Suspects in the disappearance of 43 college students have described a macabre and complicated mass murder and incineration ending with ashen remains in a landfill or being dumped into a river in southwest Mexico, Mexican authorities said Friday.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo cited the confessions of three detained gang members. Murillo said the detainees admitted they set fire to members of the group in a rubbish dump near the southwestern city of Iguala, where the students went missing on Sept. 26 after clashing with police on their way to a rally to protest proposed government educational reforms.
Dozens of police are also among more than 70 people held in connection with the case, amid accusations that they colluded with the drug gangs in abducting the students. If true, the charge would undermine President Enrique Peña Nieto's claims that Mexico has become safer on his watch.
"There are many indications ... that could indicate it is them," Attorney General Jesus Murillo told a news conference, referring to the corpses found at the trash dump. Murillo showed taped confessions of the detained, photographs of the location where remains were found and video re-enactments of how the bodies were moved.
"The confessions we have gathered ... very sadly point to the murder of a large number of people," he added.
Teeth of victims found at the scene were so badly burned that they virtually disintegrate into dust upon being touched, Murillo said. The bodies were set on fire near a landfill with gasoline, tires, firewood and plastic in an inferno that lasted 14 hours.
"The fire lasted from midnight to 2:00 p.m. the next day. The criminals could not handle the bodies until 5:00 p.m. due to the heat," he said.
The suspects then crushed the remains, stuffed them in bags and threw some of them in a river.
Mexico's government is still waiting for DNA confirmation from Argentine forensic anthropologists to confirm the identity of those killed. Murillo said the government would continue to view the students as missing until remains are confirmed to match their identities.
This week, Mexican police captured a fugitive former mayor José Luis Abarca , and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda, who the government suspects of being the probable masterminds behind the abduction of the students. The two have ties to a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, according to Mexican authorities.
The case has sparked mass street protests, civil unrest in Guerrero State, where Iguala is located, and across the nation. It has spurred anger over the government's failure to crack down on links between politicians and organized crime.
The incident has also derailed Peña Nieto's efforts to turn public attention to his efforts to revive Mexico's misfiring economy and attract investment after years of gang violence that has claimed about 100,000 lives since the start of 2007.
International watchdog Human Rights Watch dubbed the mass disappearance "one of the gravest cases recorded in the contemporary history of Mexico and Latin America."
Al Jazeera and wire services