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Top Zetas leader Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano was killed in a shootout with the Mexican navy on Sunday in Progreso in the state of Coahuila, Mexican officials confirmed Tuesday. Story in Frontera (PDF).
His body was stolen from a funeral home early Monday, officials said.
In an unfortunate development for the Mexican government, the story of his body's disappearance seemed to receive wider play than his death. One of the news organizations that seemed to play it that way was the BBC.
There has been a tradition in Mexico in recent years of organized crime gangs seizing bodies of their leaders from authorities. The government apparently did not realize immediately whose body it had; the body was released to a funeral home Sunday after photos and fingerprints were taken. The body was taken at gunpoint from the funeral home around 1 a.m. Monday. Had the government realized it had killed Lazcano, it might have posted a guard around the body.
Lazcano and others had deserted the military to take up a life in organized crime.
It was the second major blow against the Zetas announced this week. On Monday, authorities said that Salvador Alfonso "La Ardilla" Martínez Escobedo had been captured. "The Squirrel" is a suspect in 320 murders, including those of Latin American migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, and is believed to have been involved in the escape of more than 280 prisoners the past two years, included the recent breakout of 131 in Piedras Negras.
The military said Martínez apparently was recruited in 2002 by the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, when the two groups worked together. He had been captured by the navy in 2008 in Veracruz, but then freed by gunmen.
Zetas also are suspected in the recent killing of the Coahuila state governor's nephew in Ciudad Acuña. A top police official has been placed under arraigo, where someone can be held for 40 days without charge, in the case.
Update, Oct. 10: Story, Los Angeles Times: "Leader of Mexico's Zetas drug gang proves elusive even in death."
Columnist Sergio Sarmiento warns of possible greater drug war violence. Columnist Leo Zuckermann says the Lazcano killing and embarrassing body theft reflects the overall problems President Felipe Calderón has in the drug war. Their columns (PDF).
Update, Oct. 14: The Associated Press quotes a U.S. official as saying it knew the body's was Lazcano's before it was taken to the funeral home, raising questions about whether Mexico also knew that. AP story in El Mexicano (PDF). Jump.
Update, Oct. 23: Bodies of Lazcano relatives exhumed to make DNA comparisons. Story in Frontera (PDF).
Update, Oct. 24: DNA shows body was that of Lazcano, U.S. says. Story in Frontera (PDF).