The Mexican government's account of the abduction and apparent massacre of 43 students last year does not add up, a team of international experts said on Sunday, citing deep flaws in the investigation and rejecting the claim that they were incinerated in a garbage dump.
The case of the missing 43 students caused an international outcry after they were abducted in the city of Iguala in southwest Mexico on Sept. 26.
The government's failure to capture the killers or even persuade Mexicans that its investigation was serious has hit President Enrique Pena Nieto's reputation, and the report on Sunday was certain to put more pressure on him.
Commissioned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), it blasts holes in the government's central claim that the students were burned to ashes in the nearby town of Cocula.
"There is no evidence that supports the hypothesis, based on testimonies, that 43 bodies were cremated in the municipal dump of Cocula on September 27, 2014," said the authors, who include respected investigators from Chile, Colombia, Guatemala and Spain and based their findings on independent expert analysis.
"We're convinced that the 43 students were not burned in the Cocula municipal dump."
So far, only one of the missing students has been identified from the badly charred remains found at the dump.
Pena Nieto's government says the students were abducted by corrupt local police, working in league with a local drug gang, who confused the students with members of a rival gang.
Citing confessions of the alleged perpetrators, it says the police then handed them over to members of the local cartel, known as "Guerreros Unidos" (United Warriors), who took them to the local dump and incinerated them.
A Reuters report published this week showed the government probe was plagued by a litany of errors, and that key parts may need to be redone.
Mexico's attorney general's office did not immediately respond to request for comment on Sunday.
The IACHR report, which does not identify where the 43 students might be, and can only speculate on the motive for their disappearance, found that much of what happened on the night of Sept. 26 is still unknown. But it does suggest avenues for closer investigation.
It flags the fact that missing evidence includes a bus seen on security camera footage from the night of the attack. The students commandeered several buses that night and local police opened fire on them.
The authors suggested the missing bus may have been carrying a shipment of cash or drugs, citing the fact that prosecutors in Chicago found that the Guerreros Unidos group transports heroin from Iguala to the United States in secret bus compartments.
They say the issue should be investigated, and may be the motive for the attack.
The IACHR experts conducted dozens of interviews with detainees and witnesses, and examined the possible role of an army battalion located only a few blocks from where most of the students are believed to have been abducted.
The team was denied interviews, however, with 26 soldiers who had contact with the students that night.