Eduardo Verdugo  /  AP
Mexican Federal Police stand guard Wednesday outside an alleged drug traffickers' safehouse. Police found 11 corpses in the back yard.
updated 1/29/2004 12:08:12 PM ET 2004-01-29T17:08:12

Thirteen Mexican state police officers were arrested in the killings of 11 people found buried around a safe house for drug traffickers near the U.S. border, a federal official said Thursday.

Federal Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha also said at least four other officers, including a state commander, were on the run. The commander, Miguel Angel Loya, has not shown up for work since Monday, said state police spokesman Mauro Conde.

The 11 victims apparently were bound, gagged and suffocated or shot by suspected drug traffickers, then buried in shallow graves at the house in Ciudad Juarez. Macedo de la Concha has said the victims apparently were rivals of the cartel and had been dead for as long as a year.

The house was rented by Alejandro Garcia, who allegedly told police he helped kill and bury victims in his backyard at the behest of drug smugglers and a Mexican state police commander — and he believes there are still more dead to be found.

The bodies were found over the weekend, and the house appears to be tied to the Vicente Carrillo drug gang.

Officials said Garcia was trying to flee to the United States with his wife and son when he was caught Tuesday. Over the weekend, officials uncovered the remains of 11 men who had been buried in his backyard, several under a patio.

Mexican investigators said the property apparently was also used by Humberto Santillan, who was arrested Jan. 15 across the border in El Paso, Texas. Mexican authorities identified Santillan as one of the chief lieutenants for the Vicente Carrillo drug gang.

The arrests expose a police force long believed to be inept and corrupt. For a decade, hundreds of slayings have gone unsolved, particularly those involving a string of young women killed in a similar manner.

Some people said they were not surprised by the arrests.

“We all knew they were behind this,” said Luz Elena Caraveo, whose brother disappeared along with his friend a year ago — allegedly after being kidnapped by police.

“One is always afraid to talk and look (for answers) because one could easily become a target.”

State officials have tried to purge the police ranks of corruption, firing some 300 officers in the last two years, Conde said.

“Since they started these investigations, we have cooperated with the attorney general,” he said. “We have always tried to clean up these bad elements.”

Lorenza Benavides, vice president of the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Disappeared, said her organization has received reports of 197 missing men and the number keeps growing.

“We have always said police officers are involved in all of these crimes,” Benavides said. “But our complaints have always fallen on deaf ears.”

Benavides said her organization has asked federal authorities to search three homes around Ciudad Juarez where neighbors reported hearing screams and seeing many people come in and out.

Deputy Attorney General Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos said those homes will be searched soon. A total of six homes in Ciudad Juarez are involved in the investigation, he said.

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