San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mob Justice Takes Twisted Turn

A mob of Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans attacked two foreign ornithologists in Liberia on Sunday, apparently after mistaking them for thieves.

Jim Zook, a U.S. citizen and resident of Costa Rica, and Cagan Sekercioglu, of Turkey, were attacked by a mob of at least five locals wielding machetes, clubs and stones in Barrio Arena de Liberia. Both men, working for California’s StanfordUniversity, were in the area after dark seeking out the spot-breasted oriole and the Pacific screech owl.

“All hell broke loose, and a mob charged us, screaming and shouting ‘Thieves!’ and ‘Shoot them!’” Zook said. “They started heaving rocks, hitting the trees … and breaking the windshield of our rental car.”

Zook said he suffered a machete blow to his hand, which required 12 stitches, and several cuts and bruises.

“They accused us of being thieves trying to steal electrical wire and wouldn’t listen to reason.”

Sekercioglu managed to escape but eventually returned to help his friend and coworker, who had been surrounded and put into painful submission holds by the captors.

“I was forcefully held down on my back in the middle of a public road by three guys for about 30 minutes while others took turns interrogating me, Abu-Ghraib style,” Zook said. “If they didn’t like my answers, they kicked me in the head and side and stepped on my throat.”

After escaping, Sekercioglu went to a nearby farmhouse, and somebody there called the police.

“(The mob) was a group of caretakers from the farm next to where we had stopped,” Zook said. “They called the police, having convinced themselves that they had really captured a couple of cable thieves.

Thank God for that because the police saved us.”Zook spent the night in a hospital. The victims filed criminal complaints with the Liberia prosecutor’s office on Monday.

“I want someone to be held accountable for the treatment I got and the damage to the car,” Zook said.

The complaint names three suspects — last names Hernández, Molina and Campos — in the beating, known as a linchamiento. Zook said a woman named Molina appeared to be the leader.

Outside San José, such beatings are fairly common as mobs increasingly form to take justice into their own hands. In late July, the daily Al Día reported a mob of 300 to 500 people unsuccessfully tried to beat two suspects held for the murder of taxi driver Orlando Villareal. In late February, a mob of roughly 80 in Venecia de San Carlos near the border of Nicaragua attacked an alleged local criminal after assaults on two Croatian engineers (TT, Feb.15).


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