Wed, 10 Oct 2012 7:25 AM
A major coup for the Mexican authorities turned to embarrassment on Tuesday, when it emerged that the body of the slain leader of the Zetas drug cartel had been stolen from a funeral parlour.
Heriberto Lazcano’s corpse and that of another man were taken to a funeral home in the town of Sabinas in the northern state of Coahuila shortly after they were killed in a shootout on Sunday with naval special forces.
But a gang of heavily-armed men wearing face masks later entered the parlour and subdued the staff, Coahuila state prosecutor Homero Ramos told a press conference in Sabinas.
“They took the bodies, stuck them in a hearse and made the owner drive it off,” Ramos said.
The Mexican navy, which conducted the operation against the Zetas leader, said fingerprints and photographs had been used to identify the body as Lazcano’s before it was stolen.
“The facial features coincide with those of Herberto Lazacano,” the Navy said in a statement, adding that experts were still examining “information and samples taken during the autopsy”.
Officials said Lazcano and another man, identified as Mario Alberto Rodriguez, were killed at a baseball field near the Coahuila town of Progreso when the van they were in came under fire from Navy troops.
One man was behind the wheel when he was killed and the other was shot as he tried to flee, Ramos said, without clarifying further.
Lazcano, aka “El Lazca,” was one of two main leaders of the divided Zetas cartel and one of Mexico’s most wanted men with a $2.6-million reward on his head. The United States had set its own award at $5-million.
US authorities say the Zetas are one of Mexico’s most powerful drug gangs alongside the Pacific region’s Sinaloa federation, led by fugitive billionaire Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Much of the northeast is in the clutches of the Zetas cartel, which was founded by former Mexican special forces soldiers who went rogue and is known to decapitate and dismember enemies.
The Zetas were originally hired as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel but turned on their employers and have fought them for control of lucrative drug routes to the United States.
Mexican federal prosecutors have said Lazcano broke with the other Zetas leader, Miguel Trevino Morales, aka “Z-40,” leading to a schism in the cartel.
Authorities announced on Monday the arrest of the Zetas commander believed to have ordered the massacre of 72 illegal immigrants whose bodies were found in San Fernando, Tamaulipas in August 2010.
Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo was presented to the press by the Mexican navy along with five alleged accomplices. They were captured Saturday in Nuevo Laredo, a border city in the northern state of Tamaulipas.
Known as “Comandante Ardilla,” Martinez is suspected of involvement in the murder of an American, David Hartley, in September 2010 and the killing of a police commander who was investigating the crime.
Martinez, who worked for Morales, is also accused of masterminding the escape of 141 inmates from a prison in Tamaulipas in December 2010 and another jail break last month by 131 inmates from a penitentiary in Coahuila.
He is also being linked to other mass graves found in Tamaulipas — containing more than 200 bodies — and the executions of more than 50 other people nationwide.
Coahuila is one of the border states at the epicentre of Mexico’s vicious drug war, which is estimated to have claimed some 60 000 lives since the launch of a military crackdown in 2006.