By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - The United States deported a former El Salvadoran army colonel on Wednesday to Spain, where he faces charges related to the massacre of six Roman Catholic priests in 1989 during the Central American country's civil war.
Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, 74, has been in U.S. custody since 2011 when he was arrested outside Boston on immigration fraud charges after the Spanish government indicted 20 former Salvadoran army officers for the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter.
The group was targeted because one of the priests, Father Ignacio Ellacuria, was a prominent critic of the country's military dictatorship. The massacre was among the bloodiest acts of a decade-long civil war during which 75,000 people were killed and 8,000 went missing.
Montano Morales, who has proclaimed his innocence, is accused of overseeing a radio station that urged the priests' murder and participating in meetings a day before the deaths when a colleague gave the order to kill the men.
"Criminals and those lawfully charged with criminal offences overseas should not be able to find safe haven in the United States," U.S. Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said in a statement. "Today's extradition demonstrates our firm commitment to honoring our obligations under extradition treaties."
Attorney Jay Todd, who represented Montano Morales in his extradition proceedings in federal court in North Carolina, said his client had denied having a role in the killings.
"He has always adamantly denied any involvement in their conspiracy theory," Todd said in a phone interview. He noted that in the extradition hearings the judge accepted as fact evidence presented by Spanish prosecutors that he said would not have met U.S. standards of probable cause.
"I hope the Spanish justice system will afford him the due process that we expect any country would," Todd said.
The massacre occurred early on Nov. 16, 1989, when a group of soldiers entered the campus of the Central American University where Ellacuria was rector, according to a United-Nations-sponsored Truth Commission.
The soldiers ordered the priests to lie face down on the ground and shot them. They also killed the priests' housekeeper and her 13-year-old daughter and then left a note claiming the murders were carried out by left-wing guerrillas.
The war ended in 1992. After a criminal investigation, two army officers were convicted for the Jesuit murders and jailed, but later released after an amnesty law passed in 1993.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Andrew Hay)