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Salvadoran police arrest four ex-officers for 1989 Jesuit murders

Spanish High Court demands extradition of 16 former military officials in connection with the killings

Reporters wait outside police headquarters in San Salvador.
Reporters wait outside police headquarters in San Salvador. AFP

Police in El Salvador have announced the arrest of four of 16 former military officers wanted by a Spanish judge in connection with the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests and two women during the civil war in the Central American nation.

Authorities detained former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno; former sergeants Ramiro Ávalos Vargas and Tomás Zárpate Castillo; and former corporal Ángel Pérez Vásquez.

They are all wanted on international arrest warrants issued by Spanish High Court Judge Eloy Velasco.

The massacre was carried out by an elite force and ordered by the armed forces highest command, according to a UN commission

Via its Twitter account, the Salvadoran National Civilian Police (PNC) force said that it would “continue the search and capture of the rest of the wanted persons and will inform the public in the opportune moment.”

On Friday, officers raided the homes of former Colonels Joaquín Arnoldo Cerna Flores and Carlos Mauricio Guzmán but did not find them.

Five of the six Jesuit priests killed were Spanish citizens, including Ignacio Ellacuría and Ignacio Martín-Baró, both lecturers at the Central American University (UCA) and well-known proponents of liberation theology. Spanish priests Segundo Montes, Armando López and Juan Ramón Moreno, the Salvadoran clergyman Joaquín López, their housekeeper Julia Elba Ramos, and her 16-year-old daughter, Celina Mariceth Ramos, both Salvadoran citizens, were also killed in the attack.

The November 16, 1989 massacre was carried out by an elite force and ordered by the armed forces highest command, according to a UN commission that looked into the crimes committed in El Salvador from 1980 to 1989.

Salvadoran police began arresting the former military officials after a US court ordered the extradition to Spain of former deputy Defense Minister Inocente Montano, who is one of the fugitives wanted by the High Court.

Judge Velasco issued the first warrants in 2011 but the Salvador Supreme Court ruled against him. Last month, the High Court asked that the warrants be reinstated after the Salvadoran courts set a new jurisprudence by moving to arrest and extradite Salvadoran soccer federation chief Reynaldo Vázquez to the United States to face charges in the FIFA corruption scandal.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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