Mexico has for the first time issued arrest warrants for members of the military and federal police force in relation to the abduction and disappearance of 43 students in 2014, the Attorney General’s office announced Saturday.
Omar Gomez Trejo, the prosecutor leading the investigation, said 25 arrest warrants had been issued in total and one federal police officer was already in custody.
Saturday marked the six-year anniversary of the students’ disappearance from the Raul Isidro Burgos Teachers’ College in Ayotzinapa in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state, prompting a massive outcry and demonstrations demanding justice and accountability.
Gomez Trejo said that among those being sought by investigators are “the intellectual and material authors of the disappearance”, who include “police from various municipalities, federal police, members of the army”, current and former officials from the federal prosecutor’s office, and people involved with organised crime.
The individuals sought are accused of carrying out or knowing about the students’ disappearance.
Current and former members of the attorney general’s office were also being sought, Gomez Trejo said.
The September 26 incident, in which local police, other security forces and members of a drug gang abducted the students in Iguala, Guerrero, occurred near a large army base and independent investigations have shown the military was aware of what was happening.
The pursuit of soldiers, which has long been demanded by the victims’ families, is particularly significant for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has relied on a close relationship with the military throughout his presidency.
“Arrest orders have been issued for soldiers that will be carried out,” Obrador said on Saturday. “He who has participated and is shown to have done so is going to be judged … There will be no cover-up.”
With few answers six years after the incident, Maria Martinez, the mother of one of the missing students, told the Associated Press news agency she wanted the government to “squeeze a little more” from the investigation because the families are still “mad with pain”.
Obrador promised in 2018 to relaunch an investigation into the disappearances after a probe launched by former President Enrique Pena Nieto was deemed unreliable.
An investigation under the former administration had concluded that the teaching students, who were commandeering public buses to go to protests in a tolerated yearly practice when they were taken, were killed and their bodies incinerated at a garbage dump outside the nearby town of Cocula. Their remains were later thrown into a river.
However, that version of events was discredited, with independent investigators saying confessions had been extracted under torture and that there was a lack of physical evidence to support the story.
Current Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero said he believes that there had been a “generalised cover-up” that led to further arbitrary arrests and torture.
The highest-ranking official wanted in the case is Tomas Zeron, who at the time of the abduction was the head of the federal investigation agency. He is being sought on charges of torture and covering up forced disappearances.
Gertz Manero said that in addition to Zeron’s alleged crimes connected to the case, he is accused of stealing more than $44m from the Attorney General’s office budget.