Families of 43 missing Mexican students urge Israel to deport suspect

Relatives of the 43 Mexican students who disappeared in 2014 protested outside Israel’s embassy, demanding the extradition of a former top investigator wanted in connection with the case. Hundreds gathered outside Israel’s embassy in Mexico City on Wednesday, with no visible police presence.

Some carried pictures of the missing students while others sprayed graffiti on the embassy walls.

Tomas Zeron, who previously led Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency, is accused of manipulating the probe into one of the country’s worst human rights tragedies.

Zeron is one of the architects of the so-called “historical truth,” the official version of the case presented in 2015 that was rejected by the victims’ relatives and independent experts.

Relatives of the missing students from Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College protest in Mexico City

      <figcaption class="embed__caption-container"><span class="embed__caption">Relatives take cover from the rain with umbrellas and banners with images of the missing students from Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College, as they take part in a march to demand justice for their loved ones, in Mexico City, Mexico, on Aug. 26, 2022.</span>

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        HENRY ROMERO / REUTERS

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          </figcaption></figure><p>"Israel is protecting Tomas Zeron, a human rights violator who tortured those he detained at the time to build the 'historical truth,'" Meliton Ortega, a representative of the students' families, told AFP.

But Israeli Ambassador to Mexico Zvi Tal criticized the demonstrators’ actions.

“It is clear to us that the violence displayed during the demonstration, where they left the walls of our headquarters painted with offensive graffiti, here is written ‘Death to Israel,’ has no relation to the Ayotzinapa case,” he said in a video address in front of the embassy.

“Israel as a state of law must implement its international legal obligations while examining the request from Mexico, even when it is a request related to an open wound in Mexican public opinion,” he said.

Mexico has repeatedly asked Israel to hand over Zeron, who is accused of kidnapping, torturing suspects and manipulating evidence — allegations he has denied.

The 43 teaching students had commandeered buses in the southern state of Guerrero to travel to a demonstration in Mexico City before they went missing.

Investigators say they were detained by corrupt police and handed over to a drug cartel that mistook them for members of a rival gang, but exactly what happened to them is disputed.

So far, the remains of only three victims have been identified.

Last month, a truth commission tasked by the current government to investigate the atrocity branded the case a “state crime” involving agents of various institutions. It said that military personnel bore “clear responsibility,” either directly or through negligence. 

Alejandro Encinas, Mexico’s Interior Undersecretary and the government official leading the truth commission, suggested at the time that six of the students were allegedly kept alive in a warehouse for days before they were turned over to a local army commander, who then ordered for them to be killed. His comments marked the first time an official had directly connected the military to the students’ disappearance.

“There is also information corroborated with emergency 089 telephone calls where allegedly six of the 43 disappeared students were held during several days and alive in what they call the old warehouse and from there were turned over to the colonel,” Encinas said, according to the Associated Press. “Allegedly the six students were alive for as many as four days after the events and were killed and disappeared on orders of the colonel, allegedly the then Col. José Rodríguez Pérez.”

Prosecutors announced last month that arrest warrants had been issued for more than 80 suspects, including 20 military personnel, 44 police officers and 14 cartel members. They are accused of involvement in organized crime, forced disappearance, torture, homicide and obstruction of justice, they said.

The same day, former attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam, who led the controversial “historical truth” investigation, was detained on charges of forced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice.

Last week, the government said that an army general and two other military personnel had also been arrested.

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