Mexico says round-the-world cyclists were murdered

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Krzysztof Chmielewski y Holger HagenbuschImage source, Chmielewski/Hagenbusch
Image caption,
Krzysztof Chmielewski (l) and Holger Hagenbusch had spent years travelling the world on bikes

Mexican investigators say two European cyclists did not die in an accident as first claimed - they were murdered.

The bodies of Holger Hagenbusch, from Germany, and Krzysztof Chmielewski, from Poland, were found at the bottom of a cliff in Chiapas state.

Local authorities had said the pair appeared to have fallen after losing control.

However, relatives and fellow cyclists suspected it was more sinister, and had called for a deeper investigation.

The newly appointed special prosecutor, Luis Alberto Sánchez, said, on Friday, that they were killed in what appears to have been a robbery.

"Our investigations up to now indicate this was an intentional homicide," he said.

What happened?

Chmielewski's body was found first, 40 metres below the road, on 26 April.

Hagenbusch was found eight days later - on 4 May - further down the ravine, but beneath the same road that runs between Ocosingo and San Cristóbal de las Casas in the country's far south.

The regional attorney general in Chiapas, Arturo Pablo Lievano, originally said there was no evidence of bad intent and everything pointed to an accident. He said they may have been run off the road by a vehicle.

However, Hagenbusch's brother, Reiner, told the German press he believed they had been killed and there had been some sort of attempted cover-up.

After travelling to Mexico to identify his brother's body, he also found out information about the Polish biker.

"The Polish cyclist was decapitated and had a foot missing," he wrote on Facebook.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
"Justice for Holger and Krzysztof" - a sign held during a protest in San Cristobal de las Casas last week

Investigators now believe that the pair were assaulted on either the 19 or 20 April.

Chmielewski sustained a head injury that may be a gunshot wound, said Mr Sánchez.

His body was found next to a bike - but it was not his own. It belonged to his German companion, which aroused suspicions.

Talking to BBC Mundo, Mr Sánchez said the assailants were probably trying to cover their tracks. "Those that did this wanted to make it appear like an accident, so they put the bike there, but they made a mistake and used the German's bike," he said.

Who were the cyclists?

Krzysztof Chmielewski, 37, was a Polish citizen and had been travelling the world by bike for three years.

He had visited 51 countries and in the last year he had been to Canada and the US, before arriving in Mexico. He was planning to continue south all the way to Argentina, and had almost made it to Guatemala when he was killed.

Holger Hagenbusch, a 43-year-old German, was also an experienced cyclist. He had been to 34 countries and had been travelling by bike for four years, according to his blog.

Image source, Rafael Villagrán
Image caption,
Cyclists have painted a cycling angel on the road where the two men were assaulted

The pair had not set out together, but their paths had crossed in Chiapas.

Mr Sánchez told the BBC: "We think that they were travelling short distance from each other, maybe one was assaulted first ... and then the second one arrived and they were both captured."

He said some of their belongings were missing.

"It was very premature to call this an accident. The bike [belonging to the German] did not show signs of having been in a traffic accident," he added.

Cyclists pay tribute

On 6 May, people from nearby San Cristóbal de las Casa walked, with their bikes, to kilometre 158 on the highway where the two men were found.

They carried a bicycle that had been painted white - a symbolic gesture used worldwide for cyclists who die while riding - and called for justice for the pair.

Rainer Hagenbusch posted his thanks on Facebook.

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Mexico is struggling to tackle a rising murder rate.

It experienced its most violent year in 2017 with more than 25,000 murders, according to official figures.

It is the highest annual tally since modern records began. Organised crime accounted for nearly three-quarters of those deaths.