A statement released on Thursday says that U.S. agents arrested a retired Salvadoran military officer this week on charges that he took part in a brutal massacre of civilians during El Salvador’s long civil war in the 1980s.
Roberto Garay was taken into custody by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Tuesday in the state of New Jersey, the agency said.
Garay was the section commander of the Atlacatl Battalion, a special military unit, from 1981 to 1985.
In 2020, retired Salvadoran general Juan Rafael Bustillo said that Atlacatl was behind the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which more than 1,000 people, mostly women and children, were killed.
ICE said that the battalion killed “hundreds of civilians who were not fighting” in three massacres, including one at El Mozote, where people were killed without a court order.
The statement says that Garay then “willfully” lied about his involvement in the massacre on an immigration application he had sent in.
Reuters wasn’t able to find Garay’s lawyer right away.
El Salvador’s civil war, which lasted from 1980 to 1992, was one of several bloody Central American wars that were linked to the Cold War. It was fought between the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebels and the army of the right-wing government, which was backed by the U.S.
About 75,000 people died in the war, and another 8,000 are still missing.
ICE said that people like Garay need to be investigated, prosecuted, and kicked out of the United States. They did this by talking about the agency’s investigation team, whose goal is to hold war criminals accountable.
In the statement, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security John K. Tien said, “People who have done terrible things abroad will not be safe in the United States.”