Mexico’s former attorney general has been arrested in connection with the disappearance of 43 students in 2014, the most prominent person detained to date in the infamous case that has haunted the country since.
Jesús Murillo was arrested Friday at his home in Mexico City on charges of enforced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice in the kidnapping and disappearance of student teachers in the southwestern state of Guerrero, now identified as a “state-sponsored crime”.
Murillo was taken to an attorney general’s office and would be transferred to a Mexico City prison, authorities said.
Within hours of the arrest, a judge released 83 more arrest warrants for soldiers, police, Guerrero officials and gang members in connection with the case, the attorney general’s office said.
During Murillo’s 2012-2015 term under then-President Enrique Peña Nieto, he oversaw the highly criticized investigation into the September 26, 2014, disappearance of the students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ School.
The remains of only three students were ever found and identified, and questions have gone unanswered ever since.
International experts said the official investigation was full of errors and abuses, including the torture of witnesses. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in 2018 and promised to clarify what had happened.
López Obrador’s government has attempted to arrest another former top official, Tomas Zeron, since 2020, including by asking Israel to extradite him last year.
When asked about the government’s move to investigate the earlier investigation, Murillo said he was delighted and open to questioning, local media reported in 2020.
Murillo was taken into custody wearing black pants, his hands folded in the pockets of a gray jacket, while a law enforcement officer with a rifle across his chest stood behind it, according to an image published by local media.
The attorney general’s office said Murillo cooperated “without resistance.”
The arrest comes a day after Mexico’s top human rights official, Alejandro Encinas, called the disappearances a “state crime” involving local, state and federal officials.
“What happened? A forced disappearance of the boys that night by government agencies and criminal groups,” Encinas told a news conference. The highest levels of Peña Nieto’s government orchestrated a cover-up, he said, including changing crime scenes and hiding ties between authorities and criminals.
Murillo took over the Ayotzinapa case in 2014, calling the government’s findings “historical truth.”
According to that version, a local drug gang mistook the students for members of a rival group, killed them, burned their bodies in a landfill and threw the remains into a river.
A panel of international experts poked holes in the account, and the United Nations denounced arbitrary detentions and torture during the investigation.
The “historical truth” eventually became synonymous with the perception of corruption and impunity under Peña Nieto as anger grew over the lack of answers.
Murillo, who previously served as a federal legislator and the governor of Hidalgo state, resigned in 2015 as criticism of his handling of the case grew.
The lawyer for the parents of the Ayotzinapa students, Vidulfo Rosales, urged the government to make more arrests. He told Mexican television: “There is still a long way to go before we can think that this case is solved.”