Missing Mexico students 'all dead'
Investigators in Mexico are now certain that 43 college students missing since September were killed and incinerated after they were seized by police in southern Guerrero state, the attorney general says.
It was the first time Jesus Murillo Karam had said definitely that all were dead, even though Mexican authorities have DNA identification for only one student and a declaration from a laboratory in Austria that it appears impossible to identify the others.
The attorney general cited confessions and forensic evidence from an area near a rubbish dump where the September 26 massacre occurred that showed the fuel and temperature of the fire were sufficient to turn 43 bodies into ashes.
"The evidence allows us to determine that the students were kidnapped, killed, burned and thrown into the river," Mr Murillo Karam said in a press conference that included a video reconstruction of the mass killing and of the investigation into the case.
He added that "there is not a single shred of evidence that the army intervened ... not a single shred of evidence of the participation of the army", as relatives of the victims have claimed.
His explanation seemed unlikely to quell the controversy and doubts about the case, in which the federal government has been criticised for acting slowly and callously. Thousands of people demonstrated in Mexico City on Monday night, demanding the students be returned alive.
The attorney general has come under attack from many quarters, including the students' relatives and fire experts, who say the government's version of what happened is implausible. Family members are still searching in hopes of finding the students alive.
The Argentine Forensic Anthropologists, an independent team hired by parents to work with federal investigators, has said there is still not "sufficient evidence" to link the charred remains found by authorities in a river in the town of Cocula to what happened at the rubbish dump.
Mr Murillo Karam said the conclusion was made based on the testimony of a key suspect arrested two weeks ago, Felipe Rodriguez Salgado, who said he was called to get rid of the students. There are also 39 confessions. Based on samples of petrol, diesel and steel from burned tyres, he said, they concluded that the amount of heat from the fire and the location could have kept the blaze going for hours, and that the remains were crushed afterwards.
Authorities say they were burned on the night of September 26 and over the next day, and their incinerated remains were bagged up and thrown into a nearby river. The remains in the bags found in the river had traces of the garbage dump where the fire occurred, Mr Murillo Karam added.
The scene of the crime was an 800-metre ravine that resembled a furnace, said criminal investigations chief Tomas Zeron.
Mr Murillo Karam said the information was also based on 386 declarations, 487 forensic tests, 16 raids and two reconstructions.
So far 99 people have been detained in connection with the crime, including the former mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca.
Mr Murillo Karam said the motive was that the members of a local gang, the Guerreros Unidos, believed the young men were rival gang members when they hijacked some buses in Iguala. But many of the suspects testified that they knew the men were students.
The students, known for commandeering buses and taking over toll booths to support their leftist causes, said they were taking the buses for transport to a demonstration in Mexico City.
The case has sparked protests inside and outside Mexico over the four months since the students disappeared, and has forced the Mexican government to turn its attention from touting economic and education reforms to dealing with the country's crime and insecurity problems.