Mexican police make arrest in hunt for killers of two priests in Veracruz

Country shocked by crime-wave now hitting religious orders, which saw a third victim in Michoacán

Funeral of Father Alejo Nabor in Puebla.
Funeral of Father Alejo Nabor in Puebla.EFE
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Detenido en Ciudad de México el “probable” asesino de los curas de Veracruz

The Mexican state attorney’s office has announced the capture of one of two men police were looking for in relation to the murder of two priests, whose bodies were found in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz in September.

The murder of the pair in the town of Poza Rica, in Veracruz state, caused shock in Mexico, coming just days after another priest had been murdered in the state of Michoacán.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for priests, says the Catholic Church

Police in Mexico City arrested two men on Thursday aged 33 and 20 after they had stolen a car at gunpoint in the El Recreo area of the capital.

The owner of the vehicle managed to escape and alert police, who found the car abandoned nearby.

Police officers accompanied the owner of the car in a search of the area. They spotted two men acting suspiciously, and after a chase the two men separated. Both were later arrested.

An arrest warrant was out on one of the men for kidnapping the two priests

“It was soon discovered that there was an arrest warrant out on one of the men for kidnapping the two priests,” said the prosecutor’s office.

Mexican media say that a unit of police officers from Veracruz is in Mexico City and will take one of the suspects back to the state.

The bodies of the two priests, named as Alejo Nabor, aged 50, and José Alfredo Juárez, aged 28, were found on September 20. Both had been kidnapped, along with their driver, who managed to escape and raise the alarm. The two priests had their hands tied and had been shot in the head.

Sacerdotes asesinados en Poza RIca
Sacerdotes asesinados en Poza RIca

“They were victims of a violent crime-wave that is sweeping the country,” Father Juan Jaimes, who knew the two clerics, told EL PAÍS, explaining that theft was the likely motive of the murders.

A third priest, named as Alfredo Sánchez, was murdered the same week, in Michoacán. The cleric disappeared five days earlier and, according to the Catholic authorities in the state, was the victim of a robbery and a kidnapping. No arrests have been made and the identity of the attacker or attackers is still unknown.

Police say the motives behind the killings are still unclear, and investigations are ongoing. Both Veracruz and Michoacán are states wracked by gangland warfare and impunity and are center stage for turf battles between rival criminal cartels.

Los cuerpos de los religiosos encontrados el lunes en Veracruz
Los cuerpos de los religiosos encontrados el lunes en VeracruzEFE

Violent crime has risen sharply in Mexico in recent years, with a number of high-profile cases involving foreigners damaging the country’s international image. August was the bloodiest month in the country since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December 2012. The three murders are not the first attacks on priests in a country still embroiled in a bloody struggle with organized-crime groups.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for priests, according to a report by the Roman Catholic Church. Over the last decade, 40 clerics have been murdered there, with 14 killed during Peña Nieto’s presidency.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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