RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal judge cleared the way Monday for a former colonel in El Salvador’s military to be sent to Spain to face charges that he helped plot the notorious killings of six priests during his country’s civil war.

Judge Terrence Boyle ruled that a lower-level magistrate judge was correct last year in approving the extradition of Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, who is charged with “terrorist murder” in the 1989 killings of the Jesuit priests, most of whom were from Spain.

A human rights lawyer who helped persuade Spanish authorities to prosecute Montano applauded.

“The U.S. government has a great interest in cooperating with Spain on an accusation of terrorist murder,” said Patty Blum, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “This is all about international cooperation.”

Montano could still ask a federal appeals court to halt his extradition. His attorney, James Todd, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

The State Department gives final approval for extraditions, and is expected to approve this one because its lawyers already reviewed the case before turning it over to federal prosecutors. A message seeking comment from the State Department wasn’t immediately returned Monday.

Montano oversaw El Salvador’s National Police as vice minister for public security in the 1980s. He was part of an inner circle of military officers accused of plotting the killings of the priests, who were helping to broker peace talks between the right-wing government and leftist rebels, according to court documents.

Outrage over the priests’ massacre led to a U.S. congressional investigation, which found that members of the Salvadoran Army unit that carried out the murders received training from the U.S military.

Montano denied involvement, but the magistrate ruled that evidence presented by U.S. prosecutors showed he helped plot the killings. Boyle dismissed his petition for review.

Montano arrived in the U.S. in the early 2000s and worked for six years at a candy factory in a Boston suburb. He was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to nearly two years for immigration fraud and perjury, serving his time in a federal prison in North Carolina. His extradition case has unfolded in North Carolina federal courts since then while Montano has been held in jail.


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