FBI, Mexican officials digging up mass graves
Up to 22 Americans may be among dead
November 30, 1999
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (CNN) -- FBI and Mexican officials are digging up what they believe are mass graves near Ciudad Juarez, an FBI official in Washington said Tuesday.
The graves are thought to contain the victims of a Mexican drug cartel. The locations are on two ranches south of El Paso, Texas. They are believed to be the sites of more than 100 burials, Mexico's attorney general said, and may contain the bodies of as many as 22 U.S. citizens.
Mexican authorities said they are investigating four sites, but concentrating for the moment on the two ranches.
FBI Deputy Director Tom Pickard said the effort to examine the graves is still in its early stages.
"The digging only started late yesterday. The Mexican authorities secured the ranches, and it was late yesterday we started digging on the sites," Pickard said. He said "partial remains" of "one individual" had been recovered so far.
"We have information there are many individuals ... but it's still too early to tell (how many)," he said.
When asked if the FBI expects to find remains of U.S. citizens in the graves, Pickard said, "I think that's a pretty good assumption, but we'll have to see what we find."
Pickard said that contrary to some reports, no Drug Enforcement Administration or FBI agents are missing. But the U.S. government fears some of its informants, who began vanishing three years ago, may be among the victims buried at the sites.
"We believe these individuals were killed for their knowledge of, or participation, or being witnesses to certain drug endeavors," said Pickard, adding that most of the information officials have "shows that these individuals were buried there at least two to three years ago."
Mexico's Attorney General Jorge Madrazo said the victims were believed to have been killed by the Juarez drug cartel, the dominant Mexican drug-trafficking organization in the mid-1990s.
He told Mexico's Televisa network that a list had been compiled naming 120 people who "hypothetically could be buried" at the two sites.
"The FBI developed information and the Mexican authorities developed information," said Pickard. "We brought that information together. We're still trying to develop further information. It wasn't just one piece of information. It's been developing over a couple of months."
Pickard said the joint investigation also involves agents from the DEA and the Customs Service. And he said indictments could be issued on both sides of the border.
Authorities said they were taken to the ranch by an informant who told them he had been involved in killings there.
Pickard said 68 FBI agents went with Mexican authorities to the grave sites Tuesday, including one site on a ranch about 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of Ciudad Juarez.
The ranch, with towering white iron gates, is known locally as "the shooting range."
A concrete block wall covered with graffiti surrounds the rest of the property, located across the street from a junkyard. Topping the concrete wall is a chain-link fence with razor wire.
Pickard said a number of people who apparently live on the ranches had been detained by Mexican authorities. "We are still trying to assess their relationship to these ranches," said Pickard.
Several hundred soldiers from the Mexican military were at the sites Tuesday. Many of them were carrying semiautomatic weapons and wearing ski masks to protect their identities.
Al Cruz, an FBI spokesman in El Paso, said those participating in the effort include four people from U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. The same group did forensic testing in Kosovo earlier this year and they will use similar technology in Mexico, including ground-piercing radar.
A joint U.S./Mexican command center will be set up in El Paso where the remains of victims will be brought for identification. Exhumation and identification is expected to take at least a month.
Cruze said DNA samples taken from the victims will be analyzed by private laboratories in the United States as well as the FBI crime lab.
U.S. President Bill Clinton said he had not received confirmation that 22 Americans were among the victims. He condemned the killings as "a horrible example" of the excesses of Mexico's drug cartels.
"I think it reinforces the imperative of our trying not only to protect our border but to work with the Mexican authorities to try to combat these (drug rings)," Clinton said in Washington.
"We had a lot of success a few years ago in taking down a number of the Colombian drug cartels, and one of the adverse consequences of that was a lot of the operations were moved north into Mexico," the president said. "There are organized criminal operations there and they are particularly vicious."
Mexico, FBI investigate reports of mass gravesites
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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