- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2011

MEXICO CITY — Suspected drug traffickers drove two trucks to a main avenue in a Mexican Gulf Coast city and dumped 35 bodies beneath an overpass during rush hour as gunmen stood guard and pointed their weapons at frightened drivers.

Horrified motorists trapped at the scene grabbed cellphones and sent Twitter messages warning others to avoid the area on a thoroughfare near the biggest shopping mall in Boca del Rio.

The gruesome scene Tuesday was a sharp escalation in drug violence in Veracruz state, which sits on an important route for drugs and Central American migrants heading north.

The Zetas drug cartel has been battling other gangs for control of the state.

Veracruz State Attorney General Reynaldo Escobar Perez said the bodies were left piled in two trucks and on the ground under an overpass near the mall and a statue of the Voladores de Papantla, ritual dancers from the state.

Police had identified seven of the victims so far, and all had criminal records for murder, drug dealing, kidnapping and extortion and were linked to organized crime, Mr. Escobar said. He didn’t say to what group the victims belonged.

Motorists posted warnings on Twitter that masked gunmen in military uniforms were blocking Manuel Avila Camacho Boulevard and pointing their guns at civilians.

“They don’t seem to be soldiers or police,” one tweet read. Another said, “Don’t go through that area, there is danger.”

Mr. Escobar said police were reviewing surveillance video recorded in the area.

Local media said 12 of the victims were women and some of the dead men had been among at least 32 prisoners who had escaped from three Veracruz prisons on Monday, but Mr. Escobar said he couldn’t confirm that. Police have recaptured 14 of the escapees.

Earlier Tuesday, the Mexican army announced it had captured a key figure in the cultlike Knights Templar drug cartel, which is sowing violence in western Mexico.

Saul Solis Solis, 49, a former police chief and one-time congressional candidate who is considered one of the principal lieutenants in the Knights Templar, was captured without incident Monday in the cartel’s home state of Michoacan, Brig. Gen. Edgar Luis Villegas said during a presentation of Mr. Solis to the media.

The Knights Templar split late last year from La Familia, a pseudo-religious drug gang known as a major trafficker of methamphetamine.

Drug violence has claimed more than 35,000 lives across Mexico since 2006, according to government figures. Others put the number at more than 40,000.

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