A federal judge has ordered the 16 police officers arrested in connection with the mass graves found in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas held in preventive detention for 40 days, giving prosecutors time to investigate their alleged role in the case, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office said.
The municipal police officers were arrested last week for their alleged involvement in the killings of 145 people, whose bodies were found in mass graves in the city of San Fernando at the beginning of this month.
The officers provided protection to the killers, who are suspected of being members of Los Zetas, Mexico’s most violent drug cartel, the AG’s office said.
The officers will be held without charges for 40 days, and prosecutors have the option of asking a judge for another 40-day period to continue the investigation.
The judge agreed to hold the officers in preventive detention because of their “probable involvement in organized crime, illegal deprivation of freedom (and) homicide,” the AG’s office said.
The officers were arrested after investigators uncovered evidence that they worked with and protected Los Zetas members.
Authorities have arrested several dozen suspects since the discovery of the mass graves in La Joya, a rural community outside San Fernando.
The most important arrest was that of Omar Martin Estrada Luna, suspected of being the Zetas cartel’s boss in San Fernando, where he was allegedly behind the killings of more than 200 people.
Estrada Luna is accused of being the “intellectual and material” author of numerous crimes committed in recent months, including the massacre of 72 migrants last summer at a ranch near San Fernando and the killings of 145 people whose bodies were found in mass graves this month.
San Fernando is a city that links Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas, to the border cities of Matamoros and Reynosa.
The bodies found in the mass graves are believed to be those of people who were kidnapped by Los Zetas while traveling through San Fernando and were later murdered.
The AG’s Office is offering rewards of up to 15 million pesos ($1.26 million) for information leading to the arrests of all those involved in the killings.
Officials are trying to identify the victims, one of whom was confirmed to be a Guatemalan migrant.
The discovery of the mass graves has rocked Mexico, where more than 36,000 people have died in drug-related violence since 2006.
The mass graves were discovered earlier this month in the wake of reports that gunmen had forced men off buses headed for Reynosa, located across the border from McAllen, Texas, between March 19 and March 31.
Some gangs have resorted to using unusual methods to recruit gunmen because of the high casualties in the war being waged by rival drug traffickers for control of territory, the federal government says.
The incidents involving the buses may have been an attempt to recruit gunmen, investigators said.
Hundreds of people have gone to morgues looking for missing relatives and friends who might be among the victims.
Los Zetas, considered Mexico’s most violent drug cartel, has been blamed for the wave of violence in Tamaulipas and other parts of northern Mexico.
A total of 15,270 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico last year.