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Terrorism & Security

Double blow to Mexico's Zetas? Top man Lazcano reportedly killed, another captured

The Mexican Navy reports there are 'strong indications' that marines killed Zetas top man Heriberto Lazcano. Could this mean the end for the Zetas, or trigger more violence?

By Staff writer / October 9, 2012

This undated file photo, downloaded from Mexico's Attorney General's Office most wanted criminals Web page November 2010, shows alleged Zetas drug cartel leader and founder Heriberto Lazcano in an undisclosed location. The Mexican Navy says on Monday, Oct. 8, that Mr. Lazcano has apparently been killed in a firefight with marines in the Mexican northern border state of Coahuila.

Mexico's Attorney General's Office/AP/File

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In an apparent double blow to Mexico's most notorious drug cartel, Mexican authorities said they believed they have killed the leader of the Zetas gang and captured a high-ranking lieutenant wanted for more than 300 murders.

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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The Mexican Navy said in a brief statement late Monday that there were "strong indications" that marines had killed Zetas top man Heriberto Lazcano in a battle in Progreso, Coahuila, reports the Los Angeles Times. After responding to citizens' reports of armed men in the vicinity, a marine patrol came under attack with grenades and gunfire. The marines returned fire, killing two men. Initial forensic tests indicated that Mr. Lazcano was one of the two dead.

The death of Lazcano, if confirmed, would be a massive blow to the Zetas organization, one of Mexico's most fearsome. Lazcano was Mexico's second most wanted man, behind only Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "Chapo" Guzmán. The Mexican and US governments both offer rewards for his capture, of $2 million and $5 million respectively.

Lazcano was an original member of the Zetas, which started out as a paramilitary hit squad for the Gulf cartel before breaking off to work independently, ultimately rising to become one of the most feared gangs in Mexico. Like most of the Zetas founding members, Lazcano was a former Mexican special forces soldier, and thus a cut above the average Mexican gangster. Lazcano has run the Zetas gang since 2004, and in his book "El Narco," journalist Ioan Grillo wrote that Lazcano brought the gang's violence to a new level after he took over, targeting not just victims and rival gangs, but authorities as well.

Taking leadership of the Zetas was Heriberto Lazcano, or Z-3, known by his chilling nickname the Executioner. Hailing from the rural state of Hidalgo, the muscular, thick-necked Lazcano shared a peasant background with his friend and mentor [Arturo] Guzmán, Z-1. Lazcano also joined the army as a teenager and gained promotion to the special forces. When Guzmán defected, the loyal Lazcano was quick to follow. However, Lazcano, who took control of the Zetas at age twenty-eight, proved he was more bloodthirsty than his teacher.

Guards at a penitentiary in Matamoros refused to smuggle in luxuries to some Zetas prisoners. So Lazcano applied pressure. One night, as six prison workers finished a late shift, waiting Zetas abducted them one by one. Hours later, a horrified guard at the prison gates found the bodies of the six employees in a Ford Explorer. They had been blindfolded, hand-cuffed, and shot in the head. The Zetas were showing a new approach for dealing with authorities. Police had once bullied criminals into paying up. Now the worm had turned.

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