Mexico kills Zetas drug lord, loses body

FILE - This undated file photo, downloaded from the Mexico's Attorney General's Office most wanted criminals webpage on Nov. 2, 2010, shows alleged Zeta drug cartel leader and founder Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano in an undisclosed location. (AP Photo/Mexico's Attorney General's Office, file)

MEXICO CITY: Mexico confirmed that it has killed the leader of the brutal Zetas drug gang, but added that his body was snatched from a funeral home by armed men.

Mexico’s navy said Tuesday that fingerprint tests had confirmed that Lazcano was killed in a firefight in the northern state of Coahuila Sunday.

Lazcano, alias “The Executioner,” was the highest profile drug lord to be killed or captured in a military offensive launched when President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006.

The United States had placed a $5 million bounty on his head.

However, in a scene straight from a movie, an armed group snatched Lazcano’s body and that of another Zetas member from a funeral home in northern Mexico before dawn Monday, just hours after they were killed.

“A masked, armed group overpowered the personnel, took the bodies and forced the owner of the funeral home to drive the get-away vehicle,” Homero Ramos, Coahuila’s state prosecutor, told a news conference Tuesday.

While the government – and rival gangs – may welcome Lazcano’s death, the failure to properly guard his body is a major embarrassment for the Mexican authorities.

A battle for control of the Zetas could become a major headache for President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, who takes office on Dec. 1.

Ramos said Lazcano and the other man were confronted Sunday by marines who had received a tipoff about two men in a vehicle that were acting suspiciously.

In the ensuing fight, the men attacked the Marines with grenades.

Authorities later found a grenade launcher and a host of other weapons inside the vehicle.

Photographs published by the navy showed the body of a man in a dark shirt stained with mud lying on a table, his face similar to mug shots of Lazcano, a former Mexico special forces soldier who defected to join the Gulf Cartel in the 1990s.

He and other army deserters built up the Zetas group as enforcers for the cartel, but then broke away in 2010 to fight a bloody turf war with their former bosses and other drug gangs.

The Zetas are now considered one of the two most powerful drug gangs in Mexico and have carried out some of the worst atrocities in a drugs war that has killed about 60,000 people during Calderon’s term.

Lazcano, also known as “Z-3,” was one of Mexico’s most-wanted men.

Only Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, boss of the Sinaloa Cartel, would represent a bigger prize to the government.

Under Lazcano’s leadership, the Zetas grew into a gang of more than 10,000 gunmen with operations stretching from the Rio Grande, on the border with Texas, to deep into Central America.

Since 2009, government troops have caught or killed more than 20 major drug lords.

Senior Zetas boss Ivan Velazquez – also known as “El Taliban” or “Z-50” – and Gulf Cartel head Jorge Costilla, alias “El Coss” were both captured last month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 10, 2012, on page 11.




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