(CNN) — A former mayor is a “probable” suspect in the disappearance of 43 students who were kidnapped last month from Iguala, a small city in Guerrero state, Mexican authorities said.
Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said Wednesday his office has issued arrest warrants for former Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca; his wife, Maria de los Ángeles Pineda Villa; and the city’s former public safety director, Felipe Flores Velásquez. Murillo said they are considered “probable masterminds” of events that occurred in Iguala on September 26.
According to the attorney general, on that day, a group of students from a teachers college in the nearby town of Ayotzinapa were on their way to stage a protest in Iguala. When the former mayor and his wife learned the protest would disrupt an event led by the mayor’s wife, they gave orders to their public safety director to send police forces to prevent the students from protesting.
“The order to confront those people came from the police department’s command center, straight from A-5, code name used to identify the Iguala mayor,” Murillo said. The attorney general also said his office learned this information from interrogations of police officers and gang members detained in the last month who were allegedly involved in the incident.
Police officers blocked the highway leading into the city and shot at the students as they arrived in buses and a van. One student was killed.
Footage from the scene shows a white van left in the middle of the road with its windows blown out and the doors wide open.
The students, Murillo said, were subsequently taken away by police officers, who handed them over to a local criminal gang known as Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors), which had infiltrated not only the police department but was also complicit with Mayor Abarca, his wife and the public safety director. All three disappeared the day after the clashes between police and the students.
It has been almost a month since the incident and the students are still missing. Fifty-three people, including 36 officers and 17 suspected gang members, have been detained.
No one was available for comment at the Iguala Police Department. The Mexican federal police and army have taken over the department and assumed all security responsibilities.
Twenty-eight bodies were found in mass graves in the state of Guerrero, but DNA tests showed there were no missing students among those victims.
Mexico was shocked this week by the revelations of a Roman Catholic priest and well-known activist who works with migrants and trafficking victims. The Rev. Alejandro Solalinde said the students were forced to walk to a remote location and then shot.
“Some who were wounded but still alive, with others who were already dead — one, two, we don’t know how many — were put on top of firewood and set on fire with diesel,” Solalinde said. He said he has given his information to prosecutors.
The case has become a political crisis, with opposition lawmakers asking President Enrique Peña Nieto to dissolve the entire Guerrero state government and take charge. Peña Nieto has said his government will not spare any efforts until the students are found and justice is done.
“Violence, whatever its origin, goes against what we are as a country. Violence will never be a solution or pave the way towards a better future,” the President said.
Mexican authorities are offering a reward of nearly $5 million for information leading to finding the students and solving the case.
Online, international students are also demanding answers. A video posted on YouTube shows young people from different countries “demanding justice for the 43 Mexican students who went missing on September 26,” in multiple languages.