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Mexico arrests former top prosecutor in 2014 student disappearance case

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Dinah Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities Friday made the first high-level arrests in the infamous 2014 disappearance of 43 students, ex-top prosecutor was accused of crimes in Mexico. He is one of Mexico's worst human rights abuses, what current officials call a state crime.

Former Attorney General Jesus Murillo was arrested at his home in Mexico City. The kidnapping and disappearance of a student-teacher in the southwestern state of Guerrero on charges of enforced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice.

Murillo will be taken to the attorney general's office and transferred to a prison in Mexico City, according to authorities.

Since 2012, under then-President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2015, Murillo made his 26th September 2014 investigation into the disappearance of a student from the Ayotsinapa Rural Teachers College. Oversaw critical research.

Questions have plagued Mexico since the bodies of just three of his students were found and identified.

International experts criticized the official investigation, which was riddled with errors and abuse, including the torture of witnesses. President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in 2018 and vowed to find out what happened. It is trying to arrest a certain Thomas Zellon and last year asked Israel for his extradition.

When asked about the government's move to scrutinize past investigations, Murillo was delighted and open to questions, according to local media reports in 2020.

Murillo was detained wearing black slacks, his hands folded in the pockets of his gray jacket, a law enforcement officer with a rifle dangling from his chest, according to images released by local media. An officer stood behind him.

The Office of the Attorney General said Murillo cooperated "without hesitation."

The arrest came a day after Mexico's chief human rights official, Alejandro Encinas, called his disappearance a "national crime" involving local, state and federal authorities.

"What happened? Enforced disappearance of boys by government authorities and criminal gangs that night," Encinas said at a press conference.

The highest levels of Pena Nieto's government organized a cover-up, including altering the crime scene and covering up the relationship between authorities and criminals, Encinas said. Encinas said prosecutors said he was working on 33 indictments, but did not name them.

Murillo said he took over the Ayotzinapa case in 2014 and called the government's findings "historical truth."

According to that version, a local drug gang mistook the students for members of his rival group and killed them, incinerating the bodies in a dump and dumping the remains into a river.

An international panel of experts found holes in its explanations, and the United Nations condemned arbitrary detention and torture under investigation. In particular, perceptions of corruption and impunity under Pena Nieto have become synonymous with anger at the lack of answers.

Murillo, a former member of Congress and governor of Hidalgo, resigned in 2015 after growing criticism of his handling of the case.

Vidulfo Rosales, a lawyer for the parents of the Ayotzinapa students, called on the government to make more arrests.

"We still have a lot of work to do before we can consider this case closed," Rosales told Mexican television. Diaz, reporting by Isabel Woodford; editing by Matthew Lewis, Leslie Adler, Anthony Esposito, William Mallard)