Suspected drug traffickers dumped 35 bodies at rush hour beneath a busy overpass in the heart of a major Gulf coast city as gunmen pointed weapons at frightened drivers. Mexican authorities said Wednesday they are examining surveillance video for clues to who committed the crime.
Horrified motorists grabbed cellphones and sent Twitter messages warning others to avoid the area near the biggest shopping mall in Boca del Rio, part of the metropolitan area of Veracruz city.
The gruesome gesture marked a sharp escalation in cartel 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, but prosecutors said it's too soon to draw conclusions from the surveillance video.
"We're not going to confirm or deny anything," Veracruz state Attorney General Reynaldo Escobar Perez told the Televisa network Wednesday. "We're looking at it in different ways, we're seeing different numbers, that's why we don't want to get ahead of ourselves."
Escobar said the bodies were left piled in two trucks and on the ground under the overpass near the statue of the Voladores de Papantla, ritual dancers from Veracruz state. He said some of the victims had their heads covered with black plastic bags and showed signs of torture.
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, Escobar said.
Motorists posted Twitter warnings said the masked gunmen were in military uniforms and were blocking Manuel Avila Camacho Boulevard.
"They don't seem to be soldiers or police," one tweet read. Another said, "Don't go through that area, there is danger."
Veracruz is currently hosting a conference of Mexico's top state and federal prosecutors and judiciary officials.
Local media said that 12 of the victims were women and that some of the dead men had been among prisoners who escaped from three Veracruz prisons on Monday, but Escobar denied the escaped convicts were among the dead.
At least 32 inmates got away from the three Veracruz prisons. Police recaptured 14 of them.
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.
Police capture key figure
Earlier Tuesday, the Mexican army announced it had captured a key figure in the cult-like Knights Templar drug cartel that is sowing violence in western Mexico.
Saul Solis Solis, 49, a former police chief and one-time congressional candidate, was captured without incident Monday in the cartel's home state of Michoacan, Brig. Gen. Edgar Luis Villegas said during a presentation of Solis to the media.
Solis is considered one of the principal lieutenants in the Knights Templar, which split late last year from La Familia, a pseudo-religious drug gang known as a major trafficker of methamphetamine.
In northern Mexico, the army announced the detention of two more suspects in a casino fire that killed 52 people last month in the northern city of Monterrey. The two men captured at a bar in Monterrey late Monday confessed to being members of the Zetas drug cartel and participating in the attack, federal prosecutors said.
Separately in Nuevo Leon, Mexican marines captured 19 alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel at a ranch that was being used as a training camp in the town of Colombia, the military announced.
A navy statement said that seven minors were among those detained and that marines seized four rifles, a pistol, and several military uniforms and boots.