Spain’s Cabinet agreed on Friday to request the extradition of 15 Salvadoran military men for the 1989 murders of five Spanish Jesuits in the Central American nation.
While 13 of the men being sought are in El Salvador, the other two reside in the United States.
A member of Spain’s National Court, Eloy Velasco, began the extradition process after overseeing a nearly three-year-long investigation spurred by the Spanish human rights group APDHE and the U.S.-based Center for Justice and Accountability.
Judge Velasco has indicted the 15 men for murder, terrorism and crimes against humanity.
The criminal prosecution in Spain stems from the nationality of the five priests and from the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” the same doctrine that led to the 1998 arrest in Britain of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on the orders of National Court Judge Baltasar Garzon.
On Nov. 16, 1989, Salvadoran soldiers invaded the campus of the Central American University, or UCA, and killed then-chancellor Ignacio Ellacuria and four other Spanish priests: Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Amando Lopez and Juan Ramon Moreno, along with Salvadoran Jesuit Joaquin Lopez.
Also slain were a cook and her 16-year-old daughter.
The massacre came at the height of the 1980-1992 civil war between the Salvadoran military and FMLN rebels, a conflict that left some 80,000 dead.
The potential defendants include retired Gens. Rafael Humberto Larios and Juan Rafael Bustillo, who held the posts of defense minister and air force commander, respectively, at the time of the murders.
The two accused now living in the United States are Col. Inocente Orlando Montano and Lt. Hector Ulises Cuenca.
Of the 14 members of the Salvadoran military who stood trial in September 1991 for the murders, only two were found guilty. Though sentenced to 30 years in prison, they were released thanks to a broad post-civil-war amnesty.