MEXICO CITY (AP) — New testimony by a cooperating witness directly implicates Mexico’s army in the disappearance of 43 college students in a 2014 incident that continues to haunt the country, according to a newspaper report Wednesday.
The newspaper Reforma said the witness, presumably a gang member identified only as “Juan,” alleges soldiers held and interrogated some of the students before turning them over to a drug gang.
The students’ bodies were then either burned at a local crematorium or dissolved in acid or caustic solutions and dumped down drains, the witness said. Still other bodies were purportedly hacked up and scattered near the city of Taxco.
The revelation could further embarrass the army, which has recently been hit by allegations that a former defense secretary was in the pay of a drug gang. It could also imply that most of the students’ remains may never be found.
The Interior Department confirmed that the testimony was part of the case file and said it would file charges against whoever leaked it. The department did not comment on the accuracy of the newspaper’s version of the testimony.
But a person familiar with the case said the testimony was new, from early 2020, and was part of the case file.
The witness said that an army captain, who is now facing organized crime charges in the case, held some of the students at a local army base and interrogated them, before turning them over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang.
Police held another group, and gang members captured still others. In all, the witness said as many as 70 to 80 people were held, turned over to the gang and killed, because the Guerreros Unidos gang believed that criminals from a rival group were among them.
The accusation is one of a series of conflicting testimonies that have offered differing versions of what happened to the students from a rural teachers’ college who were hijacking buses when they were rounded up by police and turned over to a drug gang.
Over more than six years of investigations, Mexican authorities have found dozens of clandestine graves and 184 bodies, but none of the missing students.
According to initial investigations of the September 2014 events, police in the city of Iguala handed the students over to cartel members, who purportedly killed and burned them. However, charred bone fragments have been fully matched to only two students.
The witness “Juan” purportedly told investigators that bone fragments found around a garbage dump near Iguala were planted by the drug gang to throw off investigations.
Prosecutors once maintained the students had been burned in a huge pyre at the dump, a version that independent forensics experts later said was not feasible.
“Juan” said that in reality, some of the student’s bodies were dissolved in caustic solutions and dumped down drains, while others were hacked up and incinerated at a local funeral home.
An employee at that funeral home in Iguala, known as “El Angel,” confirmed it does have crematorium facilities. It would have been a daring move implying the drug gang’s near-total control in Iguala, because the funeral home is also the base for the local medical examiners’ office.
But there have been reams of conflicting testimonies in the case, including some allegedly extracted under torture by investigators in a previous administration.