Colombia's Clan del Golfo attacks vehicles to protest Otoniel extradition

BOGOTA, May 6 (Reuters) - At least 100 vehicles were destroyed on highways across northern Colombia in isolated attacks by the Clan del Golfo criminal gang, which announced an "armed strike" to protest the extradition of former leader Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, to the United States, the government said on Friday.

The four-day armed strike, intended to restrict the movement of vehicles and people, along with forced closure of businesses, began on Thursday and is mainly affecting the Antioquia, Bolivar, Cordoba and Sucre provinces, officials said.

Colombia extradited Otoniel, who is accused of drug trafficking and being the leader of the Clan del Golfo, to the United States on Wednesday, following his capture in October last year. Otoniel pleaded not guilty on Thursday to the U.S. drug trafficking charges and was ordered detained in New York pending trial. read more

"We're here to guarantee the security of Colombians and confront all those who want to affect the tranquility in these prosperous areas of the country with criminal purposes," Defense Minister Diego Molano said in Monteria, the capital of Cordoba.

Molano announced increased patrols in cities, municipalities and along highways to restore order and protect traffic and businesses, and hiked rewards for information leading to the arrest of the new leaders of Clan del Golfo.

The minister also announced the creation of a search block unit of the armed forces to secure their capture.

Following Otoniel's capture, Wilver Giraldo and Jesus Avila Villadiego, known as Sipoas and Chiquito Malo, respectively, took over leadership of the Clan del Golfo, Molano said. He raised the reward for information helping to locate and capture them to around $1.2 million.

Military personnel and members of Colombia's National Police captured 44 people committing attacks, Interior Minister Daniel Palacios said, adding that trucks, buses, cars and motorcycles were damaged in the attacks.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Oliver Griffin Editing by Leslie Adler

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