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El Salvador arrests 4 military officials over civil war Jesuit killings

February 6, 2016

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Authorities in El Salvador have arrested four of 17 former military officials wanted by Spain over the killing of six Jesuit priests during this country’s civil war in 1989.

The case centers on the priests, their housekeeper and the housekeeper’s 16-year-old daughter, who were gunned down in their residence on the campus of the Universidad Centroamericana in the capital San Salvador. Five of the six priests were Spanish nationals, including a university rector.

They were proponents of liberation theology, centered on the church working to help the poor. That apparently made them a target for the military in the country’s war between a rightist, U.S.-backed government and leftist rebels.

See our 2014 feature on the Jesuit killings, “Remembering the Jesuits: Seeking justice in El Salvador after a quarter-century”

Spain claims jurisdiction in the case because there were Spaniards among the victims.

A judge at Spain’s National Court first issued indictments against 20 former Salvadoran military officials in 2011, but since then three have died.

One of the remaining 17 lives in the United States, and a U.S. judge said Friday he can be extradited to Spain.

Authorities are continuing to look for the others, Salvadoran police said on Twitter.

The four arrested Friday will appear in court in coming days. But their extradition would have to be approved by El Salvador’s Supreme Court.

On Saturday President Salvador Sánchez Cerén urged those still on the run to turn themselves in.

“Let the judicial system decide if they are to be extradited or not. But the best thing for the country is for them to surrender,” the president said.

In 2011 the Salvadoran Supreme Court said those sought by Spain could not be extradited.

But the Spanish judge re-issued arrest warrants in the case last month after the Salvadoran Supreme Court shifted its position and paved the way for possible extradition of the suspects.

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