Oct 9, 2012 / 5:33 am
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 said late Monday.
If confirmed, Lazcano's death would mark 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 there were "strong indications" the body of one of two men killed in the shootout Sunday was Lazcano, known as "El Lazca." But it added that 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 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 statement said.
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 went on to carry 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. Ortiz Franco was gunned down in front of his two young children as he left a clinic.
The United States has offered a $5 million reward and Mexico an additional $2.3 million for information leading to Lazcano's arrest.
The Sunday shootout came in the rural area of Progreso, Coahuila, about 80 miles (125 kilometres) 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.
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.
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