The father of Liverpool star Luis Diaz has been finally freed by kidnappers – almost two weeks after he was captured.
Luis Manuel Diaz was taken into the hands of a ‘Humanitarian Commission’ made up of the Catholic Church & the UN’ on Thursday afternoon.
Local media say the plan now is to take Diaz Sr to a nearby city for medical checks, with family already on their way to see him.
First images released on Colombian television showed Diaz Senior, wearing a cap and holding a drink, waving an arm in the air.
Diaz’s father, 58, was taken along with the forward’s mother as they stopped for watermelons at a petrol station on October 28.
Colombia’s anti-government National Liberation Army (ELN), a left-wing guerrilla group, were subsequently found to be responsible.
Diaz, who started for Liverpool in the Europa League against Toulouse this evening, saw his mother rescued hours after being kidnapped but, amid significant anguish, his father remained missing.
This is the first image of Luis Manuel Diaz (pictured, centre), the father of Liverpool attacker Luis Diaz, after he was rescued following his kidnapping back on October 28
Diaz Snr received medical care on the mountainside after a helicopter set off to rescue him
Diaz’s (left) father Luis Manuel (right) had been missing since he was abducted last month
The footballer’s father (pictured in a brown coat) is seen waving as he is escorted to safety
It has taken a major effort involving the military and government to reach the point of release
A helicopter departed from the Colombian city of Valledupar, near the border to Venezuela, to go and collect the father of Liverpool winger Luis Diaz, following his abduction on October 28
Diaz played for Liverpool against Toulouse in the Europa League just hours after his father was freed
‘The Colombian Football Federation thanks the National Government, the Military Forces and the National Police, as well as all the institutions and officials that made the release of Luís Manuel Díaz, father of our player Luís Díaz, possible,’ a statement from the Colombia FA read.
‘Football as a sporting discipline symbolizes talent, dedication, teamwork and the intrinsic values of human beings. In Colombia it must continue to be a benchmark for entertainment, healthy competition, unity and joy.
‘Therefore, we insist on the need to maintain this activity, as well as those who are involved in it, in the sporting and administrative part and their families, outside of any scenario other than sports.’
The statement continued: ‘Behind a ball, the dreams and illusions of boys and girls, young people, women, men and adult soccer players, their loved ones and an entire country roll.
‘Football is passion in peace. Let no one ever think of attacking that reality again!’
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spoke movingly of the club’s support for their player who was told not to head home for security reasons.
All members of his squad had paid visits to Diaz’s home to offer their support while the side’s Latin American players are thought to have taken the lead.
Speaking to Colombian TV, Diaz’s Aunt said: ‘There were many days of uncertainty, of sleeplessness, of late nights. Today we are happy, happy to know that we already saw him. He is not as we would like, but he is alive.’
With his father still missing, Colombia international Diaz then scored his side’s equaliser with a dramatic late goal in a 1-1 draw at Luton before lifting his shirt to reveal a message demanding a release.
A number of false dawns followed before the breakthrough eventually arrived.
Earlier on Thursday afternoon, Colombian media reported that the process ‘of liberating Luis Diaz’s father has begun’. They added that a helicopter had taken off from the city of Valledupar to a meeting place where ELN operatives would stage the handover.
Radar showed the helicopter circling close to the Venezuelan border in the Perija Mountain Range, where the handover is thought to have taken place.
Images following the handover showed Diaz Sr in a khaki-coloured coat, Hugo Boss t-shirt and Chicago Bulls cap, flanked by two men who appeared to be priests.
He was then seen sat on the ground having a blood pressure check by a female official, close to what appeared to be a mountainside walking path.
Family are expected to be reunited with Diaz Sr in Valledupar.
Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, greeted the news with a message on social media platform X, in which he wrote: ‘Long live freedom and peace.’
On hearing the news, Liverpool wrote on Twitter: ‘We are delighted by the news of Luis Diaz’s father’s safe return and we thank all those involved in securing his release.’
Klopp then spoke to TNT Sports prior to tonight’s kick-off in France, stating: ‘It looks like Lucho is really happy, thumbs up all the time, so it looks very good but I’m not the one to release anything. Obviously, timing-wise, couldn’t have been better. If it’s today, great. That’s all I can say.’
