A municipal police chief has been arrested over alleged ties to the murder of a group of Mormons who lived near the U.S./Mexico border.
Fidel Alejandro Villegas, the police chief in Janos, nearby to Chihuahua, has been arrested on suspicion of protecting the interests of organized crime in the area, according to Reuters. He has been taken to Mexico City for questioning.
Janos Mayor Sebastián Efraín Pineda confirmed the arrest to Mexico Daily News, declaring the arrest “took us by surprise.”
Nine people—three women and six children—were murdered in the state of Sonora November 4, and their bodies were left by the side of the road. The murderers were suspected to be drug cartel hitmen, and it’s believed the women and children—members of the LeBarón family and part of a Mexican Mormon settlement with dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship—were killed because they had traveled through territory that’s currently part of a turf war between two feuding cartels, La Linea and Los Salazar, the Associated Press says. It’s possible that the attacking cartel mistook the SUVs as being a part of the rival cartel, says The Washington Examiner.
Two other suspects were detained for questioning over the week of December 1, according to The New York Times. Those suspects, brothers Hector Mario and Luis Manuel Hernandez, profess their innocence. Protests broke out locally in response to their arrests. The protesters say that the brothers have been scapegoated by the Mexican government.
Rhonita LeBarón, her infant twins and her 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter were killed in their car, which had broken down at the side of the road with a flat tire. The car was then then set ablaze. Rhonita’s cousins, Christina Langford and Dawna Langford, were killed up the road, along with two of Christina’s children.
“We are very upset,” Julián LeBarón told The New York Times. “It is just impossible to understand why they would attack cars full of women and children in two separate incidents.”
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has invited the FBI to assist with the case due to pressure from the Trump administration, according to the Associated Press.
Response from the White House to the murder of the LeBaróns has been swift. President Trump has declared that “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!” on Twitter.
The murders have sparked the president’s plan to have those cartels declared as “foreign terrorists.” Some opponents of the measure fear the declaration will damage U.S./Mexican diplomatic relations. Others against the designation say it could make the president’s anti-immigration measures easier to defeat, as Mexicans fleeing across the border may claim they are fleeing from terrorism if the declaration goes through.
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