Retired Salvadoran military officer Roberto Antonio Garay Saravia, implicated in the brutal El Mozote massacre during his country’s civil war (1980-1992), was arrested in the United States, authorities said Thursday.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, Garay Saravia was arrested on April 4 “for aiding or participating in extrajudicial killings and for deliberately misrepresenting this information on his immigration application.”
“Roberto Antonio Garay Saravia is a retired member of the Armed Forces of El Salvador, who during his active duty service participated in multiple operations, including the El Mozote Massacre, where more than 1,000 adult civilians and children were killed,” added the agency’s statement dated Newark, New Jersey.
Garay, who has been legally residing in the United States for several years, was one of the officers of the now outlawed Atlacatl counterinsurgency battalion, which, between December 9 and 13, 1981, according to an official census, executed 986 people, including 558 children, in the community of El Mozote (northeast) and adjacent towns, on suspicion of collaborating with the then guerrilla Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.
“Garay Saravia also participated in three other operations in El Salvador that resulted in the massacre of hundreds of non-combatant civilians,” said the document from the US Department of Homeland Security.
The military officer was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers. “Individuals who have committed atrocities overseas will not find safe haven in the United States,” said Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security John K. Tien.
The investigation was initiated and developed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC), which obtained evidence for the case, which will be prosecuted by courts in Newark and Philadelphia.
The civil war in El Salvador ended on January 16, 1992 and left more than 75,000 dead and missing.
After a long process, in 2012 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in Costa Rica, condemned the Salvadoran State for the El Mozote massacre, the most serious massacre of the Salvadoran civil war, and ordered reparations measures.
The El Mozote Massacre has been under investigation in a court in San Francisco Gotera, western El Salvador, since June 9, 2017. More than 40 witnesses have been paraded through the court.