BOGOTA, Colombia -- A band of fatigue-clad gunmen shot and killed a gem dealer and suspected drug trafficker known as the 'King of Emeralds' and 17 of his bodyguards during a weekend attack at Molina's palatial ranch, police said Monday.
Gilberto Molina, 53, was the owner of the Tecniminas company that manages the government concession of the major emerald mines near the town of Muzo in the Boyaca region. Police also have linked him to large coca plantations nearby and identified him as an associate of a well-known cocaine kingpin.
A National Police spokesman said investigators were trying to identify the gunmen who witnesses said showed up at Molina's ranch Sunday night, handcuffed him and 17 bodyguards and opened fire.
'All we know is that the killers were numerous and dressed in camouflage-type uniforms. But there is a lot of confusion about who they might be,' said Gen. Miguel Gomez, director of the National Police.
The victims were attending a party at Molina's mansion near the town of Sasaima, 45 miles west of Bogota, police said.
'They shot without mercy. In the middle of the gunfire some of us escaped into the woods around the ranch,' said one survivor, Rafael Cardona, who told a Bogota radio station he was part of a musical group hired to play at the party.
Molina, known in Colombia as the 'King of Emeralds,' had survived two murder attempts last year, one near the mine and another at his home in Bogota. One attack was attributed to rival emerald miners and the other to leftist rebel group Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces.
The rebels have accused Molina of sponsoring an anti-communist paramilitary group.
National Police sources have linked Molina to extensive coca plantations in the Paime area and identified him as a business partner of reputed cocaine lord Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha.
The massacre at the Molina ranch was the fourth mass slaying in Colombia so far this year. Minister of Defense Manuel Guerrero Paz announced Monday that 2,650 persons were murdered in Colombia in the month of January, or one every 17 minutes.