Colombian press were with Diaz’s family as the rescue operation took place. They caught the reaction of Diaz Snr’s own father, who was reduced to tears upon seeing his son released.
Concern grew on Tuesday after there was no sign of the start of ELN’s release process despite measures to facilitate it, with Diaz’s family calling for the group to offer proof that Diaz Snr was still alive.
Diaz lifted up his Liverpool shirt in his last match, his first game since the kidnapping, to release a message that said in Spanish: ‘Freedom for Papa’
Liverpool star’s mother (in 2019, left centre) was swiftly rescued after the pair were snatched off the streets of Colombia last week, but his father remained with captors until today
But on Wednesday, hope was renewed again as humanitarian groups including representatives from the Catholic Chruch and the United Nations gathered on the Colombian-Venezuelan border after establishing contact with ELN to begin the handover.
On Thursday morning local time, Semana reported the handover had been a success.
Members of the police and other special forces had been searching for the Liverpool star’s father since October 28.
His father and mother, Cilenis Marulanda, were abducted from the town of Barrancas in La Guajira, Colombia by the group, before the ELN, who are considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union, fled the scene.
Reports last Friday had claimed that Diaz’s father would be freed that day, but his release did not materialise.
Juan Carlos Cuellar, a representative of the group, stated in a community meeting that Diaz Snr would be ‘released as soon as possible’.
On Sunday October 30, it emerged that Diaz’s mother had been rescued after she was left in a car by the guerrilla group, with members of the ELN keeping his father as a captive.
His mother made her first appearance since the kidnapping last Tuesday, demanding that the abductors release her partner safely before leading hundreds on a march in their home town.
Luis Diaz had been pictured back in training for the Reds ahead of the clash with Luton, but there was uncertainty over whether he would make an appearance during their 1-1 draw on Sunday amid the ongoing situation.
Instead, Diaz was included in the squad and came off the bench to score a 95th minute equaliser, to help Klopp’s side secure a draw.
After scoring, the Colombian forward issued an emotional plea asking for the release of his father.
He revealed a T-shirt underneath his Liverpool jersey that had the message ‘freedom for papa’ written in Spanish on it.
His manager and Luton captain Tom Lockyer both embraced the forward at full time, before Diaz issued a statement on social media on the same evening.
He wrote: ‘This is not Luis Diaz the player speaking. Today I am the son of Luis Manuel Diaz. My dad hard-working family man.
Diaz came off the bench to salvage a 1-1 draw for Liverpool in stoppage time against Luton
The Guerilla group holding Luis Diaz’s father vowed to ‘keep their word’ by freeing him
‘I ask the ELN for the prompt release of my father, and I ask international organisations to work together for his freedom.
‘Every second, every minute, our anguish grows. My mother, my brothers and I are desperate, distressed and without words to describe what we are feeling. This suffering will only end when we have him back home.
‘I beg you to release him immediately, respecting his integrity and ending this painful wait as soon as possible.
‘In the name of love and compassion, we ask that you reconsider your actions and allow us to recover him.
‘I thank Colombians and the international community for the support received, thank you for so many demonstrations of affection and solidarity in this difficult time that many families in my country find themselves living.’
On Monday, it was reported that the group had vowed ‘to keep their word’ and release his father as soon as ‘security guarantees’ were in place.
In a statement, which was signed by the guerrilla group’s commander Jose Manuel Martinez Quiroz, the ELN said: ‘On November 2, we informed the country of the decision to release Mr. Luis Manuel Diaz, father of the player Luis Diaz.
‘From that date, we began the process to accomplish this as soon as possible. We are making efforts to avoid incidents with government forces.
‘The area is still militarised, they are carrying out flyovers, disembarking troops, broadcasting and offering rewards as part of an intense search operation.
‘This situation is not allowing for the execution of the release plan quickly and safely, where Mr. Luis Manuel Diaz is not at risk. If operations continue in the area, they will delay the release and increase the risks.
