Fri, Jul 20, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Mexican authorities hold 17 men over church-camp rapes

AP, TOLUCA, Mexico

Police arrested 17 men on Wednesday on suspicion of attacking youths and raping five women and girls who were on a church camping trip outside Mexico City — a brutal assault that shocked much of the country.

State of Mexico Attorney General Alfredo Castillo said 11 of the gang members were identified by some of the victims. In interrogation videos played for reporters, three of the suspects confessed that they sexually abused the women and girls because fellow attackers told them to.

Two of the suspects were local police officers and another had served in the military, Castillo said, speaking two days after authorities announced the arrest of a man who was described as not directly involved in the assault on the camp-out, but who allegedly provided information to the assailants.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon met with parents and lawyers of the victims on Wednesday to discuss the crime.

Sponsored by a church group, 90 youths were camping on Friday at an eco-park on the eastern outskirts of Mexico City when a group of armed men stormed into the hilly area. The attackers went on an hours-long rampage of beatings, robberies and rapes at the site close to the lower flanks of the Popocatepetl volcano.

The episode and a similar mass robbery and rape attack in February at a spot nearby have reduced city residents’ trust in the serenity of the wooded hills around the city and interrupted a decades-old tradition of outdoors activities in the pine and fir forests.

Prosecutors have said the latest attack was not related to organized crime or drug gangs. Common criminals, robbers and rapists have been targeting hikers and campers on the city’s outskirts.

Mexico’s equivalent of the Boy Scouts said on Tuesday that it was recommending scouts not to go on hikes in small groups and avoid about 11 wooded areas on the outskirts of Mexico City.

The Scouts Association of Mexico said future hikes should ask for police protection if necessary. The group’s statement said it coordinated a recent hike with local police departments.

Gerardo Catano, who leads tours and a mountain rescue group in the township of Tlamanalco on the slopes of the volcanoes that ring Mexico City, said the number of hikers and campers has fallen about 90 percent in the wake of the most recent attack.

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