PALMARITO, Mexico — A video released by Mexican media outlets Wednesday appears to show a soldier executing a civilian lying face down in the street with a shot to the back of his head.
The video’s circulation was quickly followed by condemnation and pledges from the defense department to determine its authenticity and the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the May 3 events in the town of Palmarito.
But late Wednesday, the gritty intersection showed no signs of any investigation. Bullet-pocked facades and windows and the reluctance of residents to talk were the only indications anything occurred.
The security camera footage first published by Diario Cambio purportedly depicts part of the military’s encounter with fuel pipeline thieves that the government said left 10 dead in the central state of Puebla.
Fuel theft has long plagued Mexico, but is generating more violence lately as federal authorities crack down. Mexico’s treasury secretary said Tuesday the practice costs the country $780 million to $1 billion each year.
The military originally said that in the May 3 encounter the thieves used local residents as human shields in an initial ambush on an army patrol. Two soldiers were killed and a third wounded.
Reinforcements of 1,000 soldiers and police were sent in and hours later another patrol was ambushed. Two more soldiers were killed along with three attackers. Puebla state officials later said three more attackers had also died.
It is unclear if one of those events is depicted in the video released Wednesday. The Associated Press could not independently verify the video’s authenticity.
The heavily edited video captured by a security camera shows a silver four-door car slowly reversing into the frame on a darkened street with gunshots hitting it and marks already visible on its windshield. At least one shot appears to come from the rear door on the driver’s side, which is ajar.
“We were there watching TV and suddenly you heard like collisions,” said a man who lives at the intersection where the shootout occurred. He gave only his first name, Joaquin, saying he feared repercussions if his identity was revealed.
He said there was a lot shouting from various voices and he could hear vehicles reversing and advancing, then shooting.
“All you could do was listen because we couldn’t go out because it sounded really bad, the shots,” he said Wednesday. By the next morning, the camera that had been on a utility pole was gone, he said.
According to the video’s time stamp, soldiers advanced by foot on the car about eight minutes after it stopped, but what happened in the intervening minutes is not shown.
The video shows the driver’s door opening and a man stepping out with his back to the camera. At the same time, a second man exits from the rear door on the driver’s side and lies down in the street. The driver is briefly illuminated as he steps through the beam of the tail light, then two soldiers rush in from the darkness and the driver quickly gets on the ground beside the other man.
A minute later, a soldier pushes a third man from around the back to the front of the car and out of the frame. Seconds later, the man who had gotten out of the back of the vehicle emerges from the darkness and is pushed by a soldier out of the frame in the same direction.
Then a soldier grabs the arms of the apparent driver and another soldier takes his legs, and they drag him toward the car’s front and deposit him on his back. With apparent difficulty, he rolls over onto his stomach.
Six minutes later, the driver remains face down in the street as a soldier holds a rifle in the foreground and two other soldiers stand near the car. Suddenly, a gun and helmet enter the left edge of the frame directly over the unmoving driver and there is a flash from the gun. The man’s prone body bucks and the soldier in the foreground lifts up one foot as if surprised by the sound.
Whatever happened next is not seen. The remainder of the video does not include a time stamp, but a narrator says more than 1½ hours has passed. The man’s body remains in the street and soldiers walk toward the camera and the image suddenly jerks and goes white.
The military’s statement Wednesday said the video shows soldiers coming under fire and capturing suspects. It said the video apparently also shows a soldier shooting a man while in custody. That incident must be “irrefutably” cleared up by federal investigators, it said, adding: “Under no circumstances can conduct contrary to the law and human rights be justified.”
The Mexican National Human Rights Commission said it has a copy of the video and other recordings of the encounter. It said the gravity of the events demand a swift and thorough investigation.
The Mexican military has been implicated in extrajudicial killings before, including the killing of 22 suspects at a warehouse in the Mexico state community of Tlatlaya.
After investigating that June 30, 2014, incident, the rights commission said soldiers executed at least a dozen suspects after they surrendered. The military had said that all died in a gunfight in which only one soldier was wounded, but the AP found evidence at the scene that contradicted that version.
Associated Press journalist Enric Marti reported this story in Palmarito and AP writer Christopher Sherman reported from Mexico City.