A North Carolina magistrate on Friday authorized the extradition of a former senior Salvadoran government official to Spain to stand trial in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter.
In her order, Magistrate Kimberly A. Swank found that Inocente Montano, who at the time of the murders was El Salvador’s vice minister of the interior, had been present when the murders were ordered and did not countermand the order, though he had authority to do so. She also said he’d participated in efforts to cover up the military’s role in the killings.
Montano, who in 2013 pleaded guilty to lying on his immigration documents, was ordered held until Secretary of State John Kerry makes a final decision on Spain’s extradition request.
The ruling against Montano is the latest in a series of adverse rulings against one-time Salvadoran officials who sought asylum in the United States during and after the civil war in their country, which killed an estimated 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992. Last month, the country’s former defense minister, José Guillermo García, was deported to his homeland after an immigration judge ruled that he had lied about his involvement in the 1980 murders of four churchwomen.
The Nov. 16, 1989, murders of the priests, five of whom were Spanish citizens, shocked international opinion and helped push the Salvadoran government to open negotiations to end El Salvador’s civil war. The victims included the school’s rector, the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuria, who at the time was the go-between in talks between the government and leftist guerrillas.
El Salvador’s Truth Commission later determined that the priests, their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter were killed by members of the U.S. trained Atlacatl Battalion, who rounded the victims up, ordered them to lie on the ground, then shot them. The soldiers then tried to make it look as if guerrillas were responsible for the killings.
In her ruling, Swank said Montano had been present Nov. 15, 1989, when senior military officials decided to killed Ellacuria and that even though the officer who gave the order for the murder and the officer who received it were both his subordinates, Montano “did not object.” He also provided the information on where Ellacuria could be found.