4 Jailed Cops Killed in Guatemala Prison

The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 27, 2007; 4:42 AM

CUILAPA, Guatemala -- Gunmen stormed a Guatemalan prison and shot to death four jailed police officers in a mafia hit aimed at stopping investigators from finding out who ordered the slayings of three politicians from neighboring El Salvador, Guatemala's leader said Monday.

The four policemen killed Sunday included Luis Arturo Herrera, head of the Guatemalan National Police organized crime unit, and three of his officers. They were arrested Thursday in connection with the Feb. 19 killings of three Salvadoran representatives to the Central American Parliament, based in Guatemala City.

President Oscar Berger said "organized crime gangs" reached the officers' cell after getting past eight locked doors at the prison, and were responsible for the "violent deaths of four important witnesses who could have helped the investigation."

Berger said it wasn't clear whether drug trafficking or other organized crime was involved, but that officials determined other inmates weren't to blame. A major question is how the gunmen were able to get through the locked doors to reach the suspects, Berger said.

Twenty-two prison guards were detained for questioning, and there were reports that the killers may have worn guard uniforms, or that guards may have cleared visitors from the prison prior to the attack.

"It is clear that the people who committed these killings have some level of influence inside the police, prison or government structure," said Rodrigo Avila, head of El Salvador's police force.

Sunday's killings were the latest twist in the case, which has raised questions about corruption and drug ties in Central America. U.S. officials estimate 75 percent of the cocaine that reaches American soil passes through Guatemala.

Salvadoran President Tony Saca, who asked the FBI to help investigate the case, meets Tuesday with President Bush at the White House, and Bush travels to Guatemala next month to talk with Berger about the growing drug problem there.

Photos showed a bloody tangle of bodies and overturned cots on the floor of the four police officers' cell at the prison in Cuilapa, 40 miles east of Guatemala City.

They had been arrested in the killings of three Central American Parliament members, including Eduardo D'Aubuisson, son of El Salvador's late right-wing leader Roberto D'Aubuisson, and their driver. The suspects were accused of setting fire to the lawmakers' bodies and leaving the charred remains along a road outside Guatemala City.

The officers had been taken to the high security prison at Cuilapa _ occupied mostly by gang members _ after their lawyer said their lives were in danger at a detention center in Guatemala City.

The killings sparked a 12-hour prison riot. Inmates took five hostages, including the prison director, and released them unharmed early Monday after officials allowed them to tell a Guatemalan TV crew they were not responsible for the officers' slayings.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Associated Press