Official: Gunmen stole Zetas leader’s body

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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 also were in charge of protecting the Gulf Cartel’s drug shipments.

The Zetas finally split from their former bosses in 2010 and since have been fighting a vicious battle for control of the drug business in northeastern 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 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, 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.”

Even with the death of Lazcano, the Zetas apparently still would be run by a ruthless capo, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, who has a reputation for being even more brutal than Lazcano. Officials say Trevino Morales, also known was “Z 40,” has taken on a greater leadership role and has even been reported to have replaced Lazcano as operational chief.

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. 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.

The death of Hartley drew wide attention as it appeared Hartley and his wife, Tiffany, were on a personal trip when he was shot by Mexican criminals on Sept. 30, 2010. The Hartleys were using personal watercraft on Falcon Lake when Mr. Hartley was shot in the head and fell into the water.

The navy is also blaming Martinez for the killing of the Tamaulipas state police commander and chief investigator on the case, an attack that hampered the investigation.

The navy said Martinez is also a suspect in dozens of killings of people who were buried in mass graves at the same site of the 2010 massacre of migrants. Nearly 200 bodies were discovered in April 2011 in the town of San Fernando, close to the U.S. border. Those two crimes have been the most fatalities since Mexico’s federal government launched an armed offensive against drug traffickers in December 2006.

Associated Press writers Olga R. Rodriguez and Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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