33 Zetas drug gang members at large
Thirty members of a feared Mexican drug cartel were on the loose on Tuesday after dozens of rival gang members were killed in a prison massacre apparently organised with the aid of authorities.
The massacre early on Sunday, in which 44 inmates were stabbed or bludgeoned to death, was apparently a grisly smokescreen planned to aid the escape, according to officials, who said nine wardens had confessed to taking part in the plot.
The escaped prisoners were all from the Zetas drug gang, while those killed were all from the rival Gulf cartel. The two crime syndicates have been locked in a bloody turf battle since their alliance broke down in 2010.
The massacre on Sunday in the Apodaca prison, an overcrowded facility 30 kilometres north of Monterrey, the state capital of Nuevo Leon, was among the deadliest incidents in years in Mexico's notoriously violent prisons.
“Nine of the 18 (detained) guards said they were actively involved in the escape,” state security spokesman Jorge Domene said late Monday, calling it a “betrayal of public officials who allied themselves with the criminals.”
He said the other nine guards and three senior prison officials were still being questioned.
The escape took place between 1.00am and 1.30am (07.00-07.30 GMT) on Sunday, followed by the attack on the inmates, which lasted around an hour and a half, until prison officials called for reinforcements, Domene said.
Rodrigo Medina, governor of Nuevo Leon, had earlier released names and pictures of the fugitives, and posted rewards of up to 10 million pesos ($775 000) for information leading to their capture.
Among them was Oscar Manuel Bernal, nicknamed “The Spider,” who was head of the Zetas in the industrial city of Monterrey when he was detained in October 2010, accused of ordering the killing of a local police chief.
The riot came just days after a fire in a jail in Honduras left 359 dead, highlighting severe overcrowding in Latin American prisons.
Rampant drug trafficking, score-settling between gang members and official corruption have turned prisons into human tinder boxes.
The prison population in Mexico and Central America has swollen in line with the region's increasingly important role in cocaine trafficking, meaning outdated facilities are straining at the seams.
The Mexican prison housed about 3 000 inmates, twice its intended capacity.
Distraught families gathered outside the Apodaca prison awaiting news of loved ones in a desperate scene, with some women fainting.
Mexican prisons have often been the scene of deadly violence.
In early January, 31 inmates were killed and 13 wounded in a brawl in the Altamira prison in the northern state of Tamaulipas. On October 15, 20 people were killed in another Tamaulipas prison.
Two days earlier, seven inmates were killed and 12 wounded in a fight at Nuevo Leon's Cadereyta prison.
The northern regions along the US border have seen an upsurge in violence in recent years as rival cartels have battled over lucrative smuggling routes.
About 50 000 people are believed to have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since the launching of a military crackdown on the gangs in 2006.
In Honduras, the toll of Tuesday's blaze at the overcrowded Comayagua prison, thought to be the world's worst-ever prison fire, rose by one to 359 dead, after an inmate succumbed to severe burns.
Only 38 bodies have so far been identified in the morgue in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, and just 21 have been returned to their families for burial.
Expert teams from the United States, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru are helping the Honduran authorities with their investigations into the fire, the cause of which remains unclear. - AFP