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US rounds up Guatemalans accused of war crimes

One works as a cook. Another as a karate teacher. They are accused of war crimes in Guatemala — yet they've been living in the US for years.

The suspects

The massacre in the village of Las Dos Erres has become one of the most notorious from Guatemala’s civil war, which was the longest-running conflict in the Americas in the 20th century and claimed the highest casualty rate. The vast majority of those killed were indigenous Mayan civilians and a U.N.-sponsored truth commission termed the war a genocide.

While some of the alleged killers from Las Dos Erres remained in Guatemala, others appeared to disappear into thin air. They headed north, to what they thought would be safe and comfortable lives in the United States, law enforcement officials say and documents confirm.

The four men under investigation in the U.S. have left varying degrees of public traces of their lives here.

One of the suspects is a well-known karate instructor from Riverside, Calif. Witnesses in Guatemala have told prosecutors there that the man, Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, smashed civilians in the head with a sledgehammer and threw a hand grenade into a well full of living and recently murdered civilians.

Of the four men, Orantes had the highest rank in the Kaibiles, the Guatemalan special forces. He was a second lieutenant. He is also the one of the four who has left the most public traces since his time in the Guatemalan military, largely thanks to his prominence as a karate master. (Orantes appears to have dropped his last name and now goes by Sosa, which may have helped him remain unnoticed in spite of his relatively high public profile.)

Orantes’ father appears to have founded a school of karate in Guatemala named Sosa-Kai. On the organization’s website there is a photograph of father and son wearing what appears to be Japanese robes. “The respect and admiration toward other martial art organizations will be one of our characteristics as a mystical organization, which respects all human beings,” says some of the text on the website. Until recently, Sosa-Kai appears to have been based in Canada, according to the website.

The website also claims that Sosa-Kai has trained the U.S. Marines who guard the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, as well as various units of the Guatemalan army, including the Presidential Guard.

Orantes appears to have been in the United States as early as 1985, less than two years after he allegedly participated in the massacre at Las Dos Erres. Court records indicate he got married in San Francisco on May 24, 1985. He appears to have then moved to Canada. He married again in 1997 in the Bronx, N.Y., and filed for divorce from his second wife in Riverside County, Calif., in January 2006.

Another suspect is a short-order cook at a restaurant in Florida, echoing his role as combat cook for the unit. His name is Gilberto Jordan, sources and documents confirm. (Update: Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman for ICE in Miami, said Jordan was arrested this morning. The criminal complaint charges Jordan with unlawful procurement of citizenship, a law enforcement source said. In other words, the allegation is that Jordan lied about his past to get U.S. citizenship. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.)

Records show that he lives in Delray Beach, Fla. He was born in 1956 and is a registered Democrat who has voted in primary and general elections since he registered in 1999. He is married to a woman named Maria, who was born in 1959. They own their own three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, which they bought in 2002 for $149,900.

The third man, Rios — the former School of the Americas instructor — lives in a gang-infested neighborhood in Riverside. Witnesses in Guatemala have told prosecutors there that Rios raped young girls during the massacre. The girls were then murdered, according to witnesses.

It is unclear what Rios’ life has been like in the United States

The fourth man is Alonzo, the alleged abductor of the 5-year-old boy Cristales. Alonzo is an illegal alien who worked as a day laborer in Houston, law enforcement sources say. He was arrested by immigration agents on Feb. 22 in a parking lot in Houston, according to court records. Witnesses have told GlobalPost and prosecutors in Guatemala that Alonzo guarded women and children — including Cristales — in one of the village’s two churches before they were passed on to be killed by other soldiers and thrown into the well.