LIMA, Peru (AP) — A U.S. Embassy warning to U.S. tourists of a potential kidnapping threat in the Cuzco region, including the famed Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, drew vehement objections from Peruvian officials Friday.
But a U.S. Embassy official said credible evidence exists of a threat from a Peruvian terrorist group.
The official confirmed a report in the Peruvian newspaper La Republica that said leaders of the cocaine-financed Shining Path outlaw band discussed kidnapping foreigners, principally Americans, in intercepted communications. Tens of thousands of Americans visit Peru each year.
The official agreed to discuss the report only if not quoted by name due to the political sensitivity of the warning.
La Republica cited sources about the interceptions including members of Peru's military high command, but the country's military chief, Adm. Jose Cueto, told The Associated Press that he had no such information.
"Perhaps it is information that they alone have and have not shared," Cueto said of the U.S. government.
The embassy warning that mentioned Peru's biggest tourist draw was posted on the U.S. Embassy's Facebook page Thursday. Dated Feb. 13, it was also posted on the embassy's website.
It says a "criminal organization may be planning to kidnap U.S. citizen tourists in the Cuzco and Machu Picchu area. Possible targets and methods are not known and the threat is credible at least through the end of February 2013."
The warning says U.S. Embassy personnel are barred from visiting Machu Picchu and nearby Cuzco unless on official business, which is restricted.
"It's very rare that it would be so pointed to us," the U.S. official said of the threat.
The mayor of Cuzco, Luis Florez, called on U.S. Ambassador Rose Likins to retract the warning.
"Tourism is an incredibly sensitive topic and they would be damaging a big source of earnings at the national level," he told reporters after a group of mayors met with President Ollanta Humala.