Mexico navy says Zetas cartel leader apparently killed
By Mark Stevenson, AP
October 10, 2012, 12:30 am TWN
MEXICO CITY--Top Zetas drug cartel leader Heriberto Lazcano has apparently been killed in a firefight with marines in the northern border state of Coahuila, the Mexican navy says.
If confirmed, Lazcano's death would be a huge victory for Mexican law enforcement, and mark the end of a founder of one of the world's bloodiest cartels.
The navy said Monday there were "strong indications" that one of two men killed in the shootout Sunday was Lazcano, known as "El Lazca." But it added that more forensics tests the body would have to be carried out to confirm the identification.
The Zetas cartel that Lazcano helped found with other deserters from an elite army unit has 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 slaying of Francisco Ortiz Franco, a top editor of a crusading weekly newspaper in Tijuana that often reported on drug trafficking.
The Sunday shootout came in the rural area of Progreso, Coahuila, about 80 miles (125 kilometers) 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.
Lazcano "is credited with strengthening the organization ... he created a new structure of regional cells that specialize in specific crimes," Mexican federal prosecutors say in their profile of Lazcano.
The Zetas also earned notoriety for brutality by becoming the first to publicly display their beheaded rivals.
Even with the death of Lazcano, the Zetas apparently would still be run by a ruthless capo, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, who has a reputation for being even more brutal than Lazcano.
The report of Lazcano's death came just 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 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 U.S. citizen David Hartley in 2010 on Falcon Lake, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border.