Marines gun down drug lord – but gang steals his body back
Mexican marines have gunned down one of the country’s most feared drug lords outside a baseball game near the United States border – but the body was then stolen from a funeral home in a pre-dawn raid by a group of armed men.
The theft of the body believed to that of Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano adds a bizarre and embarrassing twist to one of the most significant victories in Mexico’s battle with organised crime, two months before the man who expanded it, president Felipe Calderon, leaves office.
It seems certain to fuel speculation about just what happened to Lazcano, an army special forces deserter whose brutal paramilitary tactics helped define the six-year war between Mexico’s drug gangs and authorities.
Coahuila state attorney-general Homero Ramos said yesterday two men were killed by marines on Sunday outside a baseball game in the town of Progreso. He and the Mexican navy said the fingerprints of one man matched Lazcano’s records.
But Mr Ramos said that, early on Monday, a group of armed men raided the funeral home where the bodies were being kept, and stole both corpses.
Lazcano brought military tactics and training to the enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel, then split from his former bosses and turned the Zetas into one of Mexico’s two most potent cartels, controlling territory stretching along the US border and at least as far south as Guatemala. The Zetas have carried out some of the country’s bloodiest massacres, biggest jail breaks and fiercest attacks on authorities.
Most recently, the cartel was linked to the assassination of the nephew of the governor of Coahuila state last week, prompting the federal government to dispatch additional troops and investigators to the area.
Mexican authorities have announced a string of arrests of high-profile Zetas figures in recent months. Such captures often lead authorities to higher-ranking figures.
Lazcano – known as “El Verdugo” (“the Executioner”) – is a suspect in hundreds of killings, including the June 2004 murder of Francisco Ortiz Franco, editor of a crusading weekly newspaper in Tijuana that often reported on drug trafficking. He was gunned down in front of his two young children as he left a clinic.
The Sunday shoot-out came in the rural area of Progreso, Coahuila, about 80 miles west of the Texas border, near Laredo.
The Mexican navy said it received complaints about armed men in the area and sent a patrol to check out the reports. Gunmen tossed grenades at the patrol from a moving vehicle, wounding one of the marines.
Two of the gunmen were killed in the ensuing shootout, the navy’s statement said. In the vehicle belonging to the gunmen, authorities found a grenade launcher, 12 grenades, what appeared to be rocket-propelled grenade launcher and two rifles.
Under Lazcano, the Zetas became a ruthless gang of enforcers for the Gulf cartel. They were also in charge of protecting the cartel’s drug shipments.
The Zetas finally split from their former bosses in 2010 and have since been fighting a vicious battle for control of the drug business in north-eastern Mexico, the traditional home base of the Gulf cartel.
But even with the death of Lazcano, the Zetas would still have a ruthless leader – another capo is Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, who is reputedly even more brutal than Lazcano.
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