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Cadereyta Jimenez - Suspected drug gang killers dumped the headless bodies of 49 people on a highway near Mexico's northern city of Monterrey in one of the country's worst atrocities in recent years.
The mutilated corpses of 43 men and six women, whose hands and feet had also been cut off, were found in a pile on a highway in the municipality of Cadereyta Jimenez in the early hours of Sunday, officials from the state of Nuevo Leon said.
“What's complicating the identification of all the people was that they were all headless,” said Jorge Domene, the Nuevo Leon government's spokesman for public security, who said the other body parts were missing.
Domene said the brutal Zetas drug gang claimed responsibility for the murders in a message found at the scene.
The massacre was the latest in a string of mass slayings that have convulsed Mexico in recent months, many of them in the north of the country, where the Zetas have waged a war against rival groups for control of smuggling routes.
Police said the murders looked like the fallout of an escalating battle between warring drug gangs, and seemed to have been intended to create a media sensation.
The Zetas gang was founded by deserters from the Mexican army who became enforcers for the Gulf cartel, which once dominated the drug trade in northeastern Mexico.
The Zetas later split from their employers and the two gangs have since fought for control of trafficking routes. The Zetas have also been at war with the powerful Sinaloa cartel on the other side of the country.
The victims have not been identified, and Nuevo Leon's attorney general Adrian de la Garza said the corpses could be of migrants passing through Mexico to the United States. Migrants have been targeted by criminal gangs in the past.
President Felipe Calderon has staked his reputation on bringing Mexico's drug gangs to heel, sending in the army to fight them shortly after taking office in December 2006.
Since then, however, the violence has spiralled, and more than 50 000 people have fallen victim to the conflict.
The bloody killings in Nuevo Leon were the worst there since 52 people died in an arson attack on a casino in Monterrey last August. That attack was also blamed on the Zetas.
Monterrey is Mexico's richest industrial city and was for long seen as a model of economic development but it has been ravaged by the drug war over the last three years.
The violence across much of Mexico has eroded support for Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN), which looks likely to lose power in presidential elections on July 1. The constitution does not allow Calderon to seeking a second term.
There has been an escalation of gruesome mass killings in Mexico in recent weeks.
Last Wednesday, 18 people who were found decapitated and dismembered near Mexico's second-largest city, Guadalajara.
A week earlier, the bodies of nine people were found hanging from a bridge and 14 others found dismembered in the city of Nuevo Laredo, just across the US border from Laredo in Texas.
Late last year, several mass killings took place in the eastern state of Veracruz, which has been ravaged by the Zetas. - Reuters