MEXICO CITY: Authorities sought to finally solve the five-week-old disappearance of 43 students that has outraged Mexico after catching a fugitive ex-mayor and wife team suspected of ordering police to attack them.
After a month on the lam, Jose Luis Abarca, the former mayor of the southern city of Iguala, and Maria de los Angeles Pineda were captured by federal police early on Tuesday in Mexico City’s populous working-class district of Iztapalapa.
Officials voiced hope the arrests would yield new clues about the whereabouts of the students in a disappearance that has drawn international condemnation, sparked national protests and shaken President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration.
“I hope that this arrest will contribute in a decisive manner to the investigation undertaken by the attorney general’s office,” said Pena Nieto, who last week met parents angry at the pace of the probe.
The couple had been hiding in a modest concrete house with a pink metal door, far from their opulent life in Iguala, where Abarca owned jewelry stores and his wife allegedly ran local operations for the Guerreros Unidos drug gang.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said Abarca and his wife were captured “without a single shot fired” at 2:30 a.m. in one of three homes that were put under secret surveillance following intelligence work.
“I hope we can give you bigger and deeper information in the coming days,” he told a news conference.
Abarca was wearing a dark suit during his arrest while Pineda had shiny earrings and a white shawl, as if they were allowed to dress up before being hauled away, according to pictures released by prosecutors.
Police also detained a woman identified as Noemi Berumen Rodriguez in another part of Iztapalapa over accusations that she helped them hide.
The suspects were taken before federal prosecutors. Relatives of victims later entered the attorney general’s office while some 30 people protested outside.
Authorities say the students vanished on September 26 after municipal police shot at their buses in Iguala, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Mexico City, and then handed the 43 to the Guerreros Unidos.
Six people died in the night of violence. In one gangland-style killing, a dead student was found with his facial skin peeled off and eyes gouged out.
The teacher-college students remain missing despite a vast search operation by troops, drones and boats in the state of Guerrero, where a dozen mass graves containing 38 unidentified bodies have been discovered.
Authorities have now detained 59 people, including 22 Iguala police officers, 14 members of the municipal force in the neighboring town of Cocula and the leader of the Guerreros Unidos.