Mexico to pursue soldiers, federal police in abduction probe

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico has issued 25 arrest warrants for those who carried out and knew about the abduction of 43 students in southern Mexico in 2014, including for the first time members of the military and federal police, the Attorney General’s Office announced Saturday.

“Those responsible for the forced disappearance of the 43 students in the south of the country are fully identified” and will be prosecuted, unlike the manipulation and cover-up that happened under the previous administration, said Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero on the sixth anniversary of their disappearance.

Omar Gómez Trejo, the prosecutor leading the case of the students from the teachers’ college at Ayotzinapa in Guerrero state, said one federal police officer was already in custody.

Gómez said that among those being sought are “the intellectual and material authors of the disappearance, and these orders include police from various municipalities, federal police, members of the army,” as well as current and former officials from the federal prosecutor’s office and organized crime. He did not say if that included the office’s former chief, Jesús Murillo Karam, who Gertz Manero accused of “orchestrating a massive media trick.”

The students’ families have long demanded that soldiers be included in the investigation. Local police, other security forces and members of a drug gang abducted the students in Iguala, Guerrero on the night of Sept. 26.

It occurred near a large army base and independent investigations showed members of the military were aware of what was occurring. Pursuing soldiers is a significant move, especially considering President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s coziness with the armed forces.

“Arrest orders have been issued for soldiers that will be carried out,” López Obrador said. “He who has participated and is shown to have done so is going to be judged, that is an advance, there will be no cover-up.”

The motive for the students’ abduction remains a subject of debate.

On Saturday, Gertz Manero said “the missing youths were victims who ended up in the middle of a battle of interests between drug trafficking forces.” Iguala has long been a critical hub for moving heroin from opium poppies grown in the surrounding mountains north to the United States.

He said that in addition to the missing students, others were killed in the area that night. “Nearly 80 people were massacred and hidden in Iguala by the different criminal groups and their official accomplices,” he said.

Interior Ministry Under Secretary Alejandro Encinas said that since the search began for the 43 students, some 245 bodies have been found in the area. Only 22 have been identified.

Six years in, not knowing for certain what happened to the students has left the families desperate. Moving against the military is at least symbolically significant.

María Martínez, the mother of one of the missing students, who spoke for the other families said she asked that the government “squeeze a little more,” because the families are “mad with pain.”

The administration of ex-President Enrique Peña Nieto had said the students were killed and incinerated at a garbage dump outside the nearby town of Cocula. They said their remains were tossed in a river. However, the version was largely based on statements made under torture and independent investigators did not find evidence to support the story.

Gertz Manero said he considers that a “generalized cover-up” has been established. It led to arbitrary arrests and torture.

The highest-ranking fugitive in the case is Tomás Zeron, who at the time of the abduction was the head of the federal investigation agency. He’s being sought on charges of torture and covering up forced disappearances. Gertz Manero said Saturday that Zeron was in Israel and that Mexico had asked that government for help in his arrest.

Gertz Manero said that in addition to Zeron’s alleged crimes connected to the case, he also allegedly stole more than $44 million from the Attorney General’s Office budget. Mexican authorities had located him last year in Canada, but as they prepared to seek his extradition he fled to Israel.

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