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Accused Shining Path leaders face terror, drug charges in New York

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three accused leaders of Peru's Shining Path were charged in New York on Wednesday with running a drug trafficking ring to fund the insurgent group, federal authorities announced.

The three Peruvian citizens face terror, narcotics and weapons charges, each of which carries the possibility of life in prison, U.S. authorities said.

The Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso, has waged acts of violence in Peru since approximately 1980, funded in part by cocaine trafficking, according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official Michele Leonhart.

"These defendants are leaders of a murderous paramilitary organization, and they themselves ordered ambushes that killed nearly two dozen Peruvian soldiers and police officers," Bharara said in a statement.

"The product of the Peruvian cocaine trade they plied and protected sometimes ends up for sale in the United States," he added.

Accused are Florindo Eleuterio Flores-Hala, 52, known as "Comrade Artemio," Victor Quispe-Palomina, 54, known as "Comrade José," and Jorge Quispe-Palomino, 56, the authorities said.

Flores-Hala is in custody in Peru, while the other two are at large, authorities said.

The Shining Path, which declared itself committed to Maoist ideals, has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

Its efforts to topple the Peruvian state claimed an estimated 69,000 lives.

The insurgency was crippled in 1992, when its powerful founder and leader, Abimael Guzman, was captured, but remnant bands of rebels still ambush security forces in jungle valleys where they are believed to coordinate with drug traffickers.

Along with conspiracy to provide support to a terrorist organization, the counts announced on Wednesday include weapons charges stemming from a 2005 incident in which Shining Path members killed eight Peruvian National Police officers in a convoy and a 2009 ambush in which they killed 15 Peruvian Army soldiers, U.S. authorities said.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

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