'Mexico security officials likely conspired in massacre of students'

Reuters| Last Updated: Oct 06, 2014, 14:37 PM IST

Iguala: Missing students were likely among charred corpses found in mass graves in southwest Mexico and local security officials are suspected of conspiring with gang members to kill them, authorities said on Sunday

Several investigators said they feared the victims were among dozens of students who went missing after they clashed with police in Iguala in the volatile state of Guerrero on the night of Sept. 26.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, local officials said that at least 34 bodies had been buried at the site.

Guerrero state Attorney General Inaky Blanco said 28 bodies had been recovered so far, some complete and some in pieces. He said "it is probable" that some of the students are among the remains found in the graves.

The prosecutor added that two gang hitmen have admitted killing 17 of the 43 missing students with the help of security officials.

While federal investigators, police and the army continued to pull human remains out of the plot of broken land on the outskirts of the city of Iguala, families of missing students demanded information on the whereabouts of their loved ones.

At the college east of the state capital of Chilpancingo, where the students are from, there was anger and despair over their fate and anxious relatives blamed President Enrique Pena Nieto for what had happened.

"Things are going from bad to worse," said a woman who identified herself as Anayeli, whose 20-year-old brother was among the missing. "Supposedly Pena Nieto isn`t involved, but this is happening right under his nose. He`s involved in all of this."

As dogs wandered about a rough dirt track petering out into the sierra, security officials said they believed the victims had been driven to the end of the track, walked up the hillside, executed and buried in six graves.

Blanco told reporters that bodies were set on fire after being heaped on top of branches which were likely doused with gasoline or diesel.

He said that 29 suspects have been identified so far, 26 of whom have been arrested, including Felipe Flores, the head of security for Iguala.

Blanco said local police had been infiltrated by a criminal gang known as the Guerreros Unidos, and that Flores had conspired with a gang leader to order the killings.

He added that Francisco Salgado, Flores`s deputy, also ordered the police to detain the students and has gone missing.
Police are suspected of abducting some of the students, a local security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"You really can`t call them police," the state security official said.

Suspected gang members had told investigators that police had handed over the students to the people who killed them, who belonged to the gang, he added. The suspected gang members had also helped the authorities identify the site, he said.

However, the state government said it could be days before the identities of the dead are known.

Soldiers and police had cordoned off the dirt track where it ended not far from the graves, which lay about a 40-minute walk across rocky terrain inaccessible by vehicle.

The fugitive mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, is also being investigated for possible involvement in the crimes, Blanco said.

PRESSURE ON PRESIDENT

Some 22 police have been arrested in connection with the Sept. 26 violence, which claimed the lives of at least six people and left 25 injured.

The graves have created a major headache for Pena Nieto, who took office two years ago pledging to end a wave of gang-related violence that has killed around 100,000 people since the start of 2007.

Though homicides have fallen on his watch, other crimes have increased, including extortion and kidnapping.

Over the past few days, Pena Nieto`s record on law and order has taken a number of blows, including the killing of a federal congressman and news that soldiers are believed to have summarily executed a group of suspected gang members earlier this year.

Information leading to the discovery of the graves had in part come from the interrogation of local police arrested after the clashes in Iguala, the security official said.

Guerrero state, home to Iguala and the resort of Acapulco, has been one of the most lawless in the country for years.