Ex-Guatemalan Army Commander Connected to Massacre Faces Charges

Jorge Sosa, who was arrested in Canada in January, was extradited to the US to face federal fraud charges

By Jason Kandel
|  Monday, Sep 24, 2012  |  Updated 6:32 AM CDT
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Federal agents escort Jorge Sosa “aka Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes” through LAX on Sept. 21, 2012, following his extradition to the U.S. from Canada to face criminal charges of falsely obtaining United States citizenship. Sosa is suspected of being a member of a Guatemalan army special forces unit responsible for the brutal murders of more than 200 men, women and children in the village of Las Dos Erres in December 1982.

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A former commander of a Guatemalan special forces unit accused of massacring more than 200 men, women and children in 1982, faces immigration fraud charges in Riverside on Monday, federal officials said.

Jorge Sosa, 54, who has lived in Southern California for years as a martial arts instructor, is suspected of leading a military unit known as “Kaibiles” that is accused of massacring more than 200 civilians at a village known as Las Dos Erres during Guatemala's civil war in 1982.

Sosa was extradited from Calgary, Canada, where he was in custody since being arrested in January. He arrived in U.S. custody at LAX on Friday, officials said. Although he has not been charged with war crimes, a federal grand jury indictment alleges his involvement in the massacre.

Court Document: Jorge Sosa Indictment

"ICE, along with our partners within the Department of Homeland Security and in the Departments of Justice and State, is committed to ensuring that the United States does not become a safe haven for human rights abusers,” said ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley in a statement.

“We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that those who have committed such acts abroad never evade justice and accountability for their crimes by hiding among their victims here in the United States.”

A federal grand jury indictment in September 2009 accuses Sosa of being the commander of the special forces unit known as “Kaibiles.” That unit is accused of a brutal massacre of citizens at Los Dos Erres on Dec. 7, 1982.

Over three days, many citizens were killed with a sledgehammer and small children were thrown into a well after being killed, according to the Canadian Centre for International Justice, which followed the case.

ICE officials said 162 remains were exhumed from the well, but the total number killed is estimated to be in excess of 200.

The massacre was part of a "scorched earth" campaign implemented by Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, the Centre said.

Members of the patrol raped many of the women and girls before killing them, court papers said, adding that Sosa participated in the crimes, including murder.

In January 2011, Sosa, who also goes by Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, was arrested in Lethbridge, Alberta and was held in custody in Calgary, the Centre said.

The U.S. government requested that Canada detain Sosa Orantes for extradition to the United States to stand trial. Sosa lived in Alberta and has also lived in Riverside County, where he was a karate instructor. He holds both Canadian and U.S. citizenship, the Centre said.

The indictment charges him with lying to immigration officials about his background in the Guatemalan military while applying to become a naturalized U.S. citizen in San Bernardino in 2008, court documents said.

In 2011 Spain charges Sosa with war crimes and issued a warrant for his arrest and extradition to Madrid.

Sosa’s arrest was part of a ICE program that tracks human rights violators who seek shelter in the U.S., Haley said.

Three other members of the Kaibiles have been caught and sentenced in connection with lying about their past, including a former Orange County resident, ICE said.

Since fiscal year 2004, ICE officials have arrested more than 225 people for human rights-related violations. In the same period, ICE deported more than 540 known or suspected human rights violators from the U.S.

A report ICE issued in October 2011 said the agency was handling 1,900 human rights cases involving suspects from 95 countries in Central and South America, the Balkans, and Africa.

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