SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean police Thursday detained a Dutch man linked to the mysterious disappearance of a U.S. student in Aruba in 2005 and who is now the prime suspect in a new murder probe in Peru.
Peruvian police have linked Joran Van der Sloot to the murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores, whose body was found in Lima Wednesday. He was stopped by police in central Chile after traveling hundreds of miles south from the border.
Chilean police detained Van der Sloot for questioning, but said no arrest warrant had been issued. It was not immediately clear how long they would hold him for questioning, or whether he would be sent back to Peru.
Van der Sloot was arrested twice after Natalee Holloway, a blond student from Alabama, disappeared during a high school graduation trip in the Dutch Caribbean island five years ago, a case that sparked a U.S. media frenzy. He and other two suspects were not charged due to insufficient evidence.
The case remains open, however, and authorities in Alabama said an arrest warrant for Van der Sloot had been issued on Thursday on extortion charges linked to Holloway’s disappearance.
U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance told reporters in Birmingham, Alabama, that Van der Sloot allegedly tried to collect $250,000 in exchange for information about the circumstances of Holloway’s death in Aruba and the location of her remains.
Peruvian police said Flores was killed on May 30 -- the same date that Holloway disappeared five years earlier.
Cesar Guardia, head of Peru’s police crimes unit, said Van der Sloot and the victim were seen at a casino in the Peruvian capital over the weekend and that he is the main suspect in her death.
“My daughter would be happy to know that this murderer has been detained at last,” said Ricardo Flores, the Peruvian girl’s father and a famous rally racer.
“Parents around the world can now breathe more easily knowing that he will pay for what he has done. The full weight of justice will fall on him, something that did not happen in Aruba.”
The disappearance of Holloway triggered a massive air and sea search in Aruba that included the Dutch army, FBI and hundreds of volunteers. The case triggered a U.S. media storm that lasted for weeks.
Aruba Solicitor General Taco Stein told Reuters the new murder probe shed no new light on the ongoing Holloway case, but authorities will watch the Peru case closely for clues.
“This might help in terms of being convinced he’s done something, but it’s not legal evidence in this case,” said Stein. “He might make statements on the Holloway case, and in that respect we will be monitoring and following this to see whether or not this might be helpful for us.”
Holloway’s relatives in Alabama could not be immediately contacted for comment.
Back in Chile, Van der Sloot appeared calm as he was escorted by officers to a police station for questioning. TV images showed him wearing a sweatshirt but without hand-cuffs.
Dutch embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.
Police set up checkpoints along more than 250 miles of rugged, desert border area in a bid to corner him after he crossed over into Chile Monday.
Additional reporting by Simon Gardner, Teresa Cespedes and Eduardo Garcia and Peggy Gargis; Writing by Alonso Soto; Editing by Philip Barbara