GUATEMALA CITY – Inhabitants of an indigenous town in western Guatemala lynched three suspected criminals after forcibly removing them from a police station, which the mob set ablaze, officials said.
A police spokesman said that thousands of irate residents of Solola, a town 190 kilometers (118 miles) west of Guatemala City, captured two men and a woman suspected of killing a bus driver.
“When they realized what was happening, police officers intervened and transferred the suspects to the station, but the enraged residents demanded that they be turned over so they could take justice into their own hands,” the spokesman said.
When the officers refused, the stick- and machete-wielding mob took the station by force and dragged the suspects out, beating them unconscious and then setting them on fire in Solola’s main square.
The mob also set fire to two squad cars, a taxi in which the suspects supposedly had been transported and the police station.
Local media said that hours before Friday’s lynching the suspects had shot and killed a bus driver and seriously wounded two passengers. According to police, the slain bus driver – identified as 32-year-old Helmer de Leon – had apparently resisted being extorted by members of a criminal gang.
After the killings, more than 100 anti-riot police deployed to the area dispersed the mob with tear gas, but no arrests were reported.
Thus far this year, more than 150 drivers and 50 fare collectors have been killed for refusing to pay extortion money to criminal gangs.
According to the Gretrucex transport guild, bus drivers are forced to pay a daily amount of between $20-$40 per vehicle to the gangs under threat of death.
On Nov. 16, a group of residents in San Martin Jilotepeque, a town some 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of the Guatemalan capital, lynched a police officer accused of extorting a bus driver.
A study carried out by the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo humanitarian organization and presented in October said there were 110 attempted lynchings between January and September and that 28 people died in the vigilante violence.
GAM said the number of such incidents has increased due to residents’ desperation at authorities’ failure to provide security and impart justice.