Killing Escobar tells of Peter’s fateful mission

Monday:Killing Escobar; (BBC Two, 9pm)

Sunday, 18th July 2021, 5:00 pm

How and why was a Glasgow-born mercenary hired to kill notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar?

This fascinating documentary, previously shown on BBC Scotland, tells the incredible true story of former soldier Peter McAleese, who, along with his friend Dave Tomkins, was approached by a Colombian cartel to take out the world’s biggest cocaine dealer in 1989.

McAleese’s personal archive is interwoven with never-before-seen amateur footage, dramatic reconstruction and interviews with his fellow mercenaries to tell the story of the fateful mission and the dark consequences for those involved. We also hear from one of Escobar’s bodyguards, members of America’s DEA and the security chief of the Colombian cartel that wanted Escobar eliminated.

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Programme Name: Killing Escobar - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1/1) - Picture Shows: Peter McAleese - (C) Two Rivers Media - Photographer: David Whitney

The film also provides a deeply personal character study of McAleese, a man trained to fight and kill who actively sought out war, and the cost the mission had on himself and his family.

Born in 1942, McAleese was brought up in Riddrie – on the outskirts of Glasgow – and in the shadow of its infamous prison Barlinnie.

His youth in post-war working-class Scotland was marked by poverty and violence and he quickly learned how to fight.

Leaving home, he joined the Parachute Regiment in 1960 and learned to channel his aggression into soldiering, serving with the elite 22 Regiment SAS in Bahrain and Cyprus, and fighting in ferocious jungle warfare in Borneo, before leaving the Army in 1969.

“I was trained to kill by the Army but the fighting instinct came from Glasgow,” he says.

On his release from prison where he was sent after assaulting a girlfriend, McAleese sought to recreate the buzz of his military career by finding action as a ‘mercenary’ in the Angolan Civil War and later in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa.

He met Tomkins, who was not a regular soldier but knew how to make deals and supply weapons, in Angola in 1976.

The unlikely pair became great friends and it was Tomkins who first approached McAleese about the mission to “rub out” Escobar.

Jorge Salcedo, a part of rival Colombian drug gang the Cali cartel, was co-ordinating the attack and he wanted Tomkins to recruit a team to carry it out.

So, in Colombia, McAleese gathered a select team of ex-Special Forces operatives and began training for a lightning raid on Escobar’s Hacienda Napoles.

“You don’t get asked to assassinate Pablo Escobar unless you have got the right experience,” McAleese recalls.

“I had no morals about killing him. I have never looked upon it as murder. I looked upon it as a target.”

After 11 weeks of intense preparation, the men launched the attack which involved two helicopters flying into the compound as the mercenaries shot their way through Escobar’s massive security operation to kill the drug lord.

But the mission was never completed, and the helicopter carrying McAleese and Tomkins crashed as it flew low through the clouds over the Andes, killing the pilot.

Meanwhile, Escobar heard about the attack plan and sent his men to the mountain to find the survivors, including the badly injured McAleese.

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