WASHINGTON – The US Supreme Court approved on Wednesday the extradition to Spain of a retired Salvadoran army officer wanted for the 1989 murders of five Spanish Jesuit priests in the Central American nation.
Chief Justice John Roberts removed the last obstacle to the extradition of Col. Inocente Orlando Montano, rejecting his final appeal against the 2016 district court ruling that found he should be sent to Spain, a Supreme Court spokeswoman told EFE.
The Salvadoran could be handed over to Spanish authorities at any moment, given that the State Department has already approved the extradition, a department spokesperson said.
Montano, now 74, successfully applied in 2002 for Temporary Protected Status, a benefit the U.S. government extends to migrants from countries battered by natural disasters or internal conflict.
Documents presented in court showed he concealed his Salvadoran military service on the initial TPS application and on subsequent applications for renewal.
US authorities eventually learned that Montano had been linked to a number of atrocities during El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war, including the massacre of the Jesuits.
The Justice Department says Montano was present at a meeting where one officer ordered the assassination of one of the Jesuits, the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuria, and the elimination of any witnesses.
The following day, Nov. 16, 1989, Salvadoran soldiers invaded the Central American University campus in San Salvador and killed then-chancellor 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.
Montano, then El Salvador’s deputy defense minister, controlled an official radio station that broadcast threats against Ellacuria and his colleagues in the days leading up to the murders.
El Salvador tried Montano and another 19 members of the military for the massacre, but Spain’s Judge Eloy Velasco considered the process a fraud and agreed to investigate the case in 2011 at the request of the Pro Human Rights Association of Spain and the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability.
Early this month, President Donald Trump’s administration urged the Supreme Court to approve Montano’s extradition without undue delay.
The administration said that the extradition would reinforce the US alliance with Spain.