Mexico catches key suspect in case of 43 missing students

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Mexican police have detained a suspected senior member of a drug cartel accused of being behind last year's disappearance of 43 college students, authorities said Thursday, September 17.

Gildardo Lopez Astudillo, 36, was captured on Wednesday, September 16 in the southern city of Taxco, Guerrero state, some 35 kilometers (21 miles) north of the town where the students vanished.

Lopez, alias "El Gil," was wanted as the "material author" of the disappearance of the 43 students in Iguala on September 26-27, 2014, said National Security Commissioner Renato Sales.

Prosecutors say corrupt municipal police in Iguala abducted the students after the young men seized buses for their political activities. 

The officers then handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, which killed them after confusing them with rivals and incinerated their bodies in a garbage dump near Iguala, the attorney general's office said last year.

But the government's conclusions were questioned last week by an independent investigation, which contradicted the official account, saying there was no scientific evidence that the students were burned at the landfill.

Thursday's announcement came a day after Attorney General Arely Gomez said forensic experts had found a possible match for a student among 17 charred remains that were found in a river near the dump. (READ: Parents of 43 missing Mexican students demand new search)

If confirmed, Jhosivani Guerrero de la Cruz, 21, would be only the second student to have been identified. In December, Austria's Innsbruck University identified 19-year-old Alexander Mora among the remains. –