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Former Guatemalan Army commander extradited to Los Angeles

A former Guatemalan Army unit commander, implicated in a notorious mass murder in the 1980s, has been extradited to Los Angeles from Canada to face federal charges that he lied on his application for naturalization as a U.S. citizen four years ago.

Jorge Vinicio Sosa arrived in Los Angeles from Canada under guard Friday night, according to officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. He was arrested in January by Canadian authorities.

Sosa was implicated in the mass murder of more than 150 villagers in the town of Dos Erres during the Guatemalan civil war in 1982. A lieutenant in a notorious special-operations force known as the Kaibiles, Sosa allegedly led a group of soldiers into the village in December, searching for rebels who had attacked a Guatemalan army unit and killed 19 soldiers.

According to a U.S. indictment, Sosa’s unit killed everyone in Dos Erres by smashing in their heads with sledgehammers. Several women and girls were raped before they were killed, according to the indictment. None of the villagers was believed connected to the rebels.

At least three former Kaibiles have been found guilty of murder in the Dos Erres case. It was unclear whether Sosa faces charges in Guatemala for his alleged part in the massacre.

Sosa later came to the United States and applied for asylum and later permanent residency – concealing his past, said Claude Arnold, the special agent in charge of the immigration investigations office in Los Angeles.

He moved to Moreno Valley, where he became a prominent martial arts instructor. In 2008, Sosa applied to become a U.S. citizen. According to the federal indictment, under oath he lied on the application asking whether he’d ever committed any crime for which he had not been arrested. He also allegedly denied having served in any foreign military.

The statute of limitations has run out on the first two applications for asylum and permanent residency, but not on the naturalization application, Arnold said.

Immigration investigators in Los Angeles were tipped to Sosa’s naturalization application and allegedly fraudulent claims by the agency’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit, located in Washington, D.C.

If convicted, Sosa faces 15 years in federal prison and extradition to Guatemala.

Lying on the application “is one of the worst violations of the integrity of our immigration system,” Arnold said.

Sosa’s arrest sends a message, Arnold said: “It doesn’t matter where you’re hiding, we’ll find you and bring you to justice.”

In an interview with The Times in 2011, Sosa's 25-year-old daughter, Christina Sosa, said the federal government was using her father as a political scapegoat for the atrocity instead of focusing on the man who allegedly ordered the killings -- Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, a former president known for his "scorched earth" campaign against the rebels.

Rios Montt spent 17 months in power in 1982 and 1983, during which time government soldiers sought to exterminate rebels across the Mayan highlands of the country. Earlier this year, Rios Montt was ordered to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

"Other people are paying for [Rios Montt’s] wrongdoing," she said. "Everybody has been portraying my father as this monster. They haven't even heard his side of the story. The fact is, he was just a young soldier when this happened."

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 -- Sam Quinones

twitter.com/samquinones7

 
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