Mexico ex-attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam, dozens of police officers, soldiers arrested in case of 43 missing students

Mexico ex-attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam, dozens of police officers, soldiers arrested in case of 43 missing students

Federal prosecutors said on Friday they had arrested the former Mexican government’s attorney general on charges of abuse in the investigation into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students at a radical teachers’ college.

Prosecutors also said they had issued arrest warrants for 20 army servicemen officers, five local officials, 33 local police officers and 11 state police officers, as well as 14 gang members in the case.

The raid included the first arrest of a former attorney general in recent history and one of the largest mass arrests of Mexican Army soldiers by civilian prosecutors.

Portraits of some of the 43 missing teachers' college students are placed on the ground outside the Mexican embassy in 2014.Portraits of some of the 43 missing teacher training college students are placed on the ground outside the Mexican embassy in 2014.Portal

Mothers and fathers of the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero hold a rally in Mexico City on September 26, 2021.Mothers and fathers of the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero hold a rally in Mexico City on September 26, 2021.ZUMAPRESS.com

Jesús Murillo Karam was Attorney General under then-President Enrique Peña Nieto from 2012 to 2015. The office of current Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero said Murillo Karam has been charged with torture, misconduct and forced disappearance.

In 2020, Gertz Manero said Murillo Karam was implicated in “orchestrating a massive media ruse” and conducting a “general cover-up” in the case.

The arrest came a day after a commission set up to investigate what happened said the army was at least partially responsible in the case. It was said that a soldier had infiltrated the affected group of students and that the army had not stopped the kidnappings despite knowing what was going on.

Corrupt local police officers, other security forces and members of a drug gang abducted the students in the city of Iguala, Guerrero state, although the motive remains unclear eight years later. Their bodies have never been found, although fragments of burned bones have been attributed to three of the students.

A woman carries a banner with Spanish inscription "we are missing 43," regarding the 43 missing students during a march in Mexico City on November 26, 2015. A woman carries a banner that reads “We Miss 43” in Spanish, referring to the 43 missing students during a march in Mexico City November 26, 2015. AP

Under pressure to solve the case quickly, Murillo Karam revealed in 2014 that the students had been killed by members of a drug gang and their bodies burned in a garbage dump. He called this hypothesis “the historical truth”.

However, the investigation included cases of torture, improper arrest and mishandling of evidence that have since allowed most of the gang members directly involved to walk free.

The incident took place near a major military base and independent investigations have shown that members of the military knew what was going on. The students’ families have long requested that soldiers be involved in the investigation.

On Thursday, the Truth Commission investigating the case said one of the kidnapped students was a soldier who had infiltrated the radical faculty, but the army did not search for him despite having real-time information on the kidnapping. It said the inaction violated army protocols for missing soldier cases.

The Department of Defense did not respond to a request for comment.

The soldiers and officers wanted under Friday’s arrest warrants — and the other officers, police officers and gang members — must face charges of murder, torture, misconduct, criminal association and enforced disappearance

It was not immediately clear if all suspects faced all charges or if the suspects were among dozens previously arrested and charged in previous investigations.

For a long time, prior to reforms of Mexican law, the army was allowed to refer soldiers accused of misconduct to separate military courts. But soldiers must now be tried in civilian courts when their crimes affected civilians.

The accused soldiers served near the abduction base in 2014.

Students from several Mexican universities protest in Mexico City on October 15, 2014 for the 43 missing students.Students from several Mexican universities protest in Mexico City October 15, 2014 for the 43 missing students.EPA

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, to which both Murillo Karam and Peña Nieto belonged, wrote on its Twitter account that Murillo Karam’s arrest “is more a matter of politics than justice. This action does not help the victims’ families to get answers.”

Mexican federal prosecutors had previously issued arrest warrants for members of the military and federal police, as well as for Tomás Zeron, who was head of the federal investigative agency, Mexico’s detective agency, at the time of the kidnapping.

Zeron is wanted for torture and covering up enforced disappearances. He fled to Israel and Mexico has asked the Israeli government for help in arresting him.

On November 20, 2014, students, anarchists and police clash at a march in Mexico City demanding the safe return of 43 missing Ayotzinapa students.On November 20, 2014, students and anarchists clashed with police during a march in Mexico City to demand the safe return of 43 missing Ayotzinapa students. Javier Vázquez / Demotix

Gertz Manero said that in addition to Zeron’s alleged crimes related to the case, he allegedly stole more than $44 million from the Attorney General’s Office budget.

The motive for kidnapping the students remains controversial.

On September 26, 2014, local Iguala police, members of organized crime and authorities abducted 43 students from buses. The students regularly impounded buses for their transportation.

A Guerrero police officer stands guard during a demonstration demanding justice for the 43 missing Ayotzinapa trainee teachers in 2014.A Guerrero police officer stands guard during a demonstration demanding justice for the 43 missing Ayotzinapa teacher trainees in 2014.Portal

Murillo Karam claimed the students were handed over to a drug gang, who killed them, burned their bodies at a dump in nearby Cocula, and dumped the burned bone fragments in a river.

Subsequent investigations by independent experts and the Attorney General’s Office, confirmed by the Truth Commission, have dismissed the idea that the bodies were incinerated at the Cocula landfill.

There is no evidence that any of the students could still be alive.