The Mexican army said Thursday it captured a top drug cartel lieutenant who allegedly ordered an arson attack at a casino in northern Mexico that killed 52 people.
News of the capture of Carlos Oliva Castillo, alias "The Frog," a reputed leader of the extremely violent Zetas cartel, may have been the cause of a bloody fight between gang members at a prison outside Monterrey, the city in which the arson occurred in August. Seven inmates died.
Oliva Castillo's capture Wednesday by soldiers in the northern city of Saltillo unleashed violence almost immediately, as his associates tried to spring him from custody, said a Defense Department spokesman, Col. Ricardo Trevilla.
Zetas gunmen opened fire on security forces in an attempt to distract soldiers and rescue Castillo, a sign of his importance to the criminal organization, Trevilla said.
The firing went on for several hours and caused panic in the city. Drug cartel gunmen in Mexico rarely attack authorities in a bid to free arrested leaders.
Rival gangs of prison inmates began fighting early Thursday, said Jorge Domene, security spokesman for Nuevo Leon state. Four prisoners were burned to death and three others were stabbed to death with homemade knives, Domene said.
Soldiers had to be called in to restore order in the prison, which is in the Monterrey suburb of Cadereyta.
Domene said the fight may have been a reaction to Oliva Castillo's detention, but the cause was still under investigation. The death or capture of top drug cartel operators often unleashes a wave of violence as rivals seek to fill the leadership vacuum.
Prosecutors received anonymous tip
Oliva Castillo allegedly led the Zetas gang on its home turf, in the northern Gulf coast state of Tamaulipas, as well as in the important northern battleground states of Coahuila, where Saltillo is located, and Nuevo Leon. He ranked third in importance to the two top Zeta leaders, Heriberto "Lazca" Lazcano and Miguel Angel Trevino, Trevilla said.
The stocky 37-year-old was flown to Mexico City and presented, handcuffed and unblinking, to journalists.
Trevilla said there are "several pieces of evidence" indicating that Oliva Castillo ordered a subordinate, Francisco Medina Mejia, to pour gasoline in and set fire to the Royale casino in Monterrey on Aug. 25.
Investigators have identified or arrested more than a dozen suspects in the attack, which they say appears to have been triggered by the owners' refusal to pay protection money to the Zetas.
Campos said prosecutors had received an anonymous tip about Oliva Castillo's activities along with a photo of him. He has not yet been formally charged.