Residents of a community near the Mexican city where police attacked buses full of students said in a new report that they were obligated to help the Guerreros Unidos cartel carry out the mass disappearance of 43 teachers college students.
In an account published Tuesday in the Mexican daily El Universal, a dozen residents of the tiny town of Chilacachapa, about an hour away from the city of Iguala by a rustic highway, said the Guerreros Unidos cartel swept into their community on the night of September 26 and forced residents and local leaders onto vehicles.
The townspeople were posted at a cartel checkpoint connecting the town to Iguala, where municipal police had allegedly opened fire on students and bystanders that night, killing at least six people.
Residents told El Universal that cartel members spent hours riding through the streets of Chilacachapa that night, announcing that the Iguala police had come "under attack" by a rival criminal gang, Los Rojos, and by students "who were going to start a revolution."
A view of the San Juan river in Cocula, Guerrero, where authorities say the Guerreros Unidos cartel dumped the incinerated remains of the 43 students. (Photo by Daniel Hernandez)
The account echoes other unconfirmed versions of the chaotic events of September 26 and 27 that have suggested the Guerreros Unidos cartel believed the students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School were in league with their rivals Los Rojos as they entered Iguala with the intent of commandeering commercial coach buses.
Federal authorities have said there is no proof that the Ayotzinapa students had any links to Los Rojos.
At least 25 residents of Chilacachapa, including the chief local inspector Jesus Valle Rosas, were carried off by the Guerreros Unidos, against their will, El Universal said, in a practice of forced cartel recruitment that is considered common in the rugged southern Mexican state of Guerrero.
The newspaper story does not disclose what the Chilacachapa residents did once they were in the custody of the cartel, but one resident told the paper that at around 5 am the next day, Guerreros Unidos members announced a new directive through loudspeakers in Chilacachapa, demanding residents turn over large plastic bags.
"Bring black bags, sons of bitches!" a resident recalled cartel members said. "About 50!"
Chilacachapa residents told the paper that campesinos from other neighboring towns were also temporarily taken as reinforcements for the Guerreros Unidos that night. Most returned to their towns by the next day.
"Today the federal authorities have not come to ask us why they were taken," one resident told the newspaper.
The revelation is the latest development to complicate or contradict the federal attorney general's office and its basic run-down of what happened in Guerrero, in a case that has rattled Mexico's government and sparked protests around the world.
The entrance to the Ayotzinapa Normal School near Tixtla, Guerrero, is guarded by masked members of a community militia. (Photo by Hans-Maximo Musielik)
On Sunday, the Mexican news magazine Proceso reported that federal authorities and even a military unit posted in Iguala were aware that the Ayotzinapa students were heading toward the city from the moment they departed the normal school campus, about two hours to the south.
Authorities monitored the Ayotzinapa caravan in "real-time" via footage collected by a surveillance command center known as C4, Proceso reported. The account differs sharply from earlier statements by the government and military claiming authorities had no idea that Iguala police officers were opening fire on the students. The magazine said federal authorities and military commanders did not prevent the local officers from attacking the students.
An independent analysis made public last week has also questioned Mexican attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam's statements suggesting all 43 of the students picked up that night in Iguala were incinerated at a dump in the neighboring community of Cocula.
Specialists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM, said it would be impossible to incinerate that amount of bodies without tons of firewood and tires. The fire itself would have left approximately 2.5 tons of internal tire wiring, which do not appear in images of the Cocula dump later supplied by Murillo Karam's investigators to the press and to an independent forensics group from Argentina that has carried out a concurrent investigation on the disappearances.
Earlier, this group, known as EAAF, cast doubt on the source or handling of a single bone fragment later identified as belonging to missing student Alexander Mora, the first confirmed dead out of the group of the 43 missing.
The UNAM report, released Thursday, concludes that the probable remains of the missing students had to have been cremated elsewhere besides the Cocula dump.
"The testimony of the accused, and the theory from the prosecutor related to the possible cremation of more than 40 human remains at the Cocula landfill between the 26 and 27 of September, 2014, do not have their foundation in fact and/or natural physical or chemical phenomena, according to the scientific analysis that had been conducted," said the report signed by Jorge Antonio Montemayor, a researcher at UNAM's Institute of Physics.