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Six Jesuits at University Slain; Gov’t Denies Troops Involved

November 17, 1989

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ Armed men killed and mutilated six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter Thursday after bursting into their house at a leading university. A priest quoted witnesses as saying government forces were involved.

The government denied responsibility and condemned the slayings as ″savage and irrational.″

President Alfredo Cristiani told reporters at a news conference that he had ordered an investigation. ″The killers will jeopardize further the critical situation in our country,″ he said.

The U.S. National Council of Churches also denounced the slayings, and the U.S. ambassador said the slayings would have a ″negative impact″ on Cristiani’s rightist government.

Two witnesses said about 30 uniformed police or army soldiers entered the campus before dawn and killed the eight ″with lavish barbarity,″ said the Rev. Jose Maria Tojeira, the Jesuit order leader for Central America. ″For example, they (the troops) took out their brains.″

Late Thursday, uniformed security officers raided a downtown office of the Lutheran Church and arrested 12 foreigners, including four U.S. citizens, who work with the church, said Michel Gagne, a consular officer in the Canadian Embassy. Gagne said the 12 were detained by the Treasury Police, but the police would not confirm the report.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Arturo Rivera Damas compared the killings to the slaying of his predecessor, Oscar Arnulfo Romero. That 1980 assassination marked the beginning of years of killings and kidnappings by right-wing death squads.

″If this spiral of violence continues, death and destruction will sweep away many, especially those who are of most use to our people,″ said Rivera Damas after leading a prayer over the mutilated bodies.

The slayings came on the sixth day of fierce combat around this capital following an attack by guerrillas of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN.

The dead included Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of Jose Simeon Canas Central American University, and vice-rector Ignacio Martin-Baro, the country’s leading expert on polls and polling procedures. The other dead priests, all educators, were Segundo Montes, Amado Lopez, Juan Ramon Moreno and Joaquin Lopez Lopez.

Their housekeeper, Julia Elba Ramos, and her 15-year-old daughter Celina, also were killed, said Tojeira.

″They did not want to leave witnesses,″ said Eduardo Valdez, director of Jesuit studies at the university.

The educators had received death threats since the heaviest fighting of the 10-year-old war began Saturday, and callers to radio talk shows had vehemently chastised Jesuits as subversives and demanded their expulsion or punishment.

The extreme right has for more than a decade accused local Jesuits and their university of fostering subversive ideology.

Rivera Damas said those who killed the priests ″were motivated by the same hate that snuffed out the life of Monsignor Romero.″

Romero was killed by a sniper while saying Mass on March 24, 1980. Former President Jose Napoleon Duarte blamed extreme rightists for that murder and accused rightist ideologue Roberto D’Aubuisson of masterminding the assassination.

D’Aubuisson, a legislator and honorary president of Cristiani’s Arena party, has been accused of ties to death squads. Arena opponents, including the FMLN, have said frequently that they feared a resurgence of death squads since Cristiani took over from Duarte on June 1.

In a communique, the government’s National Information Center said the crime ″is intended to destabilize the democratic process and increase even more the climate of anguish created by the FMLN.″

The government and armed forces, which denied that troops or police were involved, said the killings would be investigated.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler said the U.S. ambassador would ask the Salvadoran government Thursday for ″a full inquiry into this horrendous act.″

The ambassador, William Walker, called the slayings ″a barbaric act that has not only brought shame to El Salvador but will leave a gaping hole in this country’s intellectual and academic community.″

Walker compared the killings to the Dec. 2, 1980, slayings by troops of U.S. Maryknoll nuns Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel and lay worker Jean Donovan.

″It is obviously going to have a negative impact on the government of El Salvador,″ said Walker.

He said he did not know anything about the report that government troops were involved.

The United States has supported a succession of governments in the civil war against the FMLN. The fighting has taken more than 70,000 lives and cost $4 billion in military and economic aid this decade.

Lopez Lopez was a native Salvadoran; Ellacuria and the others were Spaniards who had become naturalized citizens.

Valdez said the Jesuit slayings occurred about 3 a.m., three hours before the end of a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the city. He said neighbors reported hearing gunshots, but thought that it was part of the general fighting.

Tojeira said the witnesses had been staying in another part of the building and hid while the killings took place. It was a miracle they weren’t discovered and murdered, Tojeira said.

He said the terrified witnesses had gone into hiding, did not want to speak with reporters and did not trust authorities because troops were implicated in the killings.

Another priest, speaking on condition of anonymity, said soldiers had been posted outside the house since Sunday and raided and searched it Tuesday.

He said the soldiers had demanded to know who slept in each of the bedrooms from which the victims were later roused and murdered.

Four of the victims had been dragged through the residence and deposited in the yard outside. Trails of blood indicated they had been wounded and might still have been alive while being dragged.

In Rome, the headquarters of the Jesuit order condemned ″this barbarous violence that has claimed so many other victims among the people of Salvador.″

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