A FORMER SAS operative who was tasked with assassinating the world’s biggest drug baron is part of a new feature-length documentary about the daring mission.
It tells the true story of Scottish mercenary and ex-SAS operative Peter McAleese, who, while living in Hereford, was hired by a rival Colombian drug cartel to lead a small team of ex-special forces commandos on a mission to kill Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug lord in 1989.
“You don’t get asked to assassinate Pablo Escobar unless you have the right experience,” says mercenary Peter McAleese, recalling being hired to kill one of the world’s most notorious men. “It was like f***ing Christmas.”
The film, released on Friday (March 12), is called ‘Killing Escobar’ and can be watched online.
It uses video and pictures taken by the team of 12 mercenaries on the mission, with dramatic reconstruction of the helicopter assault on Escobar’s hacienda in 1989, with interviews of many involved.
The film has been directed by David Whitney, who said this was one of his favourite projects he has ever worked on.
Mr Whitney said: “It’s a relatively unknown story but I really felt passionately that there was a feature here, which is why I pursued it.
“It has everything. It has action, it has intrigue.
“It’s got danger. It’s a true story. It’s a team of mainly British mercenaries.
“What is there not to like about this? It’s an amazing story and so dramatic,
“That’s what film-makers look for. We look for the drama and the human stories and at the heart of this story is Peter McAleese.”
He added: “It was a hugely interesting and fascinating experience.
“Travelling around the world to shoot something like this and learn all about it and talk to the people I did was great.
“It was probably the most enjoyable shoot of my career.
“For the dramatic reconstructions we had weapons, helicopters and explosions, the crew was massive and they were great to work with.”
For many, Escobar’s exploits will be familiar from the Netflix series Narcos but Mr Whitney is quick to stress the documentary’s tale is something entirely different.
Filmed during the course of the last year, the director and his crew visited Glasgow – a “brilliant city”, he says, where he explored McAleese’s upbringing – America, and, crucially, Colombia itself.
There he was able to track down a former hitman of Escobar’s, who was on the ground on the day of the group’s ultimately unsuccessful attack.
“There’s an awful lot of content out there about Escobar but this is a really fresh angle that people probably won’t have seen before,” Mr Whitney said.
“This film is not about Pablo Escobar. It’s about Peter McAleese and his men and what they went through.
“We went and spoke to Jorge Salcedo [who ultimately helped to bring down Escobar]. He’s in witness protection in America and we went and interviewed in secret and he gave, for the first time, his depiction of what happened.
“We really wanted to have real depth to the film and speaking to the people who were there is how you do it.
“We also managed to track down one of Escobar’s hitmen who was there on the day Peter launched this helicopter raid. We managed to find him. He’s in hiding still in Colombia and is still a wanted man, who killed a lot of people who want revenge.
“It was so thrilling to hear when we met him that he knew all about this and what happened on the day. You don’t just want to talk to nice, middle-class people all the time and want to speak to people who have done real difficult things.
“If that means going to Colombia to speak to hitmen, then so be it.”
If it’s people who have done difficult things you’re after, then they don’t come much better qualified than McAleese.
Raised under the watchful eye of Barlinne, he enjoyed a chequered military career, serving in Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe – and South Africa, before training bodyguards in Moscow and working with security forces in Algeria and Iraq.
His extraordinary life was retold in his book, No Mean Soldier, but Killing Escobar shines the spotlight on some of his lesser-known tales. As well as the mission McAleese opens up about his marriage and how he struggled to make his family life work.
“He’s led an extraordinary life and gone through a great deal of personal struggle,” said Mr Whitney.
“A lot of that came to the fore during that time in Colombia.”
“When I pitched it to him and how I wanted to do it, he agreed. t’s not been easy. Peter is a tough, old man and is challenging at times. He was quite a dangerous person many years ago but we have become friends over the course of the film.
“He trusted me and I didn’t want to sell him down the river and stitch him up but I also didn’t want to do a puff piece. I wanted to really nail down his regrets, his faults, his mistakes, and I am just grateful he trusted me to go there.”
Killing Escobar can be watched online via Manchester’s HOME cinema website. For more, click here.