Three Salvadoran legislators, including a scion of one of the country's leading right-wing families, were kidnapped and slain and their bodies set ablaze during a trip to neighboring Guatemala, officials said Tuesday.
The congressional deputies were members of the ruling right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance. They were killed Monday night along with their driver as they paid an official visit to Guatemala City. Their charred bodies and gutted vehicle were found on a farm outside the city.
"The scene is Dantesque," said Julio Rank, a spokesman for Salvadoran President Tony Saca. Rank traveled to Guatemala late Monday. "The vehicle is filled with bullet holes and has four burned bodies inside.... The motive was not robbery."
Among the dead was Eduardo Jose D'Aubuisson, 32, son of the late Roberto D'Aubuisson, founder of the Nationalist Republican Alliance, or Arena. Also killed were legislators William Pichinte and Jose Ramon Gonzalez.
The killings occurred amid a wave of lawlessness in Guatemala, which has become a haven for organized crime and a way station for the shipment of drugs from South America to the United States, American authorities said.
The three legislators left San Salvador by car early Monday for a meeting of the Central American Parliament, a political body that seeks to promote and regulate trade among five countries in the region.
Investigators said the legislators traveled with other Salvadoran officials in a four-car caravan. After crossing the border into Guatemala, the caravan was escorted by the Guatemalan national police. Once in Guatemala City, the caravan broke up and the legislators no longer had a police escort.
The bodies were discovered about 20 miles outside Guatemala City near the village of El Jocotillo when residents called firefighters to report a vehicle on fire.
"This is not a crime that fits the pattern of a common killing," Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann told the Associated Press. "The violence and the cruelty with which it was done were meant to send a message."
Officials in El Salvador and Guatemala said high-caliber weapons were used and that the victims were probably dead before the car was set on fire.
Eduardo D'Aubuisson was one of several children of the Arena founder. Salvadoran radio reported Tuesday that he was known among alliance members for his violent temper. Party members gave him the nickname Poison.
Roberto D'Aubuisson, who died of throat cancer in 1992, was widely thought to be behind many of the right-wing death squads that terrorized El Salvador during the civil war of the 1980s. Though he was never convicted of any crime, U.S. officials said they thought he was behind the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Perhaps coincidentally, Tuesday was the 15th anniversary of D'Aubuisson's death. Saca, who marked the anniversary with a visit to D'Aubuisson's grave, is the leader of Arena.
The president told reporters that the killings were "premeditated, coldblooded" acts carried out with "tremendous hatred."
Rank, asked whether the violence was linked to organized crime, said police in Guatemala had determined that the killings were not the work of "common criminals."
"This act will not intimidate us," Rank said. "We will continue to fight."
El Salvador has its own problems with the regional drug trade. Gang violence and extortion are widespread.
Salvadoran authorities say they have linked Mario Osorto, an Arena legislator to the Central American Parliament, to money laundering. Osorto was stripped of his parliamentary immunity last year and arrested last month.
Times staff writer Tobar reported from Mexico City and special correspondent Renderos from San Salvador.