MEXICO CITY -- The brutal boss of the Los Zetas crime gang that has terrorized northern and central Mexico for years has met a fitting end, the Mexican navy said Tuesday: Slain in a gunfight with authorities on Sunday, then his body snatched by gunmen from the funeral home where it had been taken.
The vanished body made it impossible to offer foolproof identification that the slain man was Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, a 37-year-old former army special forces commando who turned Los Zetas into Mexico’s most feared cartel. But Mexico’s navy said the fingerprints of one of two men killed in a firefight over the weekend matched those of the Los Zetas founder.
The death struck a formidable blow to organized crime in the waning months of President Felipe Calderon’s term in office, which had been characterized by spiraling drug violence that claimed tens of thousands of lives. Calderon hailed the announcement, saying that evidence “clearly indicates” that the Zetas kingpin “was cut down resisting the authorities.”
Authorities said a naval patrol encountered Lazcano around 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Progreso in Coahuila state, a town of about 3,000 about 70 miles from the Texas border, though details of exactly what took place were still being sorted out Tuesday.
Mexico City’s El Universal said Lazcano was watching a baseball game when the naval patrol spotted him. Coahuila state Attorney General Homero Ramos said only that the firefight took place near the town’s baseball field and that one of the men, identified as Manuel Alberto Rodriguez, 44, was killed near a vehicle, while the man identified as Lazcano ran across a field, firing grenades from an AR-15 assault rifle equipped with a grenade launcher.
Marines killed him from a distance of about 300 yards, Ramos added.
The navy issued two photos of the dead man thought to be the Zetas chief. One showed him open-mouthed on a coroner’s slab. The other showed a body clad in a black shirt, the head resting on a thick book.
“The analysis of the photos of the slain criminal attached to this communique show that the physical traits match those of Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano,” the navy said.
It added that prints of the corpse’s thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hand matched those on record for Lazcano.
Because Progreso has no coroner’s office, the corpses were taken to a funeral home in nearby Sabinas, west of Nuevo Laredo, where authorities took photos and fingerprints, Ramos said.
In a move that may indicate gangsters wanted to give Lazcano a sendoff befitting a major underworld don, heavily armed men wearing masks burst into the Garcia funeral home around 1:30 a.m. Monday and hauled off the bodies, he said.
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.
The slaying of Lazcano 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 the country’s underworld groups whose use of extreme violence plunge major swaths of the nation into terror.
As founder and head of Los Zetas, Lazcano was a near mythical figure, eclipsed only by the chief of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who remains at large and whom U.S. authorities consider the world’s most wanted drug trafficker.