Colombian police had been searching for Diaz’s father who was seized at gunpoint 12 days ago
The National Liberation Army – abbreviated as ELN in Spanish – is a leftist anti-government group made up of over 2,000 fighters and militants based in the Colombian countryside
It had been over a week since the parents of Liverpool footballer Luis Diaz were kidnapped by the Colombian Guerilla group ELN
A man is searched at a police checkpoint as the military operation escalates in Barrancas
‘We understand the anguish of the Diaz Marulanda family, to whom we say that we will keep our word to release him unilaterally, as soon as we have security guarantees for the development of the liberation operation.’
It was confirmed by the Colombian authorities on Thursday last week that the ELN were behind the abduction, with leader of the Colombian government’s Peace Delegation, Otty Patino, stating: ‘Today we have had official knowledge that the kidnapping was perpetrated by a unit belonging to the ELN.
‘To the ELN, we demand the immediate release of Mr Luis Manuel Diaz and we remind them that it is their responsibility to guarantee his life and integrity.
‘We remind the ELN that kidnapping is a criminal practice, in violation of International Humanitarian Law.’
The organisation, is a Marxist-Leninist anti-government group that has over 2,000 militants among its ranks based in the countryside of Colombia.
The director general of Colombia’s National Police force, William Rene Salamanca Ramirez, had also directly issued a statement to the Liverpool star stating that the authorities were utilising resources on land, sea and in the air to safely recover his father.
While officials continued to search for Diaz’s father, a reward of 200 million Colombian pesos (£40,000) was being offered in return for information on his location.
Diaz’s mother Cilenis Marulanda (centre) led a community march demanding the release of her husband, Luis Manuel Diaz
Hundreds of members of the local community joined forces dressed in white holding balloons
Military personnel had been on the ground in Barrancas to speed up his release
The head of the rebel group identified as having taken him released a statement on his capture
It’s been reported that ‘two motorised platoons unmanned aircraft, checkpoints, helicopters, a plane with specialised radar’ had all been deployed in the search.
The Liverpool forward also broke his silence on social media last week shortly after news filtered out about Diaz Snr’s kidnapping, urging members of the public to march in solidarity to demand the release of his father.
He had missed Liverpool’s previous matches against Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth amid the developing situation.
Speaking on his emotional tribute to his father after scoring against Luton, Klopp praised the forward and spoke on his embrace with the 26-year-old after the match.
The Liverpool manager said: ‘It’s wonderful, it’s emotional and it’s fantastic but the real problem is not sorted because of that.
‘We want to give and he wanted to as well, Lucho [Diaz] the opportunity to be a little bit distracted from things.
‘He cannot do anything. He is waiting all the time, the whole family is waiting all the time. He trained a few times with us and was then in a good mood and it’s good for him.
‘The signs from Colombia are rather positive, optimistic but not the one thing we want to hear didn’t happen yet.
‘How was he emotionally afterwards? After the game, there was no words necessary. We just gave each other a hug, that’s all. You know how he is. Ok, but desperately waiting for the right news.
‘I understand 100 per cent it’s a nice story. It is super positive and great for him but these things go by.
‘The real information we need is different information. It [scoring] is a really, really positive thing for him but all the other problems stay the same.’
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp embraced Diaz before he came on as a substitute on Sunday
Diaz was not involved in Liverpool’s victories over Nottingham Forest or Bournemouth
But he was pictured back in training for Liverpool last week amid the ongoing situation
After their 1-1 draw to Luton, Jurgen Klopp spoke on his embrace with Diaz and lumped praise on the Liverpool forward
His team-mate, Allison, added after the match: ‘It says a lot about Diaz’s character, his inner strength. Not many people imagine what he’s going through, we feel his pain but for him it’s a different level.
‘Football sometimes in the bad moment can bring joy to someone who is struggling. Football is a slice of joy for Lucho in this time. We are with him 100 per cent.
‘Football always surprises in a good way, it happened with me when I was going through a difficult moment. When you are on the pitch you are focused on doing the job.’
‘Really difficult, we had to play against a deep defending team. They did a really good job today. We didn’t play a bad game, we missed some chances. It’s disappointing to not win but we respected the opponent playing bravely on the pitch.’