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Colombia police director removed who spoke about using "exorcisms" to catch fugitives

Colombia's national police director who spoke about using "exorcisms" to catch fugitives and said "the existence of the devil is certain" was removed from his post on Wednesday by President Gustavo Petro.

Neither Petro nor the Defense Ministry elaborated on reasons for the dismissal of Gen. Henry Sanabria, a staunch Catholic who was appointed by Petro in August of last year. But, Sanabria was under an internal investigation by the ministry over whether he had inappropriately allowed his religious beliefs to infringe on his duties.

Colombia Defense Minister Iván Velásquez Gómez thanked Sanabria for his service in a tweet. Gómez said William Salamanca, a retired general based in Miami, will rejoin the police department. 

In a March interview with Semana magazine, Sanabria told the reporter that he and other police officials used exorcism and prayer to tackle crime. 

Sanabria said that religious practices have helped Colombian police leaders throughout 50 years of armed conflicts and took down the country's most powerful criminals, including drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar.

He said "criminals use witchcraft," and that the existence of the devil is certain.

He also issued a strong condemnation of abortion, which is legal in Colombia. Sanabria said that abortion is a "very serious sin" because it implies "killing a little person who is being formed."

Sanabria had unleashed a debate about the impact of his faith on the police after his statements.

Although Colombia is a predominantly Catholic country of conservative and religious traditions, it is a secular state under its constitution. Petro, who was sworn in as the country's first-ever leftist president last August, said that Sanabria would never be persecuted over his religion, but that there must be separation between religious beliefs and the state.

Interior Minister Alfonso Prada said Wednesday that Sanabria's departure had nothing to do with his expressions of his religious beliefs, since the government respects freedom of thought. He said only that the dismissal was part of a new start for the national police force.

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