LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former Guatemalan soldier accused of being involved in a 1982 massacre during that country’s civil war was extradited Friday to California where he faces immigration fraud charges.
Jose Sosa Orantes was brought to the U.S. from Canada, where he fled after American officials began investigating allegations that he was a war criminal who had lied to U.S. officials to become a naturalized citizen.
Authorities allege Sosa pretended he had never served on the Guatemalan military unit he had helped command.
Sosa, who lived for many years in Southern California as a martial arts instructor, was charged with one count each of false statement relating to naturalization and procurement of citizenship or naturalization unlawfully. If convicted of both counts, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
According to a 2009 federal grand jury indictment, the unit known as the “kaibiles” stormed a village in Guatemala to track down suspected guerrillas who had stolen military weapons. Sosa and about 40 other soldiers allegedly killed men, women and children during the search.
Among other methods, the victims were bludgeoned and thrown into a well. Many women and girls were raped before being killed, according to the indictment.
“Although he’s not being charged with any war crimes here in the United States, our investigation is a very thorough investigation and we do gather evidence on his actual foreign crimes and it’s our endeavor to share that with any foreign entity charging him,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s homeland security investigations in Los Angeles.
Sosa is also wanted in Guatemala to face charges for the massacre.
Guatemala’s civil war claimed at least 200,000 lives before it ended in 1996. The U.S.-backed army was responsible for most of the deaths, according to a truth commission set up to investigate the bloodshed.