MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Police were pulling as many as 13 badly decomposed bodies from secret graves on the eastern edge of the Mexican capital Thursday, amid widespread speculation they include those of a dozen young people snatched in late May from a bar blocks from the US Embassy.
The authorities had recovered at least seven bodies by early afternoon, when Mexico City Prosecutor Rodolfo Rios told a news conference that his office will await DNA testing to determine their identity.
But a lawyer who says he represents families of five of the missing said he “wouldn't have a doubt it is them.”
DNA identification of the bodies will take at least two days, Rios said.
The abduction has rattled many residents of the capital, which has remained largely immune from seven years of brutal criminal warfare that's killed more than 70,000 people and left some 26,000 others missing. Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera's frequent assertions this summer that none of Mexico's powerful cartels operate in the capital have been met with derision.
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Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo told reporters Thursday that agents turned up the graves while raiding a suspected gangster safe house in search of weapons.
Brutal gangland rivalries have wracked the working-class suburbs surrounding Mexico City as part of the nationwide violence. Authorities have uncovered clandestine graves holding hundreds of bodies around the country amid the carnage.
The missing 12, including three women in their 20s as well as two teenage sons of accused leaders of criminal gangs from Mexico City's Tepito neighborhood, notorious for trafficking in contraband merchandise and a good place to be mugged or worse. Police have said their abduction was tied to a war for control of drug sales in bars and nightclubs frequented by Mexico City's middle-class youth.
An alleged vendor from one of Mexico's larger drug trafficking organizations was found murdered outside a disco in the city's trendy Condesa neighborhood a few days before the 12 disappeared. Surveillance cameras confirmed that they were taken about 10 a.m. on May 26 from an unlicensed after-hours club two blocks from the embassy and several more from Mexico City police headquarters.
As they do every Sunday morning, thousands of bicyclists were jamming the Paseo de La Reforma, Mexico's City's landmark boulevard, a block away at the time of the abduction. But police apparently uncovered no live witnesses to the crime.
Ricardo Martinez, who says he represents five of the victims' families, told Milenio Television that he received a call from police shortly after midnight Thursday who said that a suspect had informed them the 12 were buried on a ranch near the town of Tlalmanalco, in the foothills of the Popocatepetl Volcano about 20 miles east of where they were abducted.
“According to the information from the people who called me I wouldn't have doubt that it is them,” Martinez told the network in a telephone interview. “I don't think there can be much mistaking it.”
But both the Mexico City prosecutor and the federal attorney general declined to speculate on the bodies' identities.
“We don't speculate, we don't fabricate the guilty or the victims,” said Rios, whose office has received widespread criticism for its conduct of the investigation.
Six people, including the bar owner and its chief of security, have been arrested in the case so far. Investigators in recent weeks have chased fruitless leads across central and southern Mexico in recent weeks, checking bodies found in other graves in hopes of finding the Tepito missing.
The victims' families are holding out a slim chance that these latest graves do not hold their loved ones, said Maria Teresa Ramos, identified as a grandmother of Jerzy Ortiz, 16, the son of jailed Tepito crime boss Jorge “The Tank” Ortiz.
“That is where we are putting all the hope that they are found alive,” a sobbing Ramos told Milenio Television. “We have three months living with this anguish. We are dying of it.”