San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Head of brutal Zetas cartel killed; gunmen steal body from Mexican authorities

The body of the slain leader of the Zetas drug cartel was stolen from a funeral parlor by an armed group after he was killed in a shootout with authorities in northern Mexico, officials said Tuesday.

The Mexican navy, which conducted the operation against the Zetas leader, said fingerprints and photographs had been used to identify the body as Heriberto Lazcano’s before it was stolen.

Lazcano’s body and that of another man had been taken to a funeral home in the town of Sabinas in the northern state of Coahuila after the shootout on Monday with navy special forces.

Coahuila state prosecutor Homero Ramos told a press conference in Sabinas that gunmen wearing face masks had entered the parlor with heavily armed protectors and subdued the staff.

“They took the bodies, stuck them in a hearse, and made the owner drive it off,” Ramos said.

The navy had said earlier it was awaiting confirmation that one of the men killed in the town of Progreso was Lazcano, one of two mainleaders of the divided cartel and one of the Mexico’s most wanted men.

Shortly before the state prosecutor confirmed his body had been stolen, the Navy said it had confirmed that it was Lazcano, 37, through fingerprints and photographs of his corpse.

It said Lazcano and the second man were killed after they attacked a navy patrol with grenades and firearms.

Lazcano is one of the two main leaders of the divided cartel and one of Mexico’s most wanted men, with a $2.6 million reward for information leading to his capture. The United States has set the award at $7 million.

A recent report by the United Nations stated that the Mexican government’s bloody and aggressive fight against drug cartels in the country is forcing more trafficking into Central America, including Costa Rica. The death of Lazcano would serve as a major victory for the outgoing Felipe Calderón government, whose party lost in the presidential election earlier this year.

Some 47,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since Calderon was voted into office and began his crackdown in December 2006.

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