hours by police who set up roadblocks around the town of 40,000 people, which is near Colombia’s border with Venezuela.
After the kidnapping, special forces were deployed in the area to search for Diaz’s father in a mountain range that straddles both countries and is covered by cloud forest. Police also offered a $48,000 reward for information leading to him.
The United Nations and the Catholic Church helped facilitate the handover, and their representatives received Díaz’s father Thursday in the area of the mountain range Serranía del Perijá, where he received primary medical care.
He was then taken by helicopter to Valledupar, a community about 56 miles (90 kilometers) from Barrancas, his native town in the northeastern part of the country. His neighbors in Barrancas welcomed him with music and cheers while police guarded his family’s home.
“Mane is a man with a very humble heart, a man who has fought to raise his children,” Barrancas resident Mayulis Lindo Redondo said, using the elder Díaz’s nickname.
The 26-year-old striker is one of the most talented players on Colombia’s national team. He joined Liverpool in a deal worth $67 million.
The Colombia national team and Liverpool celebrated the release of Díaz’s father on social media.