Bogota: More than 120 soldiers backed by police were combing northern Colombia Sunday for the father of Liverpool winger Luis Diaz, kidnapped with his wife who has since been rescued.
The army said in a statement it had set up roadblocks and deployed two motorised platoons, unmanned aircraft, helicopters and a plane with radar in the search for Luis Manuel Diaz.
Colombian authorities did not provide details about the kidnapping, but media reported that the footballer’s father and mother Cilenis Marulanda were taken Saturday by armed men on motorcycles at a gas station in their home town of Barrancas in the northern La Guajira department.
President Gustavo Petro said Marulanda was rescued in Barrancas on the same day the couple was taken.
Colombia is a country just emerging from decades of civil conflict between rival armed groups that has seen more than 38,000 people kidnapped over the years, mostly for ransom.
Petro, at an event to mark the opening of local elections in Bogota, said “all the public forces have been deployed” to find Diaz’s father.
Luis Manuel Diaz was an amateur coach at the only football school in Barrancas, a town of about 38,000 inhabitants, where his son showed promise from a very young age.
His father is credited with aiding the meteoric rise of the Liverpool and Colombia striker known as “Lucho.”
Diaz, a 26-year-old Wayuu Indigenous man, has not spoken out about the kidnapping of his parents.
His Liverpool teammate, Portugal’s Diogo Jota, dedicated his goal in a Premier League clash Sunday against Nottingham Forest to Diaz, who did not play.
In celebration, Jota ran to manager Jurgen Klopp, who handed him Diaz’s shirt, which he held aloft to applause from Liverpool fans.
Colombian police have offered a reward equivalent to about $48,000 for information that leads them to Diaz and his captors.
Liverpool FC issued a statement Sunday saying it was “aware of an ongoing situation involving the family of Luis Diaz” in Colombia.
“It is our fervent hope that the matter is resolved safely and at the earliest possible opportunity. In the meantime, the player’s welfare will continue to be our immediate priority,” it said.
Manager Klopp described it as a “worrying situation for all of us.”
“We had to obviously make a late change because of the private situation involving Luis Diaz,” he said ahead of Sunday’s match.
“It was a pretty tough night. I have never had that before. It’s a new experience I never needed.”
Diaz is the first Indigenous Colombian to make it to the top echelons of world football.
He has played for his nation 43 times and arrived at Liverpool last year from Portuguese club Porto.
He has played 11 games with Liverpool and scored three goals.