Soldiers kill Mexican drug cartel chief
on 09/10/2012 07:21:14
Strong evidence suggests the body of one of two men killed in the shootout was Lazcano, known as "El Lazca", the navy said.
A statement said more forensics tests would have to be carried out to confirm the identification.
"Information was obtained after the first forensics tests were carried out that yielded indications that suggest that one of the bodies is Heriberto Lazcano," the navy's statement said.
"The Navy Department is co-ordinating efforts with Coahuila state, and will be awaiting the conclusions of the forensics examination in the case."
The death of Lazcano would be a major victory for Mexican law enforcement. The Zetas cartel that he helped found with other deserters from an elite army unit carried out some of Mexico's bloodiest massacres, biggest jail breaks and fiercest attacks on authorities.
Lazcano, who is also known as "El Verdugo" (the Executioner) for his brutality, is suspected in hundreds of killings, including the June 2004 murder of Francisco Ortiz Franco, editor of a crusading weekly newspaper in Tijuana which often reported on drug trafficking. Mr Ortiz Franco was gunned down in front of his two young children as he left a clinic.
The United States had offered a US$5m reward and Mexico an additional US$2.3m for information leading to Lazcano's arrest.
Under Lazcano's leadership, the Zetas recruited more hit men, many of them former Mexican soldiers, and hired "kaibiles", Guatemalan soldiers trained in counterinsurgency, transforming what had been a small group of assassins into a ruthless gang of enforcers for the Gulf cartel. The Zetas were also in charge of protecting the Gulf cartel's drug shipments.
The Zetas 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. The result has been a surge of drug-related killings.
Lazcano "is credited with strengthening the organisation ... he created a new structure of regional cells that specialise in specific crimes", Mexican federal prosecutors say in their profile of Lazcano.
The Zetas earned their notoriety for brutality by becoming the first to publicly display their beheaded rivals, most infamously two police officers in April 2006 in the resort city of Acapulco. The severed heads were found on spikes outside a government building with a message signed "Z" that said: "So that you learn to respect."
The shootout came in the rural area of Progreso, Coahuila, about 80 miles west of the Texas border, near Laredo.
The navy said it received complaints about armed men in the area and sent out a patrol to check out the reports. Gunmen tossed grenades at the patrol from a moving vehicle, wounding one of the marines. His injuries were not life-threatening.
Two of the gunmen were killed in the ensuing shootout, the navy's statement said. In the gunmen's vehicle, authorities found a grenade launcher, 12 grenades, what appeared to be rocket propelled grenade launcher and two rifles.
Even with the death of Lazcano, the Zetas would still be run by a ruthless capo, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, who has a reputation for being even more brutal than Lazcano. Trevino Morales, also known as "Z 40", has taken on a greater leadership role and has been reported to have replaced Lazcano as operational chief.
The report of Lazcano's death came hours after the navy nabbed a suspected Zetas regional leader accused of involvement in some of the country's most notorious crimes in recent years.
Navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara said Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo was arrested on Saturday in Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. The official said Martinez is believed to have masterminded the massacre of 72 migrants in the northern state of Tamaulipas in 2010.
The man known as "Squirrel" also has been linked to the escape of 151 prisoners in 2010 from a jail in the city of Nuevo Laredo, the recent flight of 131 prisoners in the city of Piedras Negras and the killing of US citizen David Hartley in 2010 on Falcon Lake, which straddles the US-Mexico border.