Posted Tuesday, Oct. 09, 2012
By Tim Johnson
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s navy said Tuesday that the fingerprints of a man killed in a firefight over the weekend match those of the founder of Los Zetas, Mexico’s most brutal crime syndicate, in what would be a paramount blow against organized crime in this country.
Both the fingerprints and photos of the corpse appear to be those of Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, a 37-year-old former special forces commando who turned Los Zetas into Mexico’s most feared cartel, a naval statement said.
The hope for certainty about the identification, however, was undercut when heavily armed men burst into a funeral home in Coahuila state, where the shootout occurred, and took the body along with that of another man killed in the firefight.
President Felipe Calderon remained silent about the identity, which if it turns out to be that of Lazcano would mark his government’s greatest achievement against the crime groups that have turned swaths of Mexico into killing fields, staining the legacy of Calderon’s six-year term, which ends Dec. 1.
The navy issued two photos of the dead man thought to be the Zetas chief.
“The analysis of the photos of the slain criminal attached to this communique show that the physical traits match those of Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano,” it said.
It added that prints of the thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hand of the corpse also match those on record for Lazcano.
News of the apparent killing of the leader of Los Zetas first filtered late Monday. A naval statement then cited “strong indications” that Lazcano was killed Sunday in a firefight in Progreso, a town of some 3,000 about a two-hour drive from the Texas border.
Passengers in a vehicle in Progreso tossed grenades at a naval patrol around 1:30 p.m. Sunday, triggering a chase, the naval statement said. In the subsequent firefight, two passengers were shot to death, it said.
The bodies “were put at the disposition of local authorities,” it added.
Coahuila state attorney general Homero Ramos said the bodies were in the Garcia funeral home in Sabinas, a larger town west of the border city of Nuevo Laredo, when a commando group of “masked and heavily armed” gangsters entered and carried the bodies off.
Ramos identified the second man as Manuel Alberto Rodriguez, a 44-year-old native of Sabinas.
The Milenio television network said photos of the corpse thought to belong to Lazcano were being shown to jailed Zetas commanders to provide further proof of identity.
If proven that Lazcano was killed, it would mark a watershed in Mexico’s fight against organized crime, a signal that the state can overcome what is widely seen as the most powerful, brutal and swaggering of narcotics and underworld groups.