CADEREYTA, Mexico – Authorities struggled Monday to identify 49 bodies without heads, hands or feet to gain clues into the latest in a series of massacres from an escalating war between Mexico’s two dominant drug cartels, with increasing evidence that innocents are being pulled into the bloodbath along with gang rivals.
More than 24 hours after the gruesome discovery, officials had yet to identify any of the mutilated corpses found near the northern industrial city of Monterrey. None of the bodies examined so far showed signs of gunshots, Nuevo Leon state security spokesman Jorge Domene told Milenio television.
Though it was unclear who the victims were, it was the fourth massacre in a month. Mexico’s interior secretary, Alejandro Poire, said Monday that all those incidents resulted from the fight between the Zetas gang and the Sinaloa Cartel, which have emerged in the last year as the two main forces in Mexican drug-trafficking and other organized crime.
Some victims in earlier body dumps have turned out to be bakers, brick layers, even students – anyone who could be snatched off the streets in mass killings that one captured gang member said were designed to “cause terror.”
Poire would not respond directly when asked if innocents have increasingly become targets.
“We don’t have proper identification of the dead,” he said. “We have to leave that to the investigation.”
The 43 men and six women found Sunday were dumped at the entrance to the town of San Juan in the municipality of Cadereyta, about 105 miles southwest of McAllen, Texas.
Graffiti around the town of 4,000 people mark it as Zetas territory.
San Juan, part of the Cadereyta municipality, is a town of farmers and factory workers near a refinery for Pemex, Mexico’s state-run petroleum company.
One resident, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of retaliation, said the municipality has been without local police for six years and that the Zetas have controlled San Juan for at least two years.
He said he believed that the Zetas’ enemies, who he wouldn’t name, dumped the bodies as a way to provoke authorities into cracking down on the Zetas. By Monday afternoon, both state police and Mexican soldiers were patrolling the town.
It’s a common tactic, known as “heating up the plaza,” for drawing law enforcement to disrupt the activities of a cartel’s rival in its home territory, said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst and former official in Mexico’s CISEN intelligence agency.
“It puts the authorities in a reactive mode,” Hope said.