Suspects admit killing missing Mexico students

2014-11-08 12:06
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Mexico City - Gang suspects have confessed to killing 43 missing Mexican students, burning their bodies for 14 hours and tossing their charcoal-like remains in a river, authorities said, in a case causing national revulsion.

Facing angry protests in the biggest crisis of his administration, President Enrique Pena Nieto vowed to hunt down all those responsible for the "horrible crime."

Authorities say the aspiring teachers vanished after gang-linked police attacked their buses in the southern city of Iguala on 26 September, allegedly under orders of the mayor and his wife in a night of terror that left six other people dead.

The police then delivered the 43 to members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang who told investigators they took them in two trucks to a landfill and killed them.

If the confessions are proven true, the mass murder would rank among the worst massacres in a drug war that has killed more than 80 000 people and left 22,000 others missing since 2006.

The Iguala case has drawn international condemnation, highlighted Mexico's struggle with corruption and undermined Pena Nieto's assurances that national violence was down.

"To the parents of the missing young men and society as a whole, I assure you that we won't stop until justice is served," said Pena Nieto, who has shortened a trip to China and Australia starting Sunday due to the case.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam stopped short Friday of declaring the 43 dead and said an Austrian university would help identify the remains.

He said authorities will continue to consider the students as missing until DNA tests confirm the identities.

But the chief prosecutor added that there was "a lot of evidence... that could indicate it was them."

14-hour inferno

Three Guerreros Unidos members confessed to killing the male students after police handed them over between Iguala and the neighboring town of Cocula, Murillo Karam said, showing videos of the taped confessions.

The bodies were set on fire with gasoline, tires, firewood and plastic, in a 14-hour-long inferno downhill from a Cocula garbage dump, he said.

"The fire lasted from midnight to 14:00 the next day. The criminals could not handle the bodies until 17:00 due to the heat," he said.

The suspects then crushed the remains, stuffed them in bags and threw some in a river. Suspects burned their own clothes to hide any evidence.

Murillo Karam showed videos of investigators combing through small pieces of charcoal-like remains that were found in black plastic bags. Some parts were found near the landfill.

Murillo Karam delivered the news to the relatives of the missing in an airport hangar in Chilpancingo, capital of the violence-plagued southern state of Guerrero.

But the parents, who distrust the government, said they would not accept that their children are dead until they get a final ruling from independent Argentine forensic experts who are taking part in the investigation.

"As long as there is no proof, our sons are alive," Felipe de la Cruz, a spokesperson for the families, said at a news conference from the missing young men's teacher-training college near Chilpancingo.

"We will keep searching for them," he said.

Last month, two hitmen had already confessed to killing 17 of the students and dumping them in a mass grave near Iguala. But authorities said tests showed none of them were among 28 bodies found in the pit.

Warning signs

Authorities have now detained 74 people, including several Guerreros Unidos members, 36 Iguala and Cocula police officers and Iguala's ousted mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda.

The case has highlighted Mexico's struggle to prevent collusion between officials and drug gangs.

Authorities say Abarca ordered the officers to confront the students over fears they would derail a speech by his wife, who headed the local child protection agency.

The missing young men said they went to Iguala to raise funds, though they hijacked four buses to move around, a common practice among students from the radical teachers college.

"The corruption and violence were warning signs for all to see for years and those who negligently ignored them are accomplices in this tragedy," said Amnesty International's Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas.

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