Seven members of a Guatemalan kidnapping gang known as the Pujujiles have received prison sentences of between 100 and 376 years each, while authorities warn of the rise of new criminal alliances behind an increase in abductions.

Prosecutor Rony Lopez of the Public Ministry said that the heavy sentences were intended to act as a deterrent against kidnapping.

The men were found guilty of 10 kidnappings, with 34 victims in total, reports Prensa Libre. Six of the victims were murdered when the ransom was not paid, and their bodies buried in wasteland areas.

The group apparently used the same method for all 10 kidnappings, intercepting vehicles on the Pan-American Highway near Los Encuentros, Solola, and hiding victims in the mountains until a ransom was paid.

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Prensa Libre reports that kidnappings are on the rise in Guatemala, particularly in the east, west and central regions, with 35 cases reported in the last two months. Investigators have attributed the increase to car thieves joining up with extortionists and hitmen to form bands of kidnappers, according to the newspaper.

Last month saw the creation of several task forces by new President Otto Perez, one for kidnapping and others addressing car theft, extortion, femicide, and “sicarios”, or assassins, amongst other issues. With the news that these criminal groups may be joining forces to carry out kidnapping operations, it remains to be seen how the newly created task forces will tackle the problem.